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Color of Hockey

Color of Hockey: Canada Post stamp celebrates Black History Month

Pays tribute to nearly forgotten early 20th-century players, league in Maritimes

by William Douglas @WDouglasNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past eight years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March 2019 and writes about people of color in the game. Today, he writes about Canada Post's 2020 Black History Month stamp that honors the Maritimes Colored Hockey Championship and the history of the Colored Hockey League.

 

A small stamp is a big deal when it comes to black hockey history.

Canada Post is honoring the Maritimes Colored Hockey Championship and the little-known history of the Colored Hockey League with a stamp to celebrate Black History Month.

The stamp features images of players from the Colored Hockey League that operated from 1895 to the 1930s and lists the catchy names of some of the teams -- Jubilees, Stanleys, Eurekas, Sea-Sides, Rangers, Royals and Moss Backs.


Photo: Stryker-Indigo New York

Canada Post produced about 1.4 million stamps for 140,000 booklets that contain 10 stamps each. The booklets are priced at $9.20 (CAD) -- but they are priceless to the descendants of the players, many of whom were the sons and grandsons of escaped U.S. slaves who sought freedom in Canada, and to the historians who've spent decades trying to bring the Colored Hockey League's story to light.

"It's a revelation of a piece of rather important and significant history, black history that is, that has been for the most part lost or strayed in the last couple of years," said Wayne Adams, a former Nova Scotia provincial legislator whose grandfather, Augustus Adams, is among those pictured on the stamps.

It was only fitting that unveiling on Thursday was held at a ceremony in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the birthplace of the Maritimes league that stretched to places such as Truro, Amherst and Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

"We like to consider ourselves Canada's storyteller through our stamp program," said Jim Phillips, director of stamp services for Canada Post. "This is a little-known story, a little-known chapter in Canadian hockey history … I would say in the hockey series this is the first time we put out a story like this where a lot of people don't really know the story and are fascinated by it."

The Colored Hockey League was rooted in Nova Scotia's black churches and was established 22 years before the NHL.


Photo: Stryker-Indigo New York

It provided an outlet for Nova Scotia's black players who couldn't skate in all-white local leagues and helped dispel the myth that blacks didn't like hockey because they had weak ankles or didn't like cold weather, said George Fosty, co-author of the 2004 book "Black Ice: The Lost History of The Colored Hockey League of the Canadian Maritimes, 1895-1925."

At its peak, the all-black league boasted more than a dozen teams and hundreds of players.

Some hockey scholars credit the all-black league with introducing some of the elements of modern hockey, from Eddie Martin being the first player to use the slap shot to diminutive Henry "Braces" Franklyn first employing the butterfly style of goaltending that's popular today.

But with few records and scant press accounts, the Colored Hockey League's existence wasn't widely known. What photos that did exist of black players or teams from the era were sometimes explained away by skeptics as publicity shots from minstrel shows or vaudeville acts.

Fosty said the Canada Post stamp validates the decades of research that he and his brother, Darril, conducted for their book as well as the work of others who've advocated for greater recognition of the league.


Photo: Stryker-Indigo New York

In addition to the Fosty brothers' book, the Colored Hockey League is prominently featured the 2015 black hockey documentary "Soul on Ice: Past, Present & Future" by award-winning Canadian filmmaker Damon Kwame Mason.

"This stamp is going to be in every stamp collection from now to eternity, and it's going to symbolize Canada," George Fosty said. "It's an element of Canadian history, part of Canadian culture and heritage. It's on the pedestal of acceptance to the point it's on a Canadian stamp. It's been recognized now as a Canadian historic jewel. It will never be lost to history again."

Elizabeth Cooke-Sumbu, whose grandfather, Frank "Bubble" Cooke, played in the Colored Hockey League for the Amherst Royals after 1901, agreed. While she's excited to see the stamp, Cooke-Sumbu said its release is only a start toward the Colored Hockey League being formally acknowledged in Canadian and hockey history.

"The stamp is just a beginning," said Cooke-Sumbu, executive director of Nova Scotia Works and a director of the Cumberland African Nova Scotian Association, "because we have to attach it to that history that we already have and start putting on the billboards and make it that permanent marker it needs to be."

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