Bob Dawson was the first black hockey player in the former Atlantic Intercollegiate Hockey League and was part of the first line of all-black athletes Canadian university hockey, skating alongside Darrell Maxwell and Percy Paris. He knows first-hand the barriers that athletes of colour face — Dawson was frequently targeted by opposing players and fans alike.
Despite facing racism and other challenges, black hockey players have had a major impact on the game — something that Dawson wants to share with all Canadians.
Now a sportswriter and hockey historian, Dawson partnered with Black History Ottawa on a project that highlights the contributions and achievements of black hockey players.
The project launched in 2017. The first of three main events was a presentation about the history of the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes.
The second was a screening of Damon Kwame Mason’s documentary Soul on Ice: Past, Present and Future. The film was followed by a panel discussion with Willie O’Ree — the first black player in the National Hockey League, who is now the league’s diversity ambassador.
The project concluded with a commemorative hockey game held in Ottawa between teams named after two original Coloured Hockey League teams: the Dartmouth Jubilees and the Halifax Eurekas. 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 that it is also important to recognize the racism the players were up against — and to celebrate the perseverance of the players who broke down barriers to play the game they love.
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.