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BLACK HISTORY MONTH: LEGENDARY CANADIAN ATHLETES
BLACK HISTORY MONTH: LEGENDARY CANADIAN ATHLETES

By Alize Temel | February 24, 2021

Reading Time: 5 minutes

One of Canada’s iconic sports figures, Angela James’ hockey journey started in the streets of Toronto. From registering for a men’s league because there was no access to a women’s league, to becoming a superstar in women’s hockey; Angela’s journey is proof that nothing is impossible if you work hard enough.

Throughout history, many black athletes like Angela James carried the Canadian flag high and proud. In honour of Black History Month, I’ve gathered stories of Black Canadian athletes who have made enormous contributions to the Canadian legacy.

1890 – George Dixon (Boxing)

Named as one of the greatest athletes in Nova Scotia’s history, George Dixon was a bantamweight and a featherweight boxer. In his short boxing career, Dixon became the first black athlete to win a world championship in any sport by winning the bantamweight title in 1892. He retired as a bantamweight champion without being beaten. He is also considered to be one of the top featherweight fighters of all time.

Being a self-trained boxer, Dixon invented the now-widely-used shadowboxing technique in which the boxer faces an imaginary opponent to throw punches. He is also credited to use the first punching-bag in boxing history.

1958 – Willie O’Ree (Hockey).

Born in New Brunswick, Willie O’Ree became the first black player in the National Hockey League in 1958.

O’Ree was one of the most resilient and dedicated players in the league, so much so that he continued to play even after getting hit by a puck and losing vision in his right eye. “Being a left-handed shot and playing left wing to compensate, I had to turn my head all the way around to the right [and] look over my right shoulder to pick the puck up,” he said. “At first, I had a little trouble and I finally said, ‘Willie, forget about what you can’t see. Concentrate on what you can see.”

Today, his legacy continues to live on. The NHL announced that the players will wear helmet decals throughout February this year, honouring Willie O’Ree. The decals will feature the words “Celebrating Equality.”

1960 – Harry Jerome (Track).

Harry Jerome, born in Saskatchewan, is a legendary track runner who broke a total of seven world records representing Canada. He held four world records at the same time between 1963 to 1966.

Today, Harry remains the only man to have held a 100-yard world record three different times in his career.

To honour his career and his contribution to Canadian sports history, Jerome was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, and Canada’s Walk Hall of Fame. He was also named as a Person of National Historical Significance in 2010.

1990 – Angela James (Hockey).

Angela James, also called the “Wayne Gretsky of women’s hockey,” is considered to be the first superstar of modern women’s hockey.

She started her professional career in the Central Ontario Women’s Hockey League and finished it in the National Women’s Hockey League. She was the top scorer for eight seasons and was named the most valuable player for six seasons. James has been inducted into numerous hall of fames. In 2003, she became one of the first three women to be inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame, and the first black women inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

1990 – Donovan Bailey (Track).

Donovan Bailey became a household name with Olympic fans as he broke the record to be the world’s fastest man in 1996 at the Olympic games in Atlanta. The Jamaican-Canadian sprinter won 6 gold medals representing Canada in three consecutive years. The legendary athlete became the first Canadian to break the 10-second barrier in 100m by running a record-breaking 9.84 seconds at the age of 29.

After his epic finish, Bailey walked a victory lap proudly holding the Canadian flag. To watch the moment he became the fastest man in the world; click here. 

To honour his legacy, Bailey was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, and Canada’s Walk Hall of Fame.

2010 – Jennifer Abel (Diving).

Jennifer is the first Canadian to win an Olympic medal in diving, and has won the most medals by any Canadian diver. She is a 10 time medal holder at the FINA World Championships.

She became Canada’s youngest diver at the age of 16 when she performed in the 2008 Summer Olympics. Later in 2011, Abel was named the athlete of the year by the Aquatic Federation of Canada.

She continues to represent Canada in synchronized diving with her partner Mélissa Citrini-Beaulieu.

As we celebrate Black History Month, February is a great time to reflect on the accomplishments and the contributions of Black-Canadian athletes who have achieved so much to be leaders in their sport and make Canada proud.

Over the years and despite facing systematic racism, black athletes have continued to make an impact and be an inspiration to all of us. They show the upcoming generations that no matter the barriers we may face, we can get through them with discipline, dedication, and hard work.

As Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black-American female astronaut once said, “Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”

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