A portrait taken of the Sea Sides, one of
the first black hockey teams established.
The West End Rangers.
John McGourty | NHL.com Staff Writer
Jan 22, 2007, 1:34 PM EST
Author George Fosty's presentation at Tuesday's NHL Diversity Luncheon at the Fairmount Hotel in Dallas promises to be a lively and informative affair. The event is co-sponsored by the African American Museum of Dallas.
Fosty and his brother, Darril, spent six years researching their 2003 book, Splendid Is The Sun: The 5,000 Year History Of Hockey, co-authored by John Jelley.
Professional historians, the Fosty brothers researched over 6,000 sources of information and in the process kept stumbling over seemingly unrelated pieces of information from obscure, limited sources that hinted at a long history of hockey being played by blacks around Halifax, Nova Scotia, and other areas of Atlantic Canada, then known as the Maritimes. They pored through public records, old newspapers, church archives, family collections and other sources to piece together their 2004 book, Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895-1925.
It's a fascinating account of the development of not only black hockey, but Canadian hockey, stemming from the winter activities of blacks around Halifax and their descendants.
"I was stunned at one point when I realized that an important historical account of early hockey, an 1815 newspaper report of hockey being played on the Northwest Arm, near Halifax, that the people who lived in that area were black," Fosty said.
Many, but not all of these black Canadians, escaped American slavery via the Underground Railroad. But other families descended from brave black soldiers who were rewarded with land grants in Nova Scotia.
Early on, blacks controlled a solid block of agricultural land near Halifax and controlled an important part of the city's produce industry. As Halifax grew over the next 150 years, the Fosty's assert that white politicians practiced consistent discriminatory policies to degrade blacks, their neighborhoods, schools and hospitals.
Black Ice tells the story of the development of black hockey in coordination with the actions taken against blacks and the deprivations foisted upon them. Greed, murder, arson, sex scandals and intrigue stand side-by-side with slap shots and kick saves in this well-researched tome. Black Ice is a tale told in the broader context of its times.
"The history of Black Canadians has, for the most part, either been forgotten, deliberately destroyed, or conveniently ignored," the Fostys assert in Black Ice. "Most historians have often dismissed it, or have viewed it as irrelevant."
But according to Black Ice, the contributions of blacks to hockey were anything but irrelevant, including their style of play in the late 19th Century that superceded the style being played contemporaneously by whites. Henry "Braces" Franklyn was the first "flopping" goalie and it would be more than 50 years before Jacques Plante popularized the style in the NHL. The slap shot was first seen in the Colored Hockey League and not again in the NHL for a half century.
It took longer than that for that acknowledgement to occur and we are indebted to the Fostys for their research. There were reasons, rooted in racism, that credit wasn't given earlier.
"Many believed that sports could raise the lower classes and non-White races to a higher level of civilization and social development. All was well, the theory held as long as White men continued to win at whatever sport they played. Hockey was no different," the Fostys wrote.
The book hits white readers like a cold shower. The Fostys pull no punches. In a recent conversation with the genial and learned George Fosty, I suggested that Darril must have done the writing. But this is the very point of Multiculturalism: Understanding the feelings of others. Here is a black man who is an esteemed historian, a published author, a success by all standards, red-hot with anger at the treatment directed at earlier generations of blacks and the remaining vestiges of racism.
"The Black man, since the earliest days of Canadian history has been one of the greatest defenders of Canada," the Fostys write. "And yet, his accomplishments have never been fully told nor recorded. It is as if the Black man had never existed. In fact, if it had not been for the Black man carrying a rifle, Canada herself would have never existed. From the earliest days of British North America and the landing of the Black Loyalist forces in Nova Scotia, through to the War of 1812, and beyond, Black regiments served with distinction along the borderlands separating the British and their Canadian counterparts from the Americans. During the American attack on Canada in 1775 and the subsequent siege of Quebec City, it was a Black Canadian regiment, who comprised part of the "undaunted fifty," who defeated the Americans beneath the Citadel of Quebec."
What? Fosty's not black?
"You're not the first person to read the book and make that assumption but we have a responsibility as historians to tell the true story," Fosty said. "I grew up in Western Canada of French and Ukrainian ancestry so I think I was aware, to a lesser degree than blacks, that I was a double minority. And, Canadians, in general, feel we are a minority in North America. That influences us as historians and reflects in our writing. Our parents were blue-collar workers. My father worked on the railroad and so did I when I was younger. We grew up stanch socialist NDPers. We've never written about the elites."
"But there has been a widespread expectation that we are black. I know when I make public appearances, people see the white man approach the microphone and expect I'm going to announce the meeting's been cancelled!"
In that sense, the Fostys are the desired end product of Multiculturalism: They get it, they emphasize and if not angry, they were determined to set the record straight.
George Fosty formerly worked for the U.S. military as an historian and currently lives on Long Island and works in New York City. His resume is that of a true renaissance man, resembling more the early life experiences of authors in the 1930s. His hockey credentials are solid. He once insulted an opponent who had just speared him in the mouth, "Louthy thtickwork, you aimed for my front teeth and knocked out my thide teeth." He still remembers his coach's words at the bench, "Geez Fosty, if you weren't so stupid, I'd think you were just dumb."
Born in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, he grew up idolizing the heroes of Smithers, British Columbia, Jim and Joe Watson of the Philadelphia Flyers. He later lived in Terrace and Kamloops, B.C., where Darril played against Mark Recchi and George went to school with Doug Lidster.