The CHL lasted from 1894-1930 or 1895-1925, depending on your source. George and Darril Fosty, two white hockey historians who wrote “Black Ice,” believe the league existed from 1895-1925.
The Coloured Hockey League (CHL) began as an initiative of Black Baptist churches in Nova Scotia. The aim was to increase and maintain male membership. The league consisted of teams from Halifax, Africville, Hammond’s Plains, Dartmouth, Truro, Armherst and Charlottetown. All games were on an invitation basis and no trophy was ever given.
The originators of the CHL comprised mainly of Baptist ministers and church administrators who were the sons and grandsons of runaway slaves. There was a black enclave where 4 black families–the Couneys, Williams, Munros and Leales–settled and had 15 children between them. These families were the founding members.
The Coloured Hockey League had players who were innovators of the game: 3 ½ foot tall goalie Henry “Braces” Franklyn was the first recorded goalie to go down to the ice to stop the puck. At the time the goalies in white leagues had to stand to stop pucks. The National Hockey League, which originated in 1917, also adopted the rule that allowed goalies to go down to the ice and stop pucks. Henry “Braces” Franklyn was also known to leave the net area to play the puck. The NHL didn’t see a goalie do that on a regular basis until Jacques Plante in the 1950’s.
Eddie Martin of the Halifax Eurekas was the first player to use the slap shot. He didn’t get credit for it. Instead, Frank “Bun” Cook, who introduced the slap shot to the NHL 25 years later, is credited as the innovator.
In an era where many believed blacks could not endure the cold, possessed ankles too weak to skate effectively, and lacked intelligence to play organized sports, these men broke the myth. The CHL was organized 22 years before the NHL and 35 years before the Negro League (Baseball).
At its peak, the CHL had over 400 players from Nova Scotia, New Bruinswick and Prince Edward Island.
The CHL realized the importance of entertainment way ahead of its time. They would hold skills competition, such as a contest to determine who was the fastest skater. Half time had acrobats, circus-like comedy and each team had a brass band performing. There is no professional league that doesn’t incorporate some forms of entertainment in their games today.
Rink owners recognized financial opportunity and promoted the CHL games through local papers. The white player games would attract between 200 to 300 fans a game while their black counter parts were averaging 1 200 mainly white fans.
The beginning of the end for the league and its popularity was when 2 power railroads wanted the lands occupied by 7 black families. The railroad companies and the city wanted to evacuate the families without compensating them for the land. The families fought them in court for many years.
The Black populations were doing better economically than their white counterparts. This created jealousy that led to racist behaviors, which in turn led railroad companies to take many families’ land without compensation. It also led to the destruction of the CHL by refusal of Arena time which forced games to be moved outside and to the crushing of Black businesses by instituting regulations that prevented Blacks and Native Canadians from continuing to run a successful market. The city also no longer hired black workers, which made them unable to feed their families.
There were 2 major historical events that also affected the economy in the area: the Halifax explosion in 1917 and World War I.
You can search online for “Black Ice” and Black Islanders Co-operative (who did a summary of the findings in “Black Ice”).
Enjoy Black History Month!