Black hockey pioneer ‘a dreamer and a doer’

Herb Carnegie
Submitted photo

Herb Carnegie (1919-2012) was a hockey legend and trailblazer for over 60 years beginning in the late 1930s. The Jamaican-Canadian, his brother Ozzie, and Manny McIntyre made up the first all-Black line in hockey. The brothers Carnegie were nicknamed “The Brown Bombers” and “The Dark Destroyers.” With McIntyre, the three were called “The Ink Spots” and “The Dusty Raiders” during their semi-pro hockey days.

His height under six feet, Herb Carnegie during his youth hockey days was called “Swivel Hips” because he could avoid getting hit as a Black target on the all-White ice, said his daughter Bernice Carnegie. Her father’s hockey career began in 1938 and ran through the mid-1950s. He once tried out for the NHL’s New York Rangers and the team offered him a minor league contract, but Carnegie turned them down because he could make more money playing semi-pro hockey.

After his playing career concluded, Carnegie in 1954 founded one of Canada’s first hockey schools for young players. He also had a successful business career as a financial planner, played golf and won a ton of tournaments. Carnegie was later inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (2001) and Ontario Sports Hall of Fame (2014) two years after he died at age 92 in 2012.

As expected, Carnegie saw racism throughout his lifetime, but according to his daughter, he never allowed it to hold him down, whether it was hockey, business, or life, in general, living in Canada.

“My father’s status as an athlete changed how he was treated in our community,” recalled Bernice. “My father was clearly a dreamer, but he also was a doer at the same time.”

He “navigated around racism,” she said proudly. “His achievements are so overwhelming, I have literally pages upon pages of fine print of all the awards and accolades and whatnot that my father has received.” A Canadian museum once included Carnegie in its NHL hockey exhibit “even though he wasn’t an NHL hockey player,” added Bernice.

“I came from a positive family,” she continued. “My father could have been angry and stayed stuck. He chose to go forward. He chose to make the most of the skills of hockey—the leadership, teamwork—because hockey is both an individual and a team sport. His attitude was always an attitude of what can I do to make a difference.

“He was an amazing speaker,” said Bernice. “One of the things that he said frequently was ‘I want to leave this place better than I found it. I want to leave this world a better place than I found it.’”

Carnegie also wrote a book, “A Fly in a Pail of Milk, The Herb Carnegie Story.” Bernice said the book “really was a gift to his children, even though it’s a gift to other people as well. We released the second version. The first part is still my father’s writing, and then I got to write part two, in which I get to talk about my father, talk about some of the things that he said in his book and other stories.”

The Herbert M. Carnegie Future Aces Foundation that Bernice co-founded in 1987 is largely based on her father’s guiding principles, and in January she co-founded the Carnegie Institute’s first-ever conference in Boston to discuss how to advance change in hockey’s culture.

Herb Carnegie is in 13 different halls of fame, but not the Hockey Hall of Fame. “He was a man before his time,” concluded Bernice Carnegie of her father.