One of the first black professional hockey players – and his Stratford home – recognized by city’s Blue Plaque program

Homeowners Kim Foster and Kevin Gormley didn’t know much about Charley Lightfoot before they got a call out of the blue that their home at 94 Cobourg St. was also the home of the very prominent Stratfordian.

“We got called one day,” Foster said, who has owned the building with Gormley since 2018. “And we were going, ‘Oh this is fantastic!’ … It was a surprise, but a lovely surprise.”

Foster and Gormley found out, like many other residents, that Lightfoot was an esteemed resident who carries the distinction of being one of the first black professional hockey players in the nation.

Lightfoot is one of the past residents being honoured by the City of Stratford’s Blue Plaque program, an award given out by the city’s heritage committee to link notable figures of the city’s past and the buildings they lived in and worked at.

Although born in West Flamborough in 1880, it was here in Stratford, his father George’s native city, that Lightfoot would spend most of his life.

While living with his parents, Lightfoot resided at the Cobourg Street home where he first began to play hockey.

In 1900, Lightfoot played on the Stratford team that won the OHA Junior Championship and the following year he played on the intermediate team that won the OHA Championship, scoring the winning goal against the Toronto Simcoes in the semi-finals.

In 1906, Lightfoot made it to integrated professional hockey, playing for the Manitoba Professional Hockey League with the Portage La Prairie Cities team.

“There wasn’t really an NHL yet, at that point,” said Brian Johnson, chair of the heritage committee. He later clarified that records seem to be a “little shaky” the further back one researches.

“They don’t have any records of any other black players in the Professional Hockey Association around that time.”

In a 1906 edition of the Ottawa Journal, Lightfoot was quoted as enjoying “the distinction of being the only coloured player in Canadian senior hockey.”

At around the time he played hockey professionally, his family lived in a residence at 126 Water St., a dwelling that has since been demolished, though he played for a number of teams across Canada, from Thunder Bay to Halifax.

Lightfoot went on to work as a welder at the Grand Trunk Railway and Canadian National Railway shops in Stratford, continuing to coach hockey teams and staff in the area.

Lightfoot continued athletics all his life, playing hockey, baseball, cricket, lacrosse and soccer-football even when he was around 70 years old.

In 1968, Lightfoot passed away. He is buried in the Avondale Cemetery. In 1975, two hockey sticks used by Lightfoot were donated to the Stratford Perth Museum.

In 2016, one of those sticks made it to the big leagues, being donated to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

The city’s heritage committee has been running the Blue Plaque program for a number of years, though it was interrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, Johnson said the group is trying to get back to work.

This year, the committee is unveiling two plaques, with Lightfoot’s being the first to be revealed. Jenny Trout, the first licenced female physician in Canada, will also be honoured this summer.

To learn more about Lightfoot, the heritage committee produced a video on the city’s YouTube page, narrated by CJCS host Jamie Cottle, which can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7yqpVZcQG0.

Connor Luczka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Stratford Times