By Michael Boriero
Local Journalism Initiative
It took decades of breaking down systemic barriers, as well as petitions, editorials, and support from former National Hockey League (NHL) players, but on June 27, Herb Carnegie was finally elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, cementing himself in the sport’s history.
Carnegie played hockey in the 1940s and 1950s. He was one of the first Black hockey players to play the sport professionally. However, he was never able to crack an NHL roster because of the colour of his skin. He is often regarded as the best Black player never to play in the NHL.
Despite facing constant adversity, Carnegie fought hard to carve out his place in the hockey community. Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau was always a major supporter. They were once teammates with the Quebec Aces in the Quebec Senior Hockey League (QSHL).
Carnegie also suited up for teams in Shawinigan and Sherbrooke, playing alongside his brother Ossie and Manny McIntyre. The trio formed the first all-Black line in professional hockey.
They were dubbed the Black Aces. Carnegie was 92 years old when he sadly passed in 2012.
But now his name has been etched in history. And although he isn’t alive to celebrate with family, friends, and former hockey teammates, Carnegie stands side-by-side with the four other Black Hall of Fame inductees: Grant Fuhr, Angela James, Willie O’Ree and Jarome Iginla.
It has been a long time coming for Carnegie’s family, too. His daughter, Bernice, has been advocating for her father’s contributions to the sport on and off the ice for years. So when the announcement was made at the end of June, she could barely hold back her emotions at the news.
“Well, you know what, I started to cry,” she said. “I was talking with Lanny McDonald and Mike Gartner and I said to them ‘I feel like crying,’ and they said ‘you are crying,’ and at the time I was just about to go into a Zoom meeting with my partners from the Carnegie Initiative.”
Carnegie was elected in the builder’s category. While he was a force to be reckoned with on the ice, accumulating several most valuable player awards, he will always be remembered for his endeavours away from the game. Carnegie started Canada’s first registered hockey school.
He wanted to teach children to appreciate life and overcome challenges. He also created the Future Aces Foundation with his wife, Audrey May, which aims to inspire and empower youth to have a positive impact on society. They have since invested over $900,000 in scholarships.
“He was faced with a lot of issues that really shouldn’t have happened because of his race, but he was a man first and he had a lot of competence in who he was and I always say that’s why he accomplished so much in his life. I’m proud every day that I’m his daughter,” said Bernice.
The Carnegie Initiative, named after Herb, has two pillars: inclusion and acceptance. According to Bernice, who worked alongside her father for more than three decades, Carnegie just wanted to do the right thing, make a better world, and he wanted to be treated with respect.
“I think my father would be thrilled. I know that he knew that his initiatives would continue because that had been in my hands for many years and even though he was blind for the last 25 years of his life, his vision continued to inspire people,” she told The Record on Wednesday.
While Bernice emerged as an instrumental voice in her father’s bid for the Hockey Hall of Fame, it was Carnegie’s grandson, Rane, who brought his name back to the forefront last year in the form of an online petition with a modest goal of 500 signatures. He got more than 10,500 signatures.
“It’s still surreal,” Rane told The Record. “I still don’t want to be pinched because I feel like I’m in a dream and, you know, I’m just so thankful. I’m so happy, overjoyed and I know that my grandfather, when we got that announcement made, I know that he was smiling up there, too.”
His grandfather being elected into the Hall is another step towards growing the sport, making it more inclusive and diverse, Rane said, adding these moments are an inspiration to every young BIPOC hockey player out there. But while there is closure now, Rane doesn’t intend to stop.
“The next move is to continue to push inclusivity, diversity, equity and fairness, right? We’re not going to stop. We feel like this is a part of the healing process for the game of hockey. I certainly don’t envision that I’m just going to put the torch down,” he explained.
Rane, a former semi-professional ice hockey player and currently a coach in the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL), founded the Own Aces Sports Group, focusing on creating a culture that is inclusive, honest, and fun. He wants to stay at the forefront of the conversation.
There are a lot of organizations, associations, initiatives and coalitions sprouting up now, Rane added, including the Carnegie Initiative, Hockey Diversity Alliance, and Black Girl Hockey Club. It will take time, but Rane is confident that hockey is finally heading in the right direction.
“The NHL has done a lot, but they can do a lot more. I think that goes for the whole hockey community, the whole hockey world, if you look at what’s going on with Hockey Canada, change needs to happen in all stages of the hockey culture and we need to do more,” he said.