The Hidden History of the Colored Hockey League
As of 2020, only 5% of hockey players in the NHL are Black/People of Color. Naturally, it is a fair assumption that Black people simply do not have a strong affinity to hockey given that leagues like NBA, NFL, and MLB are dominated by Black players. As a young Black boy growing up in Canada, I realized early that hockey was Canada’s beloved sport; and it was only for White children. My neighbourhood’s recreation centre (shoutouts to Malvern Rec) had a library, a gym, and an ice rink. Every time I visited the rec, I would either be heading to the library or the gym for the after-school basketball programs but I would never go to the ice rink or see many of my friends skating there either. On many evenings and weekends though, I would see white kids that were not from my area come out to the same rec centre to use the ice hockey rink. It seemed like the only programs available for black kids were basketball because all young black kids play basketball, right?
Still, being from the TDOT, you just learned to cheer on every local team, including the Maple Leafs, even if you didn’t like hockey. If you don’t remember, the Leafs were a decent team in the 90s and I remember stars like Ty Domey, Mats Sundin and Doug Gilmore on Milk commercials. However, it was hard to ignore the sea of whiteness that engulfed the sport, and you did not see many Black players, let alone one that was the face of any successful hockey team.This is not to ignore players like Grant Fuhr, Jerome Iginla, and other notable and recognizeable Black players. It wasn’t until I grew older that I realized I didn’t know how to skate because I never had a reason to learn. It made me wonder why there wasn’t more outreach for young black boys and girls for skating, ice hockey and other winter sports? It just never seemed to be part of our collective Canadian history as many of the hockey sports legends were white. But if you dig deep into the record books, a new truth emerges about how hockey was actually more of a Black sport before basketball took over in our collective consciousness. It wasn’t until I learned about the Colored Hockey League of the late early 1900s that I started to see why hockey was never considered a Black sport; it was by design!
In 1894, James Robinson Johnstone and Henry Sylvester Williams founded the Colored Hockey League. The league was set up to recruit young black men to attend Sunday worship and they scheduled recreational hockey matches between churches after service. The league started small with only 3 active teams. Within just a few years, it grew to 8 teams across the Maritimes (East Coast Canada); the Africville Seasides, Dartmouth Jubilees, Truro Victorias, Charlottetown West End Rangers, and many more. Given that this was an all-Black league, their season was relegated to only to January and March when ice conditions were poor. This didn't stop our brothers on ice because the poor conditions lead to a more fast and physical style of play. And you know when Black people are not given much, they get creative. The CHL style of play was stylish, innovative, and on par with the White leagues that played in much better conditions. So much so, the CHL is credited with inventing the slapshot which was pioneered by Eddie Martin of the Halifax Eurekas. Not only that, the CHL games became widely popular amongst White spectators drawing crowds larger than the all-white leagues. Due to politics and racism, the once-thriving Colored Hockey League promotion came to a halt overnight when White owners refused to rent their rinks to Black organizers. With the birth of the NHL in 1923, the CHL was non-existent but the innovative style was adopted by many in the NHL. You really do not hear about Black players in hockey until Willie O’Ree most famously broke the color barrier in 1958. But, Black people were playing hockey almost 60 years before that time.
These types of stories are inspiring and as a clothing brand that is all about cultivating inspiration, we felt the need to create something from this powerful story. We have built our brand on quality clothing and take pride in our cultural history that showcases our contributions to the larger society. With that, our first limited edition release is our tribute to the long and forgotten history of Black Hockey in Canada. The Colored Hockey League has never gotten their due respect, until now. Introducing the first-ever Hooded Hockey Jersey commemorating one of the original CHL teams, the Africville Seasides. This is our take on classic streetwear apparel fused with elements of a traditional hockey jersey. We imagined what the CHL jerseys would look like with no actual reference point since jerseys back then were just plain long sweaters pretty much. With that in mind, we started from scratch and brought it to life with a 100% polyester hoodie, high quality embroidered stitching with the classic laced neckline. Finished with a custom Africville Seasides logo, our shoulder patches pay homage to the Canadian flag in pan african colors, a nod to the CHL founder Henry Williams who founded the Pan-African Association. On the left side, we have the Nova Scotia coat of arms to pay respects to where Africville is located.
As a brand, our goal is this; inspire everyday champions through innovative clothing. We should all own clothing that means something and for us, this design signifies our ability to draw from that same well of inspiration and deliver a one of a kind clothing. Now, our collective history can be celebrated in a fashion that honors the past, embodies the present and inspires the future! Go cop our Africville Seasides Limited Edition Hooded Jersey today! Our Seasides Lookbook coming soon!
Written by: Patricia Awosiyan