The same day it was announced that Barbara Howard was among this year’s Canadian Sports Legends Class (CSLC) in the athletes’ category, she received a special package.
The wrapped packet contained an authentic jersey of the Vancouver Canucks, which is the Burnaby resident’s favourite National Hockey League (NHL) team.
One of the Canucks’ biggest supporters with signed flags and other paraphernalia, in her “hockey room”, Howard wore the sweater as she watched on television the Western Canadian team stay alive in the first round of the playoffs with an exciting 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames.
“That sweater was an early birthday present,” said Howard, who turns 95 on May 8.
The Canucks were eliminated last Saturday night.
While hockey is her favourite sport, the nonagenarian enjoys looking at track and field, which she once dominated as one of fastest sprinters in the British Empire.
Equalling the British Empire Games 100-yard record of 11.2 secs. at the Western Canada trials in 1937, Howard earned a spot on the national team for the 1938 Games in Sydney, Australia, thus becoming the first Black female athlete to represent Canada in a major international athletics competition.
“My parents were not too keen on me going so far,” Howard, who was 17 years old at the time and still in high school, told Share. “I was however quite excited to represent my country at a big event like this and I remember it took us 25 days on board the Aorangi to get to Australia.”
Returning home with silver and bronze medals in the relays, Howard’s aspirations of competing in the Olympics were dashed by the outbreak of the Second World War. After graduating from the University of British Columbia in 1959, she again made history by becoming the Vancouver School Board’s first minority teacher.
A member of the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame, Howard is honoured to be joining the distinguished CSLS.
“While I am surprised that I was nominated, I must say I feel honoured and humbled,” she said.
With 2015 declared “The Year of Sport in Canada”, the federal government is paying tribute to national athletes – past and present – who broke barriers. Howard’s image is among 10 on the Canadian government’s Black History Month poster unveiled last February.
This year’s CSLS inductees also include former British Empire heavyweight boxing champion Larry Gains and hockey player Manny McIntyre.
Born in Cabbagetown in 1900, Gains – the grandson of a cotton-picking slave – took up the sport 20 years later and turned down an opportunity to represent Canada at the 1924 Olympics after going to England to become a professional a year earlier.
Considered one of the top heavyweights of his era with victories over world champions Max Schmeling, who he knocked out in Germany and Primo Carnera, who he outpointed in front of 70,000 fans in London, Gains was denied the opportunity to fight for the world title because of his skin colour.
The winner of 115 of 143 fights, Gains – the only Black member in his high school bugle band – fell on hard times and declared bankruptcy in 1937. He died in 1983 in Germany while visiting family members.
McIntyre teamed up with the late Herb Carnegie and his brother Ossie to form the Quebec Provincial Hockey League’s St. Francois starting forward line. Known by many names including The Black Aces and Les Noirs, they were the only all-Black line ever signed by an organized non-Black hockey club in Canada. The trio played together as a line in Timmins, Shawinigan Falls and in Sherbrooke for eight years up until 1949.
“Manny was a natural promoter,” Carnegie recalled in his biography, A Fly in a Pail of Milk. “Aware of the possibilities of an all-coloured line, he wrote a letter to our team manager Charlie Edwards offering his services. When Manny first joined us, Ossie and I stood at the boards just to watch him skate. Once together, it wasn’t long before our style of play brought praise for its uniqueness, not only in colour but also in talent.
“We soon became an attraction at the gate and the league’s tills were humming a merry and profitable tune in harmony with senior hockey’s only coloured line. As a trio, we were good and as individuals, we delivered the mail. If Manny had a flaw, it was that he was only too eager to fight. Often we tried to talk him out of it because he was of little use to the team in the penalty box. But our line of reasoning went unheeded. To be absolutely fair, neither Ossie nor I would have enjoyed the degree of success we did without the extra room Manny afforded us.”
The line broke up when McIntyre and Ossie Carnegie accepted offers to play professional hockey in Paris while the younger Carnegie remained in Canada.
McIntyre was also an outstanding baseball player, becoming the first Black Canadian to sign a professional baseball contract in 1946 with Sherbrooke, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Class C Border League farm club. He was one of just six Blacks in organized baseball at the time.
Prior to the historic signing, the shortstop was a member of the victorious Halifax Shipyards, which won the Halifax Defence League title in 1944 and Trois Rivieres of the Quebec Provincial League a year later.
The only professional hockey player to play in baseball’s Negro Leagues was inducted into New Brunswick’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.
After his sports career ended, McIntyre worked at Montreal’s Trudeau (formerly Dorval) Airport for many years before retiring. He died four years ago at age 92.
The CSLC induction takes place on June 17.