Black history month is a time to celebrate the achievements of Black Canadians who have contributed to build our country into what it is today. It’s the time to take a moment as fellow Canadians to appreciate what Black Canadians have done to enrich our society and the crucial role they play in our community and history. This observance has been recognized since 1995 to formally honour this community’s important contributions to our country.
In honor of Black history month, we are taking a moment to highlight the contributions of some of the trailblazing Black canadian athletes who have had a strong impact on our country’s heritage and identity. These are only a few of the many Black athletes who have left a great impact on both Canada and the global sports industry.
A descendant of escaped African-American slaves, Ray Lewis faced immense racial prejudice and discrimination as he became a top track and field athlete and went on to be the first Canadian Black Olympic medalist.
Born in Hamilton, Ontario, Lewis worked as a porter on the Canadian Pacific Railway during the Great Depression for 22 years. Known as Rapid Ray, he would train by running alongside the tracks during stopovers and eventually won a bronze medal as part of the 4x400 metre relay team at the 1932 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles. He was named an officer of the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honour, in 2001.
Willie O’Ree was the first Black ice hockey player in the National Hockey League. Originally from New Brunswick, O'Ree got his NHL debut playing with the Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens in 1958. As the first Black player in the league, O’Ree became a great source of inspiration to other Black athletes and many have since honoured his legacy and achievements.
O'Ree received the Order of Canada in 2008 and has since been honoured with numerous awards including the Hockey Legacy Award (2011) and the United States Congressional Gold Medal (2019) in recognition of his commitments to hockey, inclusion and opportunity. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018 and was most recently named to Canada's Sports Hall of Fame in 2020. O’Ree is now the NHL’s diversity ambassador and visits schools across North America to share messages of inclusion, dedication and confidence.
Born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Angela James is often considered the first superstar of women's hockey. She was one of the first three women to be inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation (2008) and the second Black athlete inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010.
Her talent was evident even as a child. She became a top scorer in a boys’ hockey league at 8 years old but was soon forbidden from playing and forced to join a girls’ league. As a woman of colour in a male dominated field, racism and discrimination followed her through adulthood. James pushed through these challenges and has since received multiple honours, including being inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2009 and being recognized as a pioneer of the sport.
Obviously the achievements made by Black Canadian athletes and the impact they’ve had on our country are too numerous to list here. Though great strides have been made to address racial inequality in Canada, we know the issues facing communities of colour are increasingly complex and we will continue to do what we can to spread a message of diversity, inclusion and acceptance.
We continually strive to use our platform to increase diverse representation, educate ourselves and others as well as to encourage open dialogue as a way to strengthen our community for a better tomorrow.There are many ways for each of us to do our part in supporting our communities of colour. Eliminating prejudice and injustice starts within each of us and it requires us all to not only speak out for others but to also listen and believe people of colour’s experiences. This list of anti-racism resources in Montreal was created by locals for anyone to consult, learn from and donate to. We can all benefit from regularly referring to this list to better both ourselves and our community.