Home | Cultural and Racial Diversity | Black athletes
Mini Documentary Cultural and Racial Diversity
[Announcer describing a hockey game - Leo Boivin leads the _ across the rush and Plante makes the save.]
[Narrator - George Reed]
[Announcer describing boxing match - seconds of coming up to round 9, announcer describing hurdles and wheelchair basketball racing - finally they are away and Gievers gets a good start]
We all know and love sports for the struggle it provides whether it is competitors facing off in the heat of battle, competing on foreign soil in front of passionate fans, or the internal contest against ourselves in the pursuit of victory, the struggle captivates us all. But the history of sports in Canada also contains the important social struggles. The contest of sports has been the platform for significant racial and cultural discriminations in the past which provides important lessons for us to take into the future of sports in Canada.
[Image of George Beers, lacrosse matches at CNE grounds, lacrosse team images in the late 1880's to 1930's, Lionel Conacher with lacrosse stick]
In the middle of the nineteenth century, a Montreal dentist named Dr. George William Beers led the effort to develop the distinctly Canadian sport of Lacrosse. By 1867, shortly after the sport became fully regulated, white leaders barred First Nation athletes from playing for club championship matches for two primary reasons. The first was that they believed Indigenous people and their culture were backwards and uncivilized. First Nation athletes were barred from participating because the leaders of the sport believed they were an inferior people to those of European descent. The second was they believed that Indigenous people had a naturally superior skill set which made the competition unfair for whites; however there was no significant genetic factors at play. This was simply an idea used by white elites to exclude First Nation people from the benefits of the sport. Thus, all the spalls of victory were left alone for the ruling class. These racist ideas in sports were consistent with Canadian society at the time. The Canadian laws limited First Nation people opportunities for education or employment and in some parts of society sought to completely eradicate their culture.
[Images of Alex Decoteau, Fred Simpson and Tom Longboat in track uniforms]
By the beginning of the twentieth century, some Indigenous athletes were beginning to break down the colour barrier in sports. For example, Fred Simpson of Alderville First Nation in Ontario ran for Canada at the 1908 Olympic Games in London, England, and Tom Longboat, the runner from Six Nations Reserve became the best long distance runner in the world. In a time when there were very few opportunities for Indigenous people to obtain success in Canadian society, Simpson and Longboat proudly represented their country and the First Nation people.
[Image of black baseball team, Herb Carnegie images courtesy of Bernice Carnegie, footage of NHL game action, images of Herb Carnegie posed wearing Quebec Aces jersey and Rand jersey, Audrey and Herb in front of their car, Herb in later years in front of numerous trophies he won]
Native athletes were not the only ones facing discrimination as black athletes played in segregated hockey and baseball leagues during the first half of the twentieth century. In the 1940's, a young African Canadian of Jamaican descent named Herb Carnegie climbed to the top echelon of the Quebec Provincial Hockey League winning the MVP for three straight years. Higher were the steps to the NHL was not open to the young Toronto man. He was a black hockey player in the 1940's and no black athlete ever laced up for an NHL team until 1958. Carnegie was told that the sole reason he never played in the NHL was quite simple, the colour of his skin. This was crushing blow for Carnegie in a powerful statement about the exclusionary nature of hockey in Canada at that time.
[George Reed - images of Bernie Custis throwing a football wearing jersey 99, holding a football wearing jersey 42. Courtesy of William Armstrong]
After World War II ended in 1945, the racist idea of Nazi Germany were defeated. The racial climate in Canada changed for the better including on the football field. In the early 1950's, black players began to play in the Canadian Football League. Bernie Custis, an African American came to Canada to begin his football career after being denied the opportunity to play in the US. However not all things were equal during this era. Many black footballers found hotels that would not accept them. More importantly, they were confronted by discriminations when they attempted to access the necessities of life such as a place to rent or when looking for work. Canadian society was not fully tolerant and inclusive, but in North America football in Canada was more progressive compared to the United States. By the 1970's, a large influx of African American players joined the CFL ranks.
[Image of Ferguson Jenkins throwing baseball and posed image, Vincent "Manny" McIntyre playing hockey, action images of PK Suban and Carey Price]
Racism and discrimination continued be a part of sport in Canadian society but over time we have matured as a country. Much progress has been made in sport and our national pass time. We have come a long way since the athletic heydays of Herb Carnegie. We now have many black and indigenous athletes who are positive role models of Canadian youth such as P.K. Subban and Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens.
[Images behind George Reed of Phil Edwards running, Larry Gains running, George Reed wearing jersey 34 and being presented Canada's Sports Hall of Fame plaque upon his induction by Jake Gaudaur Jr., Harry Jerome running, Sam Langford boxing]
We should be proud of our history in sport and to we should learn from that history so that we do not repeat the exclusion, discrimination, and racism that is in our past. Instead, we should build on the work of those who have broken down on racial barriers to help make sport an exclusive and positive activity for every race and culture.