Black Ice offers a look at a troubling chapter in Canadian hockey history  

Black Ice is a worthwhile ice-breaker

By Aparita Bhandari

Aparita Bhandari

The new documentary Black Ice examines the role of Black players in Canadian hockey, from pre-NHL contributions to the game to the struggles against racism that continue to this day. Directed by Hubert Davis and executive produced by LeBron James, Drake, and Maverick Carter, Black Ice is a sobering survey of systemic marginalization within one of the world’s most beloved team sports.

I recently took my children to a nearby City of Toronto skating rink called Herbert H. Carnegie Centennial Centre for a public skate program. As we laced on our skates, we watched a group of young boys from a junior hockey league wrap up their game. The players were predominantly white. The people who had turned up for the public skate program, on the other hand, came from mixed backgrounds, reflecting the cultural makeup of our neighbourhood – mainly Eastern European and Asian families, my kids and I repping South Asia and one Black family.

“Who was Herb Carnegie?” my son asked, raising his voice over the Zamboni machine, as we waited in one of the penalty bench areas. Fortunately, I’d seen the documentary Black Ice when it premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, so I was able to elaborate on Carnegie’s contribution to hockey – even as he was excluded from the NHL simply because of the colour of his skin. Between the history that I’d learned from the documentary, and the commemorative information written on the rink’s walls, we were able to have a brief discussion about the troubling history of Canadian hockey.

Black Ice

Weaving together the past and present, Black Ice offers a look at a chapter of Canadian history that has been largely forgotten. Based on the book by Canadian brothers Darril and George Fosty, a journalist and historian, respectively, the documentary intersperses recreated scenes of the Colored Hockey League’s history with interviews with current day hockey stars such as Akim Aliu and Saroya Tinker, as well as descendants of the Black players from the Colored Hockey League and cultural commentators.

The testimonies by Aliu and Tinker aren’t unexpected, given how entrenched anti-Black racism continues to be in all aspects of life. Nevertheless, you can’t help but wince when you hear them speak dispassionately about the prejudices they have needed to work through, and the struggles they continue to face both on and off the ice rink. At the same time, you marvel at their grit and determination to be agents of change within the sport.

Can a film bring about an about-face in Canadian hockey – a sport that’s still largely inaccessible to large swaths of BIPOC communities despite various diversity initiatives? In order to move forward, it’s imperative we look at the past. Black Ice is a worthwhile ice-breaker to that end.

Aparita Bhandari is an arts and life reporter in Toronto