There is much debate about the origins of the game of hockey, when the first game was played, and where the first game was played. There is evidence of the game being played in England in the late 1700s, there is also evidence of the first organized game being played in Montreal, Canada in 1875. But there is no debate about the origins of the first hockey league in the Americas. The Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes (CHLM) was founded in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1895. It was an all-black, all-male hockey league, started by four men named Pastor James Borden, James A. R Kinney, Henry Sylvester Williams, and James Robinson Johnston. The games were originally organized to help increase church attendance within the black communities of Nova Scotia. The growing popularity of the games led to the creation of the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes, and the Dartmouth Jubilees were the league's first team. The league expanded from one team to three teams, then expanded to six teams that were known as the “original six,” the Africville Sea-Sides; the Truro Victorias; the Charlottetown West End Rangers; the Amherst Royals; and the Hammond Plains Moss Backs.
The CHLM’s origins are also tied to the game of baseball. Many of the league’s players also played baseball in the spring and some of the names of the teams came from the names of black baseball teams. When the weather was warmer the black men played baseball, when the winter came and the ponds were frozen they played hockey. The league played its games in the same arenas as the white hockey teams, but only when the white teams were not playing hockey, usually between January and March. The CHLM was a very structured league with a championship match season structure. Because of the short time frame between January and March, their season typically only lasted eight weeks. The rules and the structure of the league were based on principles from the bible, there was no official rule book. The CHLM built a reputation for its games being fast, aggressive, exciting, and cutting-edge. The black hockey players helped to make the game cutting-edge by introducing the slap shot, which was invented by a black man named Eddie Martin, and the goalie’s butterfly technique of falling to the ice to cover the puck was created by a black man named Henry "Braces" Franklyn. The CHLM was the most popular hockey league in Nova Scotia bringing in crowds of over 1,5oo spectators compared to the games that would have around 500 white spectators.
The height of the CHLM was during the early 1900s as the league expanded to 12 teams and its popularity was at an all-time high. Unfortunately, behind the scenes, the Halifax city officials and provincials were planning to annex the areas the CHLM used to play their games to build railroads. The plans eventually became public because of the disputes between the CHLM and the city of Halifax. The city began to conspire against the CHLM, newspapers that previously covered the games no longer covered the games, the rink owners no longer rented the rinks out so hockey games could be played. This forced the league to hold its games outdoors and eventually forced the league to fold in 1911. In 1920, the CHLM was reformed only for a 10 year period, before eventually ending for good. The National Hockey League was founded in 1917, and for a while was believed to be the first professional hockey league in the Americas, but as the history of the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritime was rediscovered its legacy is now being preserved. The book Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895 to 1925 was published by George and Darril Fosty in 2004. The book covers the details of the history of the CHLM. This story reminds me why it is important that we preserve and pass down our history and culture, so future generations don’t have to rediscover our history, we would already know who we are and what we did. To all the founders, players, and supporters of the CHLM, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
J. A. Ward.
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