Carnegie, Herbert 1919–
Herbert Carnegie 1919–
Athlete, motivational educator
Disappointment at Rangers’ Camp
A legendary Canadian hockey player during the 1940s, Herbert Carnegie dreamed of a career in the National Hockey League. For years, he watched as teammates and competitors were drafted by NHL teams. The color barrier in professional hockey, however, would not be broken until 1957. Carnegie’s dream of a career in the National Hockey League would go unfulfilled.
Carnegie was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1919, into a large family headed by Jamaican immigrant parents. They lived on the west side of city, where they were the only black household in the neighborhood. The family soon moved to the Willowdale area of North York, a rural part of Toronto, when Carnegie was still an infant. By living in North York, the Carnegies were able to have a larger home, and Carnegie’s father, George, was able to supplement a meager income as a janitor for a Toronto utility company by growing produce and raising livestock.
Carnegie’s father had left school as an adolescent, and strongly emphasized the value of education to his seven children. He lectured them continuously, and told them how contemptuously his white coworkers treated him at times. Occasionally, Carnegie’s father hurled a broom at one of his children as a reminder of how their future boss would treat them if they didn’t stay in school and prepare for a professional career. Carnegie and his siblings were well aware of the racism in Canadian society even at this early age, for they were almost always the only blacks in their neighborhood, school, and local Baptist congregation. “As coloured kids, we were put down nearly every day by name-calling,” Carnegie wrote in his autobiography, A Fly in a Pail of Milk.
Found Talent on the Ice
As a youngster, Carnegie became angry when his classmates called him derogatory names, and preferred to use his fists to retaliate. He earned good grades, and discovered his passion for hockey when he put on a pair of his older brother’s skates around the age of eight. On the pond in Willowdale that day, he realized he was a quick, adept skater. Soon, he spent nearly all of his free time skating. Carnegie and his brother Ossie practiced endlessly, and spent hours playing pick-up hockey with the neighborhood boys. When they could not find a real hockey puck to use, they improvised by using frozen horse manure.
Like their playmates, the Carnegie brothers listened intently to National Hockey League games that were broadcast on the radio. These broadcasts were a Saturday-night staple in Canada during the 1920s. Like other Canadian boys, the Carnegies felt that playing professional hockey was their destiny. “Both Ossie and I set our sights on the National Hockey League (NHL),” Carnegie wrote in his memoirs. “We didn’t spend much time talking about it. We just assumed we were the best, and soon the world would know it as well.” They continued to practice passing, shooting, and dodging imaginary opponents. “Day in, day out, our goal was to be better than we were the day
At a Glance…
Born November 8, 1919, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; son of George Nathaniel (a janitor) and Adina Janes (Mitchell) Carnegie; married Audrey Redmon, 1940; children: Goldie, Bernice, Rochelle, Dale. Education: Earned degree from University of Western Ontario, 1962.
Career: Semi-professional hockey player in Ontario and Quebec, 1939–55; employee of Buffalo Ankerite Mill, Perron, Ontario, Canada, early 1940s; machinist in mill Timmins, Ontario, 1942–44; North York Board of Education, assessment officer, 1956; Borough of NorthYork, recreation supervisor, 1957–62; Boys Club director, Scarborough Police Youth Club, 1962–64; Investors Syndicate, sales associate, 1964, became Toronto division manager.
Awards: Order of Ontario, 1996; Metropolitan Toronto Canada Day Medal; QueenSilver Jubilee Medal, 1977; Commemorative medal for the 125th anniversary of Canada; OntarioGovernment Achievement Award for Good Citizenship; Pride Black Achievement Award.
Addresses: Office —Herbert H. Carnegie Future Aces Foundation, Box92293, 2900 Warden Ave., Scarborough, Ontario MIW 3Y9, Canada.
before,” Carnegie recalled. Both Carnegies played on the Lansing Public School team, and Herbert joined a midget team when he was 14-years-old. He and his brother were always the only black players on the team, and their father was the lone black man in the stands.
