There’s No Place for Hockey in Racism


Pistols shots ring out in the barroom night
Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall
She sees the bartender in a pool of blood
Cries out “My God they killed them all”
Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For something that he never done
Put him in a prison cell but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world.

Bob Dylan – Hurricane

Growing up in Lasalle, Qc – helped me a lot.

It was part of a city. It was filled with people from many different cultures. It was a sentence completed with punctuation marks from around the globe. Racism was unknown to me until I started playing hockey years later.

My best friends in Lasalle were – as formerly known; black. My first crush and subsequent kiss was on the lips of a what she is now referred to as; a young African – American girl.

Funny or Racism?

Terms change – human nature does not.

Terry Jones, my best friend and an African – American / Black / human being, was a guest at my home many times. He sat at my dinner table, he used my washroom and he slept in my bed. My Mom said so. Terry was our guest so I was assigned the couch – no questions asked.

Terry and I laughed at the same stuff and we complained of the same stuff. Once – he cut himself, the blood was red…

The first eleven years of my existence was in this atmosphere. It was normal to me. Racism was not in my vocabulary when it came to black and white, yellow or white or brown and white. The only hatred I saw was between white people. French and English …

Kids in my school would walk a concrete block to the French school during lunch to fight with French kids. The French were extremely courteous. They would return the favor a few times a week and fight in our ‘ backyard ‘. Political tensions were high in the early 70’s in Quebec as sovereign factions increased tensions among Francophone and Anglophone parents. The kids – following their families advice. Minds being formed for them

