Bob Dawson was the first black hockey player in the former Atlantic Intercollegiate Hockey League (AIHL) and played on the first black line in Canadian university hockey, skating alongside Darrell Maxwell and Percy Paris. He knows first-hand the barriers that athletes of colour face — he was frequently targeted by opposing players and fans alike.
Though he has experienced the racism players have had to endure while skating for acceptance and respect, he also knows the impact that these players have made to the iconic sport. It is his goal for other Canadians to know this as well.
Now a sportswriter and hockey historian, Dawson partnered with Black History Ottawa on the project The Road to Canada 150 and Black Hockey, highlighting the contributions and achievements of black hockey players.
The project launched in 2017. Dawson said it was “a unique opportunity to connect with our past, celebrate who we are as black Canadians, and honour our achievements in the sport of hockey.”
Through the project’s three main events, Dawson said he wanted to inspire not only hopeful future hockey players of colour but also young people in the community.
The first event was a presentation at the Ottawa Public Library about the history of the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes (CHL), which was active from 1895 to 1911 and 1921 to around the 1940s.
The second was a screening of Damon Kwame Mason’s documentary Soul on Ice: Past, Present and Future followed by a panel discussion with Willie O’Ree — the first black player in the National Hockey League (NHL) and the league’s current diversity ambassador.
For the final event, a commemorative hockey game was held in Ottawa between two teams named after two original CHL teams: the Dartmouth Jubilees and the Halifax Eurekas. The game was played to honour the contributions by black hockey players. The CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada aired parts of the game.
Dawson said it is important to recognize the achievements of black hockey players in Canada because many of their contributions have been overlooked. He added it is also important to recognize the racism the players were up against — and to see that the young men still persevered.
Barrier breakers in hockey history include brothers Herb and Ossie Carnegie who, along with Manny McIntyre, were known as the “Black Aces” (the first all-black line in professional hockey), Art Dorrington (the first black player to sign an NHL contract), and Willie O’Ree. Dawson said their contributions paved the way for other black hockey players, including Mike Marson, Bill Riley, Tony McKegney, and Grant Fuhr, who are all retired NHL players.
“It’s through celebrating the achievements of those who played the game before us that we, as a community, keep their memories alive and instill pride,” Dawson said.