The Black Ice Hockey League, 1895-1930

 Featured Picture: Truro Sheiks

 

Coloured Hockey League (1895-1930)

 In terms of sports history, the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes changed the way hockey was seen and played in early Canada.

The Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes is one of hockey’s best-kept secrets. The existence of the Colored Hockey League was essentially brought to light by historians George and Darril Fosty’s book, Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895 -1925.1,2

If Nova Scotia is considered the birthplace of hockey, then on the large number of frozen ponds and lakes, it was the local aboriginals (the Mi’Kmaq) version of the game and the style of play and innovations of the early segregated black hockey players that helped to shape the sport of Canadian hockey forever.

The Colored Hockey League produced players and athletes comparable to any in Canada. These Black Nova Scotians changed this winter game from the accustomed “gentleman’s past-time” of the nineteenth century to the modern fast moving game of today. Led by skilled and educated leadership, the Coloured League emerged as a premier force in Canadian hockey and supplied the resilience necessary to preserve a unique sports culture that still exists.

The CHL was formed 22 years before the National Hockey League, and 25 years before the Negro Baseball Leagues in the USA. The league was organized by local African United Baptist Churches, which essentially used the Bible as their rulebook. The players were the sons of runaway American Slaves and Freemen, with their Game Book being derived from the struggles and experiences of the Underground Railroad and the Christian Bible. For decades it had been the practice of these Black Church leaders to codify their language to aid runaway slaves to escape to Canada and freedom. These codes and duality were used in the naming of the CHL teams, such as the Halifax Eurekas, Africville Sea-Sides, Truro Sheiks 3, Truro Victorias,  Africville Brown Bombers, Amherst Royals, Dartmouth Jubilees, Halifax Stanley’s, Hammond’s Plains Moss Backs, and Charlottetown West-End Rangers. There were as many as seven black-ice hockey teams at any one time within the Maritimes, the majority within Nova Scotia.The Fosty brothers 4 have named almost 200 black players, but reasonable estimates put the number at a minimum of 400 over the years.

Unfortunately, there were few records kept of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, with few references to the innovations that the players brought to the early game of hockey, such as their aggressive style of play that included the slap shot (purportedly by Eddie Martin in 1906) , the goalie going down on the ice to stop and cover up the puck (Henry Braces Franklyn) as well as leaving their nets to participate in scoring (Fred Borden)both circa 1900practices not adopted by the NHL until 1917. Most, if not all, of these innovations would be copied by other players and teams in later years, but it would be the latter who were primarily credited with these innovations.

The advent of World War One, the 1917 Halifax Explosion, dramatic changes in Nova Scotia’s economy, the loss of indoor ice time, and racism, all played a role in the demise of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes. Nonetheless the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes changed the way hockey was seen and played in early Canada.

  1. The Black Ice Hockey and Sports Hall of Fame Society (2009) carry on the legacy of the 1895 Colored Hockey League and hold commemorative games featuring today’s local Black hockey players.
  2. The Black Ice Hockey and Sports Hall of Fame has a new home at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook, NS as of March, 2015
  3.  The featured photo is of the Truro Sheiks team in the Coloured Hockey League. (Others will be added as the site progresses and is updated).
  4. Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes (1895–1925), co-authored by George and Darril Fosty.
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