Hockey. It’s Canada’s game. Just like our country, our sport has welcomed everyone from all backgrounds to play, but it hasn’t always been that way.
In 1895, the first black hockey league was created as an initiative of the black Baptist Churches of Canada. Named “the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes”, the league was an all-black, up to 12 team league with over 400 African Canadian players from across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The league existed until 1930.
It wasn’t until 1958 that the NHL saw the first black professional hockey player hit the ice. Willie O’Ree played for the Boston Bruins as a winger. Being the first black hockey player in the big leagues, he dealt with powerful racist remarks from fans in the U.S. and Canada, but that didn’t stop him from playing the sport he loved. His courage and perseverance painted the way for black hockey legends like Grant Fuhr, Val James, Georges Laraque and many more. They all had to deal with set backs, struggles and hardships all because of their race.
Today some of the NHL’s brightest and most influential players are from many different backgrounds. From Jordin Tootoo, the first Inuk professional hockey player to Devin Setoguchi, a fourth generation Japanese hockey player currently with the Minnesota Wild. Everyone has a place in hockey. With NHL players like P.K. Subban not only helping Team Canada win gold in the 2014 Sochi Olympics but also making a $10 million dollar donation to the Montreal Children’s Hospital, becoming the first Canadian sports figure to make a philanthropic contribution of that size in history.
The new documentary feature film, Soul On Ice: Past, Present & Future looks at the history of black athletes in hockey and redefines what it means to be black in the world of hockey. Writer, director and producer Kwame Damon Mason follows the journey of Jaden Lindo, a young, black, NHL hopeful who sees the difficulties that still face black athletes in the game of hockey today.
Soul On Ice won People’s Choice for Best Feature at the Edmonton International Film Fest showing that telling the often difficult story of black athletes in hockey is one that more people want to hear and need to hear.
Soul On Ice: Past, Present & Future has it’s public screening in Toronto Wednesday, November 4, 2015 at Rainbow Cinemas – Market Square at 80 Front Street East.