Celebrated Local Athlete
Despite his pride, George Carnegie had felt the sting of racism for much of his life, and had little delusions about an integrated Canadian society. He warned his sons, “You know they won’t let any black boys into the National Hockey League!” as Carnegie recalled in A Fly in a Pail of Milk. Carnegie’s father had hoped that his son would become a doctor instead. Undeterred, Carnegie went on to play for Earl Haig Collegiate School in North York for a year. However, he and his brother decided to transfer to a school in Toronto in the hopes of receiving more press attention for their playing abilities. Toronto newspaper reporters rarely covered high-school hockey games in places like North York. Carnegie’s father agreed, and even let his sons use his car to make the daily trip.
At Toronto’s Northern Vocational School, Carnegie was a standout player who rapidly progressed through the three team levels in 1935. As an added bonus, the school’s home ice was the famous Maple Leaf Gardens, home of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite his talent on the ice, however, Carnegie was subjected to racial slurs from both opponents and spectators.
Although Carnegie played golf, football, and ran track, hockey remained his first love. He practiced hockey for two hours each morning before attending school. On one occasion, he made the Toronto preps section headlines when he scored five goals in a single game. Carnegie was certain that he had a future in the NHL. “Sports can be an awfully seductive pursuit for a young person,” he wrote in A Fly in a Pail of Milk. “And that’s especially true for youngsters who see their horizons in the narrowest of terms. For some, sports seems the only escape from the misery around them. And professional sports may provide instant gratification—applause, adulation, and attention.”
“Turn Carnegie White”
One day during a practice at Maple Leaf Gardens, Carnegie’s coach pointed out the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who was sitting by himself in the stands. The owner, Conn Smythe, had marveled at Carnegie’s natural talents, but then stated that he wished “’he could turn Carnegie white’,” as Carnegie recalled in his autobiography. “I can’t remember exactly what I thought, but a little voice in the back of my head was kissing my NHL hopes goodbye.”
Carnegie was irate that others would judge his hockey abilities based on his skin color. He told his parents what had happened, and they, too, were saddened. This experience marked the beginning of a period of bitterness in Carnegie’s young life. Around this time, he meet a shy, well-to-do young woman named Audrey Redmon. He began working for her father’s hauling company while courting her, but her family was adamant that Audrey find a more ambitious suitor.
A Rough Life
In 1939, Carnegie followed his brother Ossie north to a remote part of Ontario in order to play for team known as the Perron Flyers. The brothers lived in a tiny mining town that was full of newcomers in search of work. They were surprised to find that racism was virtually nonexistent there. Carnegie worked as a janitor in a mill, and spent four successful seasons with the team. He earned 30 a week for both jobs, and lived in a boarding house with his brother. The Flyers often defeated teams whose players went on to NHL training camps. “Although my brother and I had finished among the league’s top scorers, the NHL scouts left us standing in the cold’ Carnegie remembered in his autobiography. Even a dire shortage of players caused by the onset of World War II did not improve their chances. “Ossie and I talked about it and there was no doubt in our minds that our problem was colour…. There was no one to speak for us and we never made a fuss with anyone,” Carnegie recalled in A Fly in a Pail of Milk. Still, he remained hopeful. “I felt that if I continued to play hard and to excel, sooner or later, I would get my chance. Somebody out there, I continued to hope, would have a heart.”
Carnegie and Audrey Redmon eloped, but her family soon forgave her. During their first year together, the couple lived in Perron and started a family. They moved to another mining town, Timmins, which was slightly larger. Generally, racism was still prevalent in Ontario. At times, restaurants refused to serve them. Carnegie was even rejected for military service during World War II. At the time, there was an unspoken policy preventing blacks from serving in the Canadian armed forces. “That realization led me to conclude that Papa was right,” Carnegie recalled in his autobiography. “Race was far more significant in Canadian society than I ever could have imagined. Was this a society for which I wanted to risk my life?”
Made Canadian Hockey History
During the early 1940s, Carnegie played for the Timmins team and worked as a machinist. Over the next few years, he and his wife would have four children. The Carnegie brothers continued to attract attention as talented skaters and scorers, and word of their hockey prowess reached as far as New Brunswick. Another black hockey player, Manny Mclntyre, was also creating a sensation in New Brunswick. Mclntyre decided to come to Timmins to play with the Carnegie brothers in 1941—Carnegie played center wing, his brother right wing, and Mclntyre left wing. They became the first all-black line in semi-professional hockey, and soon became a star attraction for the Timmins team. Local sportswriters tagged them with various names, including the Brown Bombers, Dark Destroyers, and Dusky Speedsters.
