Summer 2008 - Volume 11 Number 3
|Reviews||Black Ice: The Lost History of the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895-1925
New York: Stryke-Indigo Publishing, 2004
Having grown up in the American South, I became fascinated with learning about the plight of slaves brought to America. I traveled some of the paths taken by slaves on the Underground Railroad. As a young adult, I reread the story of Henry “Box” Brown and how he shipped himself from Virginia to Pennsylvania to escape slavery. The story left me with new questions about other slaves who achieved freedom in the North. I asked myself, with this new-found freedom, how did they negotiate their place in their new society, how difficult was it to adopt new cultural norms, and what did they do for fun. These questions, at least in part, have been answered by brothers and authors George and Darril Fosty’s book, Black Ice: The Lost History of the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895-1925.
It is well documented that sports in society can contribute to the defining of a community’s social structure, the development of sociological norms and, in some cases, has the capability to explain the history. The Fosty’s book is a prime example of how perception can sometimes pass as reality. When thinking of sports and history as they relate to people of colour, most think of Jackie Robinson breaking the Major League Baseball colour barrier in 1947, Willie O’Ree having his debut with the Boston Bruins in 1958, or the Negro Baseball League of the early twentieth century. However, what people do not think of are the coloured hockey leagues in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
To major hockey enthusiasts, this book might lack some of the detail when chronicling the Black Loyalist, the Maroon Colony, and the development of Africville, a community located on the shore of the Bedford Basin in Halifax. Conversely, for the beginner to intermediate historian, this book offers wonderful lessons in Canadian history; and, for hockey enthusiasts, Black Ice offers a window into a largely forgotten part of Canadian hockey.
As with most history books, Black Ice is not without controversy. The authors suggest that the contributions made by the Black hockey players largely went ignored. For example, they state that Black goaltender Henry “Braces” Franklyn was the first player to drop to his knees to tend goal. In addition, the authors also say that Joseph André “Boom Boom” Geoffrion was not the inventor of the slap shot, but rather that it was a Black man named Edward “Eddie” Martin, the captain of the all-Halifax Eurekas. Although there are written and oral histories to substantiate the authors’ claim, the manner in which Black Ice is written displays some antipathy to the historical misrepresentations of Black contributions to the sport. Depending on the reader, the presentation of the facts could be understood as a purposeful slighting of African Canadians’ place in history.
What this book does not provide is any great deal of information about individual players; however, what it lacks in specifics, it surely makes up by identifying the teams. There were team names such as the Africville Brown Bombers, the Coloured Magnets, and the New Glasgow Speed Boys, just to name a few. The Fostys make it obvious that the team names offered a new sense of pride to a group of young men who were not far removed from slavery. This idea leads to another important fact explored by the Fostys.
The authors bring to the reader’s attention the Coloured League’s unique organizing principle. The league used the Bible as its rule book, and sought to inspire Blacks to compete equally with their White brethren. Through Black Ice, the Fostys show how the game of hockey was the catalyst that brought teamwork, determination, leadership and a sense of community to its participants and supporters.
As with most good things, the Colored Hockey League came to an end. The Fostys have done a good job of detailing the beginnings of the league, describing its transitional periods and explaining its end. They also were able to highlight the social mechanisms that contributed to the disbanding of the league.
The book ends with a chapter called “The Death of Africville.” This chapter is particularly well done because it brings together all of the pride, hope and determination demonstrated by the men of the hockey league, and shows how social programs can sometimes cause the death of something beautiful. After reading Black Ice, I do not believe I’ll ever look at hockey in the same way.
James Satterfield teaches in the Eugene T. Moore School of Education at Clemson University in South Carolina. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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