The first African-Canadian coach of a professional hockey team and his brother will serve as opposing coaches in an annual hockey game this weekend in Dartmouth to commemorate the former Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes.
Along with Black Ice Society, Hockey Nova Scotia is co-hosting Saturday’s game. It’s running an online petition to get John Paris Jr. into the Hockey Hall of Fame and credit him with a series of firsts: the first Black coach in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL); the first Black scout in the NHL; the first Black general manager in professional hockey; and the first Black coach in professional hockey.
“Given the significance of this historic rematch we are thrilled to have honorary coaches John Paris Jr. and Percy Paris behind the benches,” Dean Smith, diversity and inclusion Chair with Hockey Nova Scotia, said in an interview.
“The Halifax Eurekas and the Dartmouth Jubilees first met for a rink game in February of 1895. The result of that game was a one-one draw with a promise of a return match. We found no record of that return match, so this rematch is… 128 years in the making.”
John Paris’ brother Percy Paris said Hockey Nova Scotia reached out to them and requested they be opposing coaches for Saturday’s game.
“I think I’m coaching the Halifax team and I think he’s coaching the Dartmouth team,” Percy Paris said in an interview.
‘I don’t think coaches ever retire’
Percy Paris said his brother John went away at an early age to play in the QMJHL, where he earned an induction into the Quebec Hockey Hall of Fame.
After his junior career, John was drafted to the Montreal Canadiens before being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, but he was then hospitalized with a life-threatening illness. While he recovered from the illness, it ended his career as a hockey player. .
John went on to coach a junior team in Quebec and led them to a national championship, the Air Canada Cup. He then went on to coach multiple teams in the QMJHL before going on to work as an NHL scout for the St. Louis Blues.
In 1993, John Paris became the first African Canadian to coach a professional team when he was hired as head coach of the Atlanta Knights, a feeder team to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
He led the team to win the Turner Cup championship.
Percy said John was also the first Black person to hold a general manager position.
“Like a lot of coaches, he bounced around in the minor ranks and in the junior ranks until his somewhat semi-retirement,” said Percy Paris. “I wouldn’t say he’s fully retired now because I don’t think coaches ever retire.”
An early career in hockey
Percy was elected as a MLA in 2006 and went on to become the second minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, and the office’s first minister of African descent.
Decades earlier, in the 1971-1972 hockey season, around the time his brother John was starting his coaching career, Percy Paris was working on his own hockey career when he played for the Saint Mary’s Huskies and went to a national championship.
“At that time, depending on where you lived, [the Huskies] were always rated the number one or the number two college team in Canada. And I was fortunate enough to play with two fellow African Nova Scotians, Bob Dawson and Darrell Maxwell, and we formed together the first and only all-Black Canadian college hockey [forward line],” said Percy.
“Bob was normally a defenceman but on these occasions, the coach would put him up front with Darrell and I.”
Percy said while in university he was later involved in a car accident that ended his playing career.
Contributions of the Colored Hockey League
This year’s game also coincides with the recent release of Black Ice, a film documentary named after the book Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895-1925, written by brothers, Darril and George Fosty.
The Halifax Examiner spoke with the film’s director Hubert Davis in 2021 when he and his film crew were on location in Nova Scotia shooting interviews and footage for the film.
Black Ice premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival not long before screening at the FIN Film Festival in Halifax where Davis and several local people who appear in the film were on hand.
Black Ice made its network television debut earlier this month on TSN and is available to stream on several services.
Saturday night’s game between the Halifax Eurekas and the Dartmouth Jubilees takes place at 7pm at the arena at 259 Commodore Dr. in Dartmouth and will feature a Black youth ice hockey demonstration.
“I think it brings attention to the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes and, at the very very least, it has individuals and certainly those in the world of hockey talking about the Colored Hockey League and the contributions made by Black individuals to the great game that we know as hockey,” said Percy Paris.
“And the Colored Hockey league certainly is responsible for some of the rules and innovations that are still being utilized by the NHL and other leagues around the world today.”