Pucks, sticks and ice. The great Canadian sport. A sport so deeply embedded in Canadian culture that newcomers to this country pick it up—and teach it to their kids—so that they feel Canadian.
Black Ice based on the book, Black Ice: The Lost History of the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895-1925, by George and Darril Fosty, takes us behind the locker room doors into the realities of some of these players. After falling in love with the sport and deciding to devote their lives to it, they would look around to see that they were the only person of colour on their team; that they would have to act like everyone else to fit in; that even in that there were many people who didn’t think they should be there. Never mind that black people and people of colour have been playing hockey since as early as the 1800s. Players like Akim Aliu, Saroya Tinker, Mark Connors and Wayne Simmonds would quietly endure the racist remarks and gestures for years, not just because they had seen that no steps would be taken to discipline the perpetrators, but also because they were afraid of jeopardising the careers they had worked so hard to build. In this documentary, they say, “we’re done with that”.
Black Ice exposes the difficulty with assimilation that a lot of black people, people of colour and immigrants face. It’s fairly easy to change the way that one talks, take on new interests and dress a certain way to make fitting in possible but at some point, the thought goes from “is it working?” to “wait. Do they see me?” That can be very hard to navigate, especially when you’re trying to build community in a new place, and I know personally that it’s taking me years to do. Unfortunately, for the players in Black Ice, the answer to both of those questions was ‘no’. They were instead viewed only as their skin colour in a game that for generations was seen as a ‘white person’s sport’.
The documentary doesn’t leave us without any hope though. It looks forward to the next generation of hockey players, most of whom will not have to endure the same racist insults because they have people before them who are unwilling to relent, unafraid to challenge and are taking the time to guide them through.
Black Ice is currently playing at TIFF ’22. For screening information, click here.