Black Canadian athletes in history
This month, we recognize and remember Black athletes and their accomplishments throughout history.

John “Army” Howard: Canada’s first Black male Olympian

John “Army” Howard was born on October 6, 1888. The details of his early life are sparse, and there is some suggestion that he could have been born in Winnipeg or in Minnesota. He was Canada’s first Black Olympian who competed at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm. 

His nomination to the Canadian Olympic Team was historic, but it was also divisive, with racist coverage in the newspapers. When they gathered in Montreal to board the boat that would transport them across the Atlantic Ocean, he was barred from sleeping in the same hotel as his white companions. 

Howard was a top-ranked sprinter in the 100m and 200m dashes, but a stomach problem kept him from competing at his best in Stockholm. He didn’t make the finals in any of his individual events or the 4x100m and 4x400m relays either. 

Howard won the Canadian championships in the 100 and 220 metres a year after his Olympic debut. Howard served in World War 1 with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and won bronze in the 100m dash at the 1919 Inter-Allied Games.

Barbara Howard: Canada’s first Black female athlete to compete internationally 

Barbara Howard was born on May 8, 1920, in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is said to be the first Black female athlete to compete internationally for Canada. 

She established the British Empire record for the 100-yard sprint at the age of 17, qualifying for the 1938 British Empire Games in Sydney, Australia. Additionally, she placed sixth in the 100-yard dash in the Olympics and took silver and bronze in the 440-yard and 660-yard relays. 

Barbara never participated in the Olympic Games, which was postponed due to World War II between 1940 and 1944. Howard died on January 26, 2017.

The Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes

From 1895 to 1925, the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes was an all-Black men’s hockey league founded in Halifax. This was organized by Black Baptists and intellectuals and was created to bring young Black men to Sunday worship, where there was a promise for rival hockey games following the service. 

The game’s only rules were the Bible, which left the game to be more physical and led to innovations like the goalie dropping to his knees (or into his butterfly) and the early form of the slapshot. 

The league became a driving force for the equality of Black Canadians, with the influence of the Black Nationalism Movement of the period. Games were held between late January and early March because of the restricted access to arenas, which was only permitted after the white league seasons were finished.  


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