It’s our national pastime and living in Alberta, hockey is hard to ignore. Canada’s game is also a big part of the greater history of Alberta’s black community. To conclude our three part series on Black History Month in Alberta, we look at three heroes of hockey.
Did you know that…
John Utendale, who was born in Edmonton, became the first black player to sign with an NHL team—the Detroit Red Wings?
- Although he never played an NHL game, Utendale being signed was a significant milestone that helped paved the way for future hockey greats.
- Utendale’s professional hockey career, playing for the Oil Kings in 1954 and the Red Wings’ minor league teams, helped pay his way through university and getting his doctorate.
- Later, Utendale achieved another first, becoming the first minority faculty member of the Woodring College of Education at Washington State University.
Did you know that…
Grant Fuhr was the first black goaltender to play in the NHL and the first and only black player inducted to the NHL Hall of Fame to date?
- Fuhr is arguably the most celebrated black hockey player in NHL history. Drafted in 1981 by the Edmonton Oilers, Fuhr’s induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame is well earned.
- Born and raised in Spruce Grove, Fuhr was an all-star from the beginning of his career. He was the First Team All-Star for the WHL’s Victoria Cougars for two years before entering the NHL.
- He played for the Oilers for 10 years, helping the team win to five Stanley Cups in seven seasons.
- Fuhr was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1991, then to the Buffalo Sabres in 1993, to the Los Angeles Kings in 1994, and finally to the St. Louis Blues in 1995. While many thought he was past his prime, he played 79 games that season, 76 of them consecutively which set a single-season record.
- Fuhr set many more records, including collecting 14 points in a single season, which still stands as an NHL goaltending record. He returned to Alberta to close his career with the Calgary Flames in the 1999-2000 season, where he won his 400th game and joined an elite club of only six goalies to reach that milestone.
Did you know that…
Jerome Iginla became the first black male athlete to win a gold medal in Olympic Winter Games history in 2002?
- Iginla has said his favourite player growing up was Grant Fuhr admired Fuhr’s style, and started his first two years in amateur hockey as a goaltender until he switched to right wing at age 10.
- Iginla played minor hockey and baseball until he was 15, and was a star in both sports.
- He then went on to play for the Kamloops Blazers in the Western Hockey League (WHL), helping the team win two consecutive Memorial Cups, where he was named WHL Player of the Year in the 1995-96 season.
- Iginla went on to become a history-making NHL star in his own right; the former Calgary Flames captain still holds the Calgary Flames’ all-time records in goals (525), points (1,095) and games played (1,219).
- In 2002, he became the first black hockey player in the NHL to win the Art Ross Trophy, the Maurice Richard Trophy, and the Lester B. Pearson Award.
- He now plays for the Colorado Avalanche (but we don’t hold that against him).
Today, Alberta is home to the third-largest population of black people in Canada, with almost 75,000 claiming their heritage in the 2011 census. Some have roots that go back as far as the first settlers, and some are new to Canada, all adding to the province’s multicultural mosaic. From the early settlers to famous hockey players, the history of black Albertans is one filled with struggles, triumphs and pride. As we learn about the history of black people in Alberta, we pay tribute to their ongoing contributions and their part in creating an inclusive and welcoming culture.