The Herb Carnegie Story: Canada's First Professional Black Hockey Player

January 24, 2020 | Bill V.

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Herb Carnegie was a barrier-breaking hockey player, investment dealer, senior golf champion and philanthropist. We're thrilled to announce that his daughter, Bernice Carnegie, will be talking about her father's inspirational journey at two upcoming events. The first event is on Tuesday, January 28 at 7:30 pm at the S. Walter Stewart Branch, presented by the East York Historical Society. The second event is at Parkdale Branch on Tuesday, March 31 at 6:30 pm.

Unable to come to these talks? Learn more about Herb Carnegie below.

A Fly in a Pail of Milk The Herb Carnegie Story

A Fly in a Pail of Milk: The Herb Carnegie Story

"Revised and updated with commentary from Bernice Carnegie, Herb’s daughter, and life lessons passed from father to daughter Herbert Carnegie was the complete hockey package in the 1940s and 1950s. Though his contributions to society both in sport and education have been referenced and profiled in books, documentaries, and thousands of articles, this is Carnegie’s own account of striving to break the glass ceiling, starting with his career as a professional hockey player on all-white teams. In 1978, noted hockey journalist Stan Fischler wrote a powerful headline about Carnegie: “Born Too Soon.” A Fly in a Pail of Milk reveals the feelings of a trailblazer--a man who proved to be unstoppable on the ice and in his resolve to make our world a better place. In this new edition, Herb’s daughter Bernice Carnegie shares stories about what it was like to work closely with Herb on youth and educational projects for more than 30 years. She also reflects on parts of her father’s writings, sharing personal thoughts, family stories, and conversations about how his journey profoundly influenced her life."


Too Colourful For the League: Racism in Hockey

"This documentary examines the struggle of blacks in hockey in Canada from the 1930s to the present day telling the story of black players’ courage and determination to play in a white-dominated sport. It focuses on an effort by former Montreal citizenship judge Richard Lord to nominate legendary black hockey player Herb Carnegie into the Hockey Hall of Fame. During the 1940s, Carnegie was widely acknowledged as one of the best hockey players in the world, playing alongside Jean Beliveau for the Quebec Aces. Yet he never was allowed to play in the NHL because of a long-time color barrier, which was only broken a decade later by Willie O’Ree of the Boston Bruins. Directed by: Daniel Cross and Mila Aung-Thwin Duration : 52 minutes"

After hockey Mr Carnegie was also heavily involved in philanthropic work with the Future Aces Creed/Foundation and later was well known for his golfing too. 

Herb Carnegie The former hockey player and his Future Aces Creed are featured in two special Spiderman comic books coming out next month
Herb Carnegie The former hockey player and his Future Aces Creed are featured in two special Spiderman comic books coming out next month. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1990.

If you want more information about Herb Carnegie you may also be interested in these links:

The openers for the East York Historical Society talk by Beatrice Carnegie will be Toronto's former Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke and also the musical duet Lucie Nathan and Rick Pearson.

Herb Carnegie Playing Golf from the Toronto Star Photography Archives 1977
Herb Carnegie. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1977.


See below for an interview of Herb Carnegie from Hockey Night in Canada's Inside Hockey:


See also this Canadian East Coast title for some history you may not be aware of.

Black Ice The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes  1895-1925

Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895-1925

"In 1895, The Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes was formed in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This was Twenty-five years before the Negro Baseball Leauges in the United States, and twenty-two years before the birth of the National Hockey League. The Colored League would emerge as a premier force in Canadian hockey and supply the resilience necessary to preserve a unique culture which exists to this day. Unfortunately their contributions were conveniently ignored, or simply stolen, as white teams and hockey officials, influenced by the black league, copied elements of the black style or sought to take self-credit for black hockey innovations. Black Ice is the first written record of the Colored Hockey League in the Maritimes."


And in fact Canada Post just unveiled a stamp honouring the Colored Hockey Championship and the all-Black hockey teams in the Maritimes that competed for it between 1895 and the early 1930s.

New stamp Canada Post Black Hockey Maritimes


Herb Carnegie did not make it into the NHL due to prejudice but Willie O'Ree did break that barrier:

Willie O'Ree The Story of the First Black Player in the NHL cover

Willie O'Ree: The Story of the First Black Player in the NHL

"Willie O'Ree quietly made NHL history at the Montreal Forum on January 18, 1958, when he became the first black player to take to the ice. In the dressing room before the game, his Boston Bruins teammates told him not to worry. If any one of the Montreal players said anything to him, they'd have his back. There was a round of applause when O'Ree stepped onto the ice, and newspapers ran the story. The colour barrier in the NHL had been broken, yet it would be sixteen years before the next black player, Mike Marson (also a Canadian), was drafted. Four decades later, the NHL pulled O'Ree out of retirement to honour his achievement and make him an ambassador for the NHL's "Hockey is for Everyone" program to encourage kids from all backgrounds to play hockey."


