Hockey has long been recognized as Canada’s game.
But it wasn’t always welcoming to everyone. The first black player in the Atlantic Intercollegiate Hockey League (AIHL) says there was a time when the game was “full of racism.”
“[I heard] the N word, coon, spook and snowflake, from fans but also from players in particular, as well as a lot of physical abuse,” Bod Dawson said, a former Saint Mary’s University (SMU) hockey player.
During a time when black players were seemingly ‘non-existent’ in hockey, Dawson welcomed the recruitment of two fellow African Nova Scotia athletes, Percy Paris and Darrell Maxwell.
“The biggest challenge I found, playing sports, was the racism you faced on regular basis. It would be not just the opposition players but it would be the fans and the officials,” Paris said.
Despite the ongoing discrimination they dealt with, the men say they used the adversity as fuel to perform better.
“There was a lot of pressure to be as good as you possibly can be and try to be better than everybody else. I always wanted to be the fastest skater on any team I played,” Percy said.
It was during an away game at Mount Allison University that then SMU coach, Bob Boucher, decided to play all three men on the same line.
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It’s a moment that’s been cemented in history as the first ‘all-black line’ to ever play together in Canadian university hockey.
“In every other sport that I played and I played in them all, I was the only black player and had little to no support on a lot of different fronts. To all of a sudden have, not one but two other players on the team that were black, it was such a comforting feeling,” Maxwell said.
“When it first happened, I recognized that the three of us are out here together but the impact of it grew and grew and grew,” said Percy.
Maxwell adds that he and his teammates found the ‘courage’ to push through the racial tension through the ‘life lessons’ their parents instilled upon them.
“I think the most important thing was how we handled the adversity and I credit that to our parents and they gave us the strength to carry on when maybe lesser people might have just packed it in and said who needs this?”
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