By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
With the National Hockey League (NHL) under the microscope as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement, Rane Carnegie was compelled to once again put his grandfather, Herb Carnegie, back in the conversation for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Herb played hockey in the 1940s and 1950s, suiting up for teams in Shawinigan and Sherbrooke before eventually finding a home on the Quebec Aces in the Quebec Senior Hockey League (QSHL). He was also a member of the well-known all-Black line playing alongside his brother Ossie Carnegie and Manny McIntyre for the Sherbrooke Rand.
Herb was one of the first Black hockey players to play the sport professionally. However, he never got a shot in the NHL, due to overt anti-Black discrimination. Carnegie believes his grandfather, who passed away in 2012, deserves posthumous recognition.
“If we’re talking about racism in hockey, then it starts and stops with my grandfather in my opinion,” he said in a phone interview, adding that Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau often vouched for Herb’s abilities on the ice.
Carnegie created a petition last summer to raise awareness about Herb’s impact on the sport in Canada, and around the world. The goal was to reach 500 signatures, matching the amount of letters Willie O’Ree received before he was considered for the hall.
O’Ree, who was the first Black hockey player to play in the NHL, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018. Carnegie’s petition has gone above and beyond its original mark, amassing more than 8,000 signatures, but there is still more work to do.
“We want to keep this going because it’s a long process. It’s not guaranteed, unfortunately. The more firepower we have, the better our chances become,” Carnegie said.
He told The Record that his family, as well as the entire BIPOC hockey community, owes a tremendous debt to O’Ree and his experience with racism in the sport. But Carnegie hopes O’Ree’s induction sparks a revolution in the hockey world.
Jarome Iginla, a Black Canadian hockey player who spent most of his career with the Calgary Flames, was selected for the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2020. He is the fourth Black player inducted alongside O’Ree, Grant Fuhr and Angela James.
The ceremony is expected to take place this year due to the pandemic. Carnegie said the Hall of Fame committee, which is a separate entity from the NHL, could make history, if they also decide to include his grandfather as a last-minute addition.
“Given the racial awakening that we’re in right now, it would just be a really cool story line and I think it would be something you would look back in the history books and be like ‘that right there, that means everything to inclusion and fairness and respect’,” he said.
Herb’s daughter, Bernice, is in full support of the petition. She told The Record that there have been many attempts to get the former Aces star into the Hall of Fame over the years. Bernice began to lose hope and eventually stopped arguing for her father’s induction.
“I kind of let it go because there had been so many attempts and they just didn’t seem to get it, those who were in charge, but maybe it’s because they just didn’t really know him,” she said.
According to Bernice, her father was more than just a hockey player. He never got a chance to play in the NHL even though he had the talent. Racism is pretty insidious, it persists to this very day, so one can imagine what it was like back then, she explained.
But while he wasn’t able to play at the highest level, Herb also contributed to his Toronto community. He started Canada’s first registered hockey school, teaching kids to appreciate life and overcome challenges.
He also founded the Future Aces Foundation with his wife, Audrey May. The foundation aims to inspire and empower youth to have a positive impact on society. They have invested over $900,000 in scholarships to graduating high school students.
“What [students] say is that even though the price of going to university has gone up, the fact that they get the scholarships is an incentive for them to continue,” said Foundation President and Chair Paul Braithwaite, adding that the scholarships are worth $1,000.
Carnegie acknowledged the NHL’s recent efforts to diversify the game. Hockey is changing, as organizations create more committees and programs to make the sport more inclusive. But the change also needs to come from within, he said.
One way the NHL can help grow the game is by diversifying its scouting room, Carnegie added. He was often criticized for his behaviour on the ice, mainly dancing after scoring a goal. Players shouldn’t be penalized for their character, he explained.
“If we don’t have people in a position of power to be like ‘hey, just because the kid is dancing, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t get an opportunity’. Little things like that I think that’s where the NHL can be better; representation in the decision-making chairs,” said Carnegie.