Black Hockey in West Hants:
Krishinda McBride and crew are forging a Blacker hockey culture
Written by Perry King.
Written by Perry King.
On a hockey rink in Southwest Nova Scotia, Black joy is unfolding.
Young Black children – many from historically rich Black communities – in Windsor, Nova Scotia, Three Mile Plains and Newport Station – are lacing up skates for the first time. Many are using skating aids to stay on their feet. Lots of older kids are slipping to the ice on occasion, too embarrassed to use an aid. Parents and coaches are equally guiding the youngsters, some are observing from afar. But the smiling faces and bright smiles make the tumbles sting less.
As this community has willed it, this rink in West Hants is becoming one of the most important sites for hockey in Nova Scotia. But it’s only just beginning.
This southwestern Nova Scotia enclave is home to many things. Windsor, N.S. is considered the cradle or birthplace of ice hockey. In this place, many African Nova Scotians (ANS) and ANS communities would take to local ponds, such as nearby Long Pond, to create and revolutionize hockey – and establish the widely prolific Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes in the process.
These facts alone now undergird an incredible opportunity for these Black communities to harness and thrive. To get Black kids to safely skate and play regular hockey without barriers is the name of the game.
What organizers conceived was a program called Black Hockey in West Hants County. Black Hockey was designed to raise the visibility of Black people on the ice, with the aim of increasing physical activity, providing an empowerment opportunity and increasing one's knowledge and Africentric pride in hockey. For 12 weeks, between Dec. 2021 to April 2022 on Sunday mornings at 9 a.m., 18 students and 10 community members from West Hants came together at the Windsor Sports Complex for the Black Hockey program. The program provided equipment, ice time and instruction for students from local coaches and mentors within the African descent community of West Hants, Nova Scotia.
The program, a resoundingly successful pilot, will tie up the skates for a new season in the coming weeks – with more kids taking part and more equipment available.
Count Krishinda McBride among those leading this effort. McBride, the Coordinator of African Canadian Education Services for the Annapolis Valley Regional Center for Education (AVRCE), began collaborating with local educators, parents and community members, including coaches Stephen Johnson and Jackie Allen.
McBride – confident in stature, with an infectious laugh – is frank about her intentions. In a deep conversation about Black Hockey and Black life in West Hants, she reveals she wants to narrow the achievement gap with Black kids in the region. “I want our kids to be empowered. To have racial pride, and to feel good about who they are,” said McBride. “Hockey also offers an opportunity for physical activity within the Black community. While also being a vehicle to promote racial pride and our contributions to the sport, representation matters.”
In discussing the Winter months and healthy activity levels, she says “our African descent community needs to get out more to be active and social.” This statement could possibly be made for all communities or people during the cold winter months. Black Hockey within the Annapolis Valley Regional Centre for Education is bringing African descent students and families together for physical activity and socialization similar in aim and focus as its historical counterparts inception, the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes.
"Black Hockey was designed to raise the visibility of Black people on the ice, with the aim of increasing physical activity, providing an empowerment opportunity and increasing one's knowledge and Africentric pride in hockey."
Finding a captive audience
Krishinda McBride is brimming with stories.
Getting Black kids from the region on the ice was actually harder than you may think, she says. McBride did her due diligence, speaking to elementary teachers, administrators and gym teachers across the regional centre – especially schools with a predominantly Black demographic in the West Hants area. Research revealed “they [would go] skating once and it was like pulling teeth,” says McBride, with exasperation, “like come on. The students may have thought ‘what we were doing [skating] isn't going to be fun or that they would be cold skating on frozen ice.’” It may have been that students and families at the predominantly Black school had little exposure to ice skating or hockey, she says.
In contrast, “at other schools in the West Hants area, which are predominantly filled with European descent students, one of the schools has created an ice pond behind their school and they go skating 3, 4, 5 times [a week]. The students love it. They are being physically and socially active while learning skills on the ice.”
McBride and crew had a clear challenge and the educator was motivated. It’s all about opportunity, something McBride could relate to. As an African descent American, she was given the opportunity to attend University on a NCAA Division 1 soccer scholarship. McBride comments that administering this program isn’t about having an obsessive knowledge of the game or deep knowledge of a favorite NHL team. It’s about the kids, and making sure these students are building on something that goes beyond the ice. Hockey teaches us many things and one of them is if or when we fall down, to get up, keep trying and carry-on. This is a life lesson and a lesson of never giving up, we keep trying.
“Thankfully, someone picked me up, it was great,” said McBride, reflecting on her career trajectory. “Here I am! There has always been someone looking out for me.” The opportunity to play soccer and attend University provided the opportunities that led to Master Degrees and a robust career in education. McBride is a licensed Nova Scotia teacher, has served as a high school principal and is now in the role of Coordinator, of African Canadian Education Services for the Annapolis Valley Regional Centre for Education.
"The group learned about the influence of Black athletes over time – the significance of Willie O’Ree, Herb Carnegie, Angela James, Sarah Nurse and Jerome Iginla. The Black Hockey program is not shy about discussing the degrees of racism many Black athletes have and do endure. Some stories of racism came from the coaches, but many were also revealed by parents and caregivers who attend the sessions with students as community hockey mentors and elders."
Just as someone was looking out for Krishinda she wants to be there for students today. She was able to get the attention of students participating in Nova Scotia’s Student Support Worker Program – many African descent families within the AVRCE place their students in the program. The program supports students in school through Afrcientric centres that provide safe spaces for students to learn, be accountable and comfortable in their own skin.
“Given the captive audience,” McBride recalls, “Eighteen (18) students and families were approached regarding their interest and engagement – we made a one page flier to promote the initiative with students, teachers and families.”
It proved to be a crescendo, with aspects of the Black Hockey program speaking deeply to the families and students. McBride recalls one Black student, who is ideal for the program – a student who was in need of inspiration and focus, inside and out of the classroom. The team suggested that the student take part in Black Hockey. “[I was] like, okay, okay, let's put them in, and see if he is interested.” You better believe he was. He was there every Sunday morning, focused and ready to go. His smile, focus and energy was contagious and powerful in expressing his success and engagement.