In a world of rapid change, society demands a great deal from each other…When all of us move on to the unknown, may it be said that we tried to leave the world better than we found it…Herb Carnegie.
In a sense, the hockey pioneer and legend wrote his epitaph 56 years ago when he launched the Future Aces Creed to enhance the overall development of young participants in the Future Aces Hockey School he and Doug Hester established in 1955 at Mitchell Field.
Carnegie, who impacted the lives of thousands of young people through the creed, which is a positive philosophy aimed at instilling self-esteem and mutual respect, died at Sunnybrook Health Science Centre last Friday less than 24 hours after being admitted with pneumonia and kidney problems. He was 92.
Denied the opportunity to play in the National Hockey League (NHL) because of his skin colour, Carnegie turned the negative experience into a lasting legacy.
Schools in Canada and the rest of the world have adopted the Future Aces Creed which inspires parents, educators and community leaders to encourage young people to focus on such virtuous qualities as a good attitude, sound ethics, service and civic responsibility.
“He has been a legend in his time,” said educator Dr. Avis Glaze. “He has done so much for so many people and contributed his knowledge, talent and experience to both the young and old. We are grateful for his life of dedicated service to our community and the larger Canadian society.”
Carnegie and his wife of 63 years, Audrey, who passed away in 2003, also established a foundation in 1987 which has awarded close to $500,000 in scholarships to youths across Canada.
“My dad changed a lot of lives,” said daughter Bernice Carnegie who is the foundation’s executive director. “He planted a seed that has produced so much fruit.”
The son of Jamaican-born parents, Carnegie’s hockey career was launched on the frozen ponds of Willowdale where he and other aspiring professional players borrowed the names of stars that Foster Hewitt would describe on his “Hockey Night in Canada” Saturday night broadcasts.
As an 18-year-old in 1938, Carnegie got a taste of racism’s sharp sting when Toronto Maple Leafs founder, Conn Smythe, said he would take the Black player immediately if he could find someone who could turn him White. Carnegie often tearfully spoke of the devastating effect the negative remark had on his life, but he never allowed it to cloud his vision.
“He could have been angry for the rest of his life,” said Toronto Argonauts vice-chair, Michael “Pinball” Clemons. “Instead of being angry, he made the choice to move on and do the right thing.”
In pursuit of an NHL career, Carnegie and his older brother Ossie – who died in 1991 – played in Perron in northwestern Quebec and in Timmins where they met Vincent (Manny) McIntyre who passed away last year at age 92. The trio formed the Quebec Provincial Hockey League’s St. Francois starting forward line.
The significance of that combination, known by many names including The Black Aces and Les Noirs, is that they were the only all-Black line ever signed by an organized non-Black hockey club in Canada. They played together as a line in Timmins, Shawinigan Falls and in Sherbrooke for eight years up until 1949.
A year earlier, Carnegie turned down an offer to play in the New York Rangers minor league system because the money was less than he was making in the Quebec Provincial League where he was a three-time Most Valuable Player.
Carnegie and Montreal Canadiens Hall of Famer, Jean Beliveau, were teammates for two seasons from 1951 to 1953 with the Quebec Aces which was coached by Punch Imlach.
“He was a smooth skater, equally adept at centre or on a wing,” Beliveau wrote in the foreword of A Fly in a Pail of Milk: The Herb Carnegie Story. “Herbie certainly had the talent and was very popular with the fans who would reward his great play-making with prolonged standing ovations…It’s my belief that Herbie Carnegie was excluded from the National Hockey League because of his colour.
“How could the NHL scouts overlook not one, but three Most Valuable Player awards for a player on a team in a top senior league?”
Carnegie retired from the game four years before Willie O’Ree broke the colour barrier in January 1958 with the Boston Bruins.
Hockey was not the only sport for which Carnegie had a passion.
A caddy at Thornhill Golf & Country Club in the 1930s and an Ontario junior championship runner-up in 1938, Carnegie won three senior provincial titles, two Ontario Senior Champion of Champion awards and back-to-back Canadian Seniors championships in 1977 and 1978. He was also a three-time Whitevale Club and four-time Summit Golf & Country Club (SGCG) champion.
Both clubs recognized his significant contributions by inducting him into their Wall of Fame and the SGCG made him an honorary life member.
Carnegie demonstrated the same zeal he had for sport in business when he joined the Investors Group as their first Black employee in the summer of 1964. In his inaugural year, he set a company sales record of $1,400,000 and qualified for the “Millionaire Club” reserved for elite representatives who exceeded the company’s target. He remained in the exclusive club for two decades and was inducted into the organization’s provincial Hall of Fame in 1997.
Eight years ago, the company established the Herbert H. Carnegie Community Service Award that recognizes consultants who demonstrate extraordinary long-term community service and a commitment to business excellence and client service.
Prior to joining Investors where he spent 32 years, Carnegie worked as an inventory clerk at the Toronto Psychiatric Hospital, an assessment officer with the North York Board of Education, a supervisor with North York Parks & Recreation and a boys club director with Scarborough Police Youth Club.
His relationship with law enforcement continued when Marvel Comics – in conjunction with the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs – produced two special Spiderman editions in 1991 to provide positive messages for fans of the super hero, and York Regional Police Service (YRPS) appointed him its third and last honorary chief in 2005.
“Herb is a real hero who lived life to the fullest,” said retired YRPS chief, Armand LaBarge, who nominated Carnegie for the honorary position. “He turned negatives into positives and made an incredible difference in the lives of so many.”
Appointed to the Order of Ontario in 1996 and the Order of Canada seven years later, Carnegie is a member of Owen Sound, the International Afro-American and Canadian Sports Halls of Fame. He was also the recipient of a Harry Jerome President’s Award and an honorary doctorate from York University.
The city honoured Carnegie 11 years ago by renaming North York Centennial Stadium the Herbert H. Carnegie Arena and a public school in York Region was named in his honour in December 2008.
Though visually impaired, Carnegie made the rounds visiting schools to speak to students and attending public events until recently.
Eustace King, the only National Hockey League Players Association certified Black agent, held Carnegie in high esteem.
“In the era of instant gratification we live in, I can’t imagine what it was like for Herb to be denied the opportunity to play the sport he so loved at the highest level while encountering racism and then turn that disappointment and rejection into triumph,” King said from his Los Angeles home.
“When I met him about 15 years ago and told him I worked for the NHL, he sat me down and talked to me about his vision for the sport and also about his creed. Every minority player and administrator in the sport should remember they are standing on his shoulders.”
The visitation takes place today from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at R. S. Kane Funeral Home, 6150 Yonge St. A celebration of his life will be held tomorrow, starting at 7:30 p.m. at Earl Haig Secondary School, 100 Princess Ave.
The Carnegies were the first Black family to enroll in the North York school which will rename its gymnasium after Herb Carnegie who attended the institution in 1934 to 1935 after graduating from Lansing Public School.
A private funeral for family members will take place on Saturday before the body is cremated.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Herbert. H. Carnegie Future Aces Foundation or the Herbert H. Carnegie Endowment Scholarship Fund at York University.
Carnegie is survived by his children Goldie, Dale, Bernice and Rochelle, nine grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.
By RON FANFAIR