Timing is everything. Little did independent filmmaker Damon (Kwame) Mason know that he would do the last interview with hockey pioneer Herb Carnegie in February 2012 for a documentary he’s co-producing.
Carnegie passed away 10 days later.
“To get him to tell his story for a last time was a blessing,” said Mason.
Soul on Ice, Past, Present & Future is inspired by Black Ice: The Lost History of the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895-1925. Comprising the offspring of runaway American slaves, the league helped pioneer the sport, changing the winter game from the primitive ‘gentleman’s past-time’ of the 19th century to the modern fast moving game it is today.
“I didn’t know there was a league for Blacks in Canada until about three years ago,” Mason said. “I have been living in Canada all my life and I played and followed the sport. If I was unaware of this, how many people out there, especially Blacks, knew about this history.”
While he played hockey at the house level for two years and admired watching Guy LaFleur streaking down the ice with his blond hair flowing, Mason’s interest in the sport was re-ignited after a 2005 meeting with retired right winger George Laraque who played eight seasons in Edmonton.
Mason moved to Edmonton eight years ago and was a radio announcer and disc jockey at the time when he ran into Laraque who hosted five radio shows, including Summer Lovin’ which was a relationship-advice program that became the city’s top talk show in 2006.
Through Laraque, Mason met wingers Raffi Torres and Jared Staal and started attending Oilers home games at Rexall Place.
“I got to appreciate the guys as people and when I went to the games, I was fascinated by the athleticism displayed by these players on ice,” he said. “With a new love and appreciation for the game, I started to ask myself why more Blacks were not playing the sport. I thought that Black athletes would be perfect for the game.
“I also started compiling information about hockey players of the past and present until I stumbled upon the piece about the Coloured League in the Maritimes. That was around the same period that I was beginning to get frustrated with doing radio and was looking for another challenge.”
In addition to Carnegie and Laraque, Mason has also interviewed Tony McKegney who played 13 seasons in the NHL before retiring in 1991; Grant Fuhr who won five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers and is one of two Black hockey players (Angela James is the other) in the sport’s Hall of Fame; Hockey Night in Canada’s colour commentator and NHL On the Fly studio analyst Kevin Weekes who led the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2002 Stanley Cup finals, Washington Capitals right winger Joel Ward, Dallas Stars defender Trevor Daley, Anthony Stewart who is with the American Hockey League’s Manchester Monarchs and 17-year-old Owen Sound Attack right winger Jaden Lindo who is eligible for the 2014 National Hockey League draft.
For the project, he also plans to interview Montreal Canadiens defenceman Pernell Karl (PK) Subban who won the Norris Trophy last year for being the NHL’s leading scorer among defencemen, Jarome Iginla who plays for the Boston Bruins and Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers.
“I want to find out where their love for the game came from and some of the challenges they have encountered along the way,” he said. “The whole purpose of this project is to inspire young kids and let them know Blacks have had a long history in the sport. There is a misconception that hockey has always been a White sport and that’s not the case. They also need to know that racism is the only reason that the late Carnegie and Stan Maxwell, Willie O’Ree and a few other Blacks did not become household NHL names.”
Mason said hip hop, rock and reggae music will support the film’s narrative and the soundtrack will contain 12 songs that will deeply resonate with hockey fans and music lovers.
Without any funding for the project, Mason and his team that includes executive producer Anson Carter who played 12 seasons in the NHL and Super Fly Media Company founder Michael P. Douglas have turned to an online fundraising site, Indiegogo, to come up with about $40,000 to complete the project by next September.
Individuals interested in contributing to the documentary can go to www.indiegogo.com/soul-on-ice-past-present-future.
Born and raised in Toronto by Guyanese immigrant parents, Mason graduated from George S. Henry Academy where he played soccer and volleyball and pursued law enforcement studies at Seneca College.
Realising that his passion was in radio and entertainment, he worked with CFMT, Kiss 92.5 and radio stations across southern Ontario and Alberta for over a decade.