By Tony McClean
Updated: December 8, 2004
NEW HAVEN, Ct. — While hockey fans in North America are waiting to see if they’ll get any NHL hockey this season, our latest book review takes a look back at a forgotten league from days gone by.
Most fans are familiar with the teams from the NHL’s “Original Six” and the tradition of the Stanley Cup. But have you every heard of the Africville Seasides? Or The West End Rangers?
How about players like forward George Clyke of the Truro Victorias or goaltender Fred “Freddie” Borden of the Dartmouth Jubilees?
In their comprehensive book entitled “Black Ice”, hockey historians George and Darril Fosty talk about the lost history of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes. The league, which lasted from 1895-1925, was originally located in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Comprised of the sons and grandsons of runaway American slaves, the league helped pioneer the sport of ice hockey changing this winter game from the primitive “gentleman’s past-time” of the nineteenth century to the modern fast moving game of today.
In an era when many believed blacks could not endure cold, possessed ankles too weak to effectively skate, and lacked the intelligence for organized sport, these men defied the defined myths.
Many of the league officials and players also had a firm religious base as well. The league established a code of ethics called the “Declaration of Faith”. The 17 doctrines were based upon their deep religious ties.
“Black Ice” also focuses on the contributions of league pioneers like James A.R. Kinney, a minister who used the teachings of Booker T. Washington to reach his congregation. And the book talks about how the black community of Africville served as the main homebase of this forgotten league.
In telling “the greatest hockey story ever told”, the Fostys make a stinging indictment of the Canadian historical record. This brief excerpt is an example of that:
“The history of Black Canadians has, for the most part, either been forgotten, deliberately destroyed, or conveniently ignored. Most historians have often dismissed it, or have viewed it as irrelevant. When it has been discussed, it has often been presented in relation to the cause and effects of American and New World Slavery.
If the truth were known, Canadian Black history is as complex and intriguing as that of any European race or nation that has shaped the modern world. It is a history rich in its telling, one that evokes heroism, determination and dignity. It is realism, hidden by popular ignorance and modern theory. It is a legendary story supplanted by modern bias and myths.”
Co-author George Fosty added that, “We feel that this book is important and will fill in a long forgotten chapter in Canadian and black social and sports history”.
Since the release of the book, Stryker-Indigo Publishing (the book’s publishing company) has donated its entire Black History Research and Artifacts Collection to the Black Cultural Centre of Nova Scotia, in an attempt to augment the Centre’s current collections and to preserve the legacy of Black history in Canada.
The collection, part of the Black Ice Project, and containing hundreds of artifacts collected during seven-years of efforts to identify and record the lost history of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, marks the first attempt by Stryker-Indigo historians to recreate the Colored League legacy and to create a repository of artifacts for a future Black Hockey Hall of Fame Collection in Nova Scotia.
“Black Ice” is truly one of the most fascinating sports books ever written. It’s highly recommended reading for not only hockey fans, but for all sports fans as well.