Commemorative stamp pays tribute to all-black hockey league in the Maritimes

CHERRY BROOK, N.S. — Canada Post unveiled a commemorative stamp Thursday that pays tribute to an all-black hockey league that once thrived in the Maritimes — long before the NHL became part of Canadian lore.

The stamp, unveiled at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook, N.S., tells the story of the Colored Hockey League, which saw teams competing for the Colored Hockey Championship between 1895 and the 1930s.

"It acknowledges a piece of African Nova Scotian and Canadian history that a lot of folks don't know about," said Craig Smith, president of the Black Cultural Society of Nova Scotia.

"These black men put this league together and played on ponds and in rinks after the white teams had played — and they weren't allowed to play on any of the white teams."

The new stamp features an illustration based on a historic photograph showing the Halifax Eurekas, the Colored Hockey Champions in 1904.

The league, founded 22 years before the National Hockey League, was established in Halifax among black Baptists who were eager to get young men to attend Sunday church services.

There was no game schedule. Matches were arranged through telegraphed challenges or by placing ads in local newspapers.

The games soon became community events that attracted both black and white fans.

"It's a league that existed even though we had segregation," Smith said. "It's important that this piece of Canadian history, that for so long was unknown or omitted, now becomes part of the story of hockey in Canada."

The first team was the Dartmouth Jubilees but others soon formed, including: the Africville Sea-Sides in Halifax; the Charlottetown West End Rangers; the Royals in Amherst, N.S.; and the Victorias in Truro, N.S.

Teams weren't allowed into local arenas until after the white leagues were finished with their seasons. That meant the CHL's seasons typically lasted from late January to early March, when natural ice surfaces became poor.

Elizabeth Cooke-Sumbu, a descendant of Frank "Bubble" Cooke, who played for the Amherst Royals in 1903, said she never spoke with him about the league because there was a stigma attached to playing on an all-black team.

"Back in the day, these were segregated hockey teams," she said. "It wasn't something they spoke about proudly, out in the open.

"To be able to talk about the league today ... is great. Sure there's discrimination out there, but we're going to get there."

The games were fast-paced and featured several innovations, including the invention of the slapshot — credited to Eddie Martin of the Halifax Eurekas in 1906. They called it a baseball shot at the time.

As well, goalies in the league were among the first to use the butterfly style, which was later adapted by players in the "whites-only" leagues.

During the league's golden era, between 1900 and 1905, the CHL's games routinely attracted larger crowds than those organized for the white leagues.

Wayne Adams, a former provincial politician and well-known leader in Nova Scotia's black community, said his grandfather, Gus Adams, was a goalie for the Halifax Eurekas. His image appears on the right side of the stamp.

"It's great ... to see a significant piece of Canadian history that has been a bit lost, stolen or strayed," he said, noting that the 2004 book "Black Ice," written by Darril and George Fosty,  revived the history of the league.

"It was one of the first organized hockey leagues in North America ... They used wooden pucks."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2020.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press