Breaking the Ice The Black Experience in Professional Hockey

Breaking the Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey

"Black hockey players from Grant Fuhr to Jarome Iginla speak candidly for the first time about their experiences in the NHL. Since 1958, thirty-seven black men have played in the National Hockey League. Out of the 600 players active today, fourteen are black. This is the first book to tell the unique stories of black hockey players -- how they overcame or succumbed to racial and cultural prejudices to play Canada's favourite pastime. Sports journalist Cecil Harris outlines in detail the personal and professional battles as well as the victories of such hockey pioneers as Herb Carnegie and Willie O'Ree -- men whose determination, skill and sheer love of the game smoothed the ice for black players to follow. Harris talks to well-known players like Grant Fuhr, the first black goaltender to be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame (2003), and 2001-02 MVP and Olympic gold medallist Jarome Iginla"


You may also be interested in the story of Angela James, a Black Canadian woman hockey player, and her amazing career and story.  She was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010, where she became the first woman, first openly gay player, and second black athlete to be included. 

Angela James The First Superstar of Canadian Women's Hockey

Angela James: The First Superstar of Canadian Women's Hockey

"Dubbed "the Wayne Gretzky of women's hockey", Angela James became the most dominant female player on the planet from the early 1980s through the mid 1990s. Her rise to hockey stardom, however, was a true long shot. During a difficult childhood plagued by near poverty and familial chaos, hockey was James's escape ... This book charts James's rise to stardom from learning how to play on borrowed skates to dominating as an international success, from her controversial exclusion from the 1998 Olympic women's hockey team and its aftermath to becoming the passionate educator, coach and mother that she is today. This authorised biography features exclusive access to James, as well as one-on-one interviews with those who know her best."



Black Ice The Val James Story

Black Ice: The Val James Story

"Val James became the first African American player in the NHL when he took to the ice with the Buffalo Sabres in 1982, and in 1987 he became the first black player of any nationality to skate for the Toronto Maple Leafs."


Grant Fuhr The Story of a Hockey Legend

Grant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey Legend

"The Hall of Fame story of Grant Fuhr, the first black superstar in the National Hockey League and the last line of defense for the Edmonton Oilers dynasty, told through Fuhr's 10 most important games. Grant Fuhr was the best goalie in the league at a time when hockey was at its most exciting. Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers were arguably the greatest team in league history, and during the 1980s arguably the most popular team across the United States, even if many had little idea where Edmonton was. They were that good. And so was Fuhr: Gretzky called him the best goaltender in the world.  Fuhr broke the colour barrier for NHL goaltenders when he played his first game for the Oilers in 1981, and was an inspiration for later players including future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla."

Jarome Iginla How the NHL's First Black Captain Gives Back

Jarome Iginla: How the NHL's First Black Captain Gives Back

"He's the face of the Calgary Flames, but there's much more to Jarome Iginla's story than just being the first black captain of an NHL team. He's also renowned for his social commitment and generosity off the ice.Jarome (nicknamed Iggy) grew up in a single-parent household in St. Albert, Alberta. It was thanks to support of his grandparents that he started to play hockey. His hard work paid off and, in 1996, at the age of 18, Iggy was drafted into the NHL. He went on to become a multiple-award-winning hockey player and two-time Olympic champion."


A Sporting Chance Achievements of African-Canadian Athletes

A Sporting Chance: Achievements of African-Canadian Athletes

"Over the years, Canadians have smugly asserted their country's more tolerant culture in race relations. Yet as this story of African-Canadian participation in sports demonstrates, the record is far more troubling. In reality, Canada's record in matters of race was a disturbing blend of occasional good intentions and ugly practices. The study of the Black athletic experience in Canada is not only a revealing portrait into our past, but also one more demonstration of some time-honoured truths about human achievement and the necessity of the public will to provide open and fair forums for equal access to participation. Presented in a chronological sequence, individual sports are presented along with the leading athletes who brought grace and a determination to achieve."

For more detailed information about Herb and also Bernice Carnegie and other Black Canadians you may be interested in Who's Who in Black Canada 2: "A directory with biographical profiles of 700+ highly successful Blacks from across Canada (some now in the US) who are excelling in a wide range of professions (e.g. medicine, law, business, engineering, the arts), in community service, or both. Summaries are 200-750 words in length and includes career highlights; achievements; education; awards; publications; current contact information, etc." The information is also available online through Google books. 

Who's Who in Black Canada


Reading about Mr Carnegie reminded me of another local, ground-breaking civil rights activist who died recently – Bromley Armstrong.

You may also be interested to know about our Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection. This collection features over 16,000 print and audiovisual materials for adults, children, and teens about the Black and Caribbean historical and cultural experience – with a special emphasis on Canadian content. Material covers history, social science, and the contributions and achievements of Blacks in Canada. The collection also includes a small selection of titles about world figures in Black history and culture.

Recognized as one of the most significant Black and Caribbean heritage collections in Canada, it is an invaluable resource for the Black and Caribbean community as well as students and researchers.

Formats available include:

  • Print: fiction and non-fiction, newspapers and periodicals
  • CDs
  • DVDs
  • Audiobooks
  • Large Print
  • Digitized content

The collection is available at four branches across the city:

There are also many other Toronto Public Library programs about Black History happening over the next few weeks. We hope to see you there!