In 1944, Mclntyre negotiated a better contract for himself and the Carnegie brothers in the Quebec Provincial League. They earned 75 a week playing for the Shawningan Falls Cataracts, the home team of a paper mill town southwest of Quebec City. Here, the all-black line continued to attract attention for their terrific skills. They were still subjected to racial slurs from spectators, however. Mclntyre then negotiated a jump to the Sherbrooke Saints, which was considered the best team in North American semi-pro hockey. Many of the team’s players rapidly advanced to careers in the NHL.
Disappointment at Rangers’ Camp
Carnegie continued to excel as a player. He was named team captain in 1946, and won Most Valuable Player awards for three years running in the late 1940s. During this same era, an outstanding black baseball player named Jackie Robinson was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson played his first game for the Dodgers in 1947 in a much publicized, sometimes viciously debated debut. Sadly for Carnegie, no NHL owner followed the Dodgers’ example.
In 1948, Carnegie was invited to the New York Rangers’ training camp. “I was more than capable, after all those years, of measuring my own skills against those of others,” Carnegie recalled in his autobiography. “And I skated well, checked well, taking the puck away from the stars, scored goals and set up plays.” After a stellar week of practice, he was offered a contract with the Rangers’ farm team. However, the move would have meant a drastic pay cut from his Sherbrooke salary, and he had a family to support. Carnegie turned down the offer, and it marked “the end of my dream to play in the NHL,” Carnegie recalled in A Fly in a Pail of Milk.
Both Ossie Carnegie and Mclntyre eventually left to play professional hockey in France. Carnegie joined the Quebec Aces in Quebec City for the 1949–50 season. He played for the Owen Sound Mercurys in the Ontario Hockey League during the 1953–54 season. This season would be his last as a hockey player. At the age of 34, Carnegie realized that he had been lucky to escape from the sport without any permanent injuries, which were common before the advent of improved safety equipment. His teeth were also intact. In the summer of 1954, he began working as a clerk at a Toronto hospital, and spent the next two years at the tedious job, which often left him free time to doodle. To combat boredom, Carnegie began sketching play formations for the young hockey team that he was coaching.
The Future Aces
Carnegie had named his team the Future Aces, but he felt that he was not a natural-born coach. Instead, he developed what he came to call the Carnegie System of Positional Hockey, and founded the Future Aces Hockey School. The school was founded after Carnegie’s son Dale brought 40 friends home to learn hockey skills. Some of the boys were from poor families and could barely afford equipment, so Carnegie began raising money for them through sponsorship deals with merchants in North York. He came to consider himself a far better instructor than coach, and soon gave up the latter altogether. “Not every young player wanted to be in the NHL as I had,” Carnegie wrote in A Fly in a Pail of Milk. “But most young boys loved hockey the way I did and they needed to be taught how to play the game or even how to watch and enjoy the game.”
For a time, Carnegie worked for the North York Parks and Recreation Department as a sports director while taking college courses part-time through the University of Western Ontario. In 1962, he finally earned the college degree that his father had long anticipated for him. To support his family, Carnegie worked for the local school system and as a Boys Club director. He was then hired as an investment-services sales representative, a career in which he excelled for three decades. Early in his career in investment services, Carnegie found that his career in hockey helped him to overcome any racial barriers. Colleagues and clients remembered Carnegie and his brother fondly. He eventually became Toronto division manager and a board member with the company, Investors Syndicate.
Carnegie became an outstanding golfer in his later years,, taking several amateur golf titles and club championships. He continued his Future Aces school, which expanded into clinics in several other communities. A college scholarship fund, the Herbert H. Carnegie Future Aces Foundation, was also created. The Future Aces creed, written by Carnegie himself, stresses attitude, cooperation, sportsmanship, and motivation. In his autobiography, Carnegie reflected on the color barrier that had stifled his dream of playing in the NHL, and how the setback became a source of personal inspiration. “I had learned as my father had regretfully predicted that it was not so Jracial equality in Canada],” he wrote. “Well, what I wanted was a Canada where kids could dream and dreams could become realities, and the place to start was with young people.”
Carnegie, Herb, with Robert Payne, A Fly in a Pail of Milk: The Herb Carnegie Story, Mosaic Press, 1997.
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