Black Canadians who made history in sports

Celebrating the contribution made by Black athletes in Canada’s history

Black History Month is about honouring Black Canadians, both past and present, who have made enormous contributions in all sectors of society. Though it has been celebrated since 1978, the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month in Canada in December 1995.

To this day, Black athletes continue to captivate the nation across every sport while breaking down cultural barriers in society. As those of the past had to overcome adversity and racial discrimination transparently, today’s Black competitors remind us of the ongoing battle against racism that continues to plague the world.

Here are the stories of eight Black Canadian athletes who made history by reaching the pinnacle in sports with the odds entirely stacked against them.

George Dixon 

George Dixon was the first Canadian-born boxing champion, winning the bantamweight title in 1890. Born in Africville, Nova Scotia, Dixon would also claim the world featherweight title in 1891, after defeating Cal McCarthy in 22 rounds.

Dixon is widely credited for developing shadowboxing, a training exercise commonly used by combat sports athletes in which one throws punches at an imaginative opponent. Today, it is a staple in martial arts, acting as an effective routine to loosen and warm up the body.

John Howard 

John Armstrong “Army” Howard was a Canadian track and field athlete. At the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Howard became the first Black Olympian to represent Canada. He was born in the United States and moved to Winnipeg in 1907 with his father.

According to major Canadian media prior to the event, Howard was Canada’s best hope for gold. However, the top-ranked sprinter’s performance was hindered by a stomach ailment that saw him fail to advance to the finals in the 100m and 200m events. Howard’s impact on Canadian sports is felt through two of his grandchildren, who became Olympians themselves, Harry and Valerie Jerome.

Phil Edwards

Phil Edwards was another Canadian track and field athlete who competed in middle-distance events. He earned the nickname “Man of Bronze” for winning five Olympic bronze medals but none of other denominations. He would be Canada’s most decorated Olympic athlete until 2002.

Edwards became the first-ever winner of the Lou Marsh Trophy in 1936, an award that is bestowed annually to Canada’s top athlete. The same year, he became the first Black person to graduate from McGill University’s medical school. He would compete in the 1936 Summer Olympic Games shortly after his graduation.

Barbara Howard 

At 17 years old, Barbara Howard was one of the fastest female sprinters in the British Empire. She qualified for the 1938 British Empire Games (now named the Commonwealth Games, since 1974) after running 100 yards in 11.2 seconds, a tenth of a second faster than the British Empire Games record.

Howard is believed to be the first Black woman to represent Canada in international sports competition; however, she never got the chance to participate in the Olympic Games because of its cancellation due to World War II.

Her athletic accomplishments were recently recognized with her induction to the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 2012 and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.

Willie O’Ree 

On Jan. 18, 1958, Willie O’Ree made history at the Montreal Forum when suiting up for the Boston Bruins, becoming the first Black player in the National Hockey League (NHL).

Today, the Bruins’ trailblazer is the director of the NHL’s diversity program, a movement that aims to ensure hockey is taught and promoted to children from all cultural backgrounds in North America. O’Ree’s number will be retired by the Bruins next season.

Angela James 

Angela James is a former Canadian ice hockey player who played senior hockey between 1980 and 2000. James played in the first women’s world championship in 1987. She would lead Team Canada to four gold medals at the IIHF World Women’s Hockey Championships in 1990, 1992, 1994, and 1997.

During her senior career, James was a six-time most valuable player and eight-time scoring champion. She is hailed as a major pioneer who enabled the women’s game to enter mainstream Canadian culture and is seen as the first superstar in modern women’s hockey.

Donovan Bailey 

Donovan Bailey became a Canadian sports icon when he set the 100m world record at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, running a time of 9.84 seconds. Bailey also anchored the 4x100m Canadian relay team to another gold metal that year. In becoming the world’s fastest man, Bailey was named “Athlete of the Decade” by Track & Field News.

The Jamaican-born athlete was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2004 as an individual athlete and in 2008 as a member of the 1996 Canadian champion relay team.

Jarome Iginla 

In 2002, Jarome Iginla became the first Black male athlete to win a Winter Olympic gold medal. Iginla was an alternate captain for Team Canada, where he helped lead the nation to its first Olympic hockey championship in 50 years. He notched two goals in the team’s 5-2 victory over Team USA in the finals.

Iginla played over 1,500 games in the NHL in a career that spanned from 1996-2017. In 2020, he became the fourth Black player to be inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame after Grant Fuhr, James, and O’Ree.


Collage by Kit Mergaert


Concordia honours historic Stingers teams

Two teams and two players inducted into Concordia Sports Hall of Fame

Pete Regimbald, assistant head coach on the Concordia Stingers football team, was honoured during a weekend celebrating the school’s athletic history. He has been with the football team since 1968, when they were the Loyola College Warriors, and will retire at the end of this season.

Head coach Brad Collinson played under Regimbald from 2000 to 2002, and was a part-time coach alongside him from 2004 to 2010. Now, in his present role, Collinson gets to work with him for his final season. The head coach said Regimbald brings a lot of experience to the coaching staff.

“He’s a great man and he’s spent a lot of time here,” Collinson said. “It’s an honour to be working with him again.”

Current players, such as fourth-year offensive lineman Maurice Simba, also spoke highly of Regimbald. “That guy is everything,” Simba said. “He’s like a mentor and father for us. He knows this program more than anyone.”

Concordia honoured Regimbald on Saturday night, following their 74-3 loss to the Université de Montréal Carabins during the homecoming game. Despite the blowout loss, Simba said the players gave their best effort for Regimbald.   

“People now are going to say, ‘How did you guys give 100 per cent when you lost by 71 points?’ but we gave everything we got,” Simba added. “I’m really proud of the person he is, and he’s helped a lot of guys on the football team.”  

Receiver James Tyrrell also had nothing but positive words about the assistant head coach after the game.

“He’s an intense coach no matter his age, and his heart is really in the game,” Tyrrell said with a laugh. “It’s fun to have him around and he deserves it.”

The women’s soccer team was the only Stingers team able to win a regular season game at home during homecoming weekend. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Two players, two teams inducted into Hall of Fame

Part of the homecoming weekend was the annual Concordia Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony, held in the John Molson building on the downtown campus. The 1998 Stingers football team was one of the inductees, and they were honoured at halftime against the Carabins.

The 1998 team finished first in the old Ontario-Quebec Intercollegiate Football Conference (OQIFC) with a 6-2 record, before beating the Bishop’s Gaiters in the semi-final. They played the Dunsmore Cup at home against the Université de Laval Rouge et Or. After two overtimes, the game had to be postponed until the next day to due darkness—there were no flood lights at the Concordia Stadium at the time. The Stingers won in the third overtime the next day, and you can actually watch the full game, or at least the first day of it, on YouTube.

The team eventually beat the Acadia Axemen in the Atlantic Bowl before losing to the Saskatchewan Huskies in the Vanier Cup, the national title game. It’s the only time in school history that the football team made it to the Vanier Cup. Sylvain Girard, Evan Davis and Jeffrey Anderson were all members of the 1998 team that were picked in the 1999 Canadian Football League (CFL) draft.

Head coach Collinson said some former players spoke to the current players last week. Tyrrell said it was good to be able to spend time with some of the past players.

“We understand what we have right now is because of them, they built it,” the receiver said. “It’s great to connect what was given to us, through them.”

Dwayne Bromfield, a player of the 1999 football team, was also inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Historic women’s hockey team also honoured

Can you imagine an undefeated hockey season? Well, the 1997-98 Concordia Stingers women’s hockey team did just that. They had a perfect 13-0 season before winning six-straight games to claim the Quebec Student Sports Federation (QSSF) title and the first-ever national championship. They won two tournaments that year and had only four losses, all in exhibition games, with two of them against the American national team.

To understand just how good they were, in four games against the McGill Martlets that season, they outscored them 34-1.

Delaney Collins, Anne Rodrigue and Corinne Swirsky were named All-Canadians that season. Swirsky also received national MVP honours, playoffs MVP and Stingers female athlete of the year.

Lisa-Marie Breton played as a rookie on that 1997-98 team and was also inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame during its ceremony Sunday morning. She played for the Stingers until 2002, winning another national title in 1999, and helped the team qualify for five-straight nationals.

Breton’s impact on women’s hockey extends past Concordia – she helped co-found the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) in 2007. She played for one of its original teams, the Montreal Stars, for eight years, winning three Clarkson Cups. Breton is still with Concordia, serving as the women’s hockey strength and conditioning coach.

The women’s hockey team played three preseason games this weekend. They beat the University of Toronto Varsity Blues 3-1, and the Waterloo Warriors 3-2, before losing to the professional Les Canadiennes 7-1 on Sunday.

Main photo by Mackenzie Lad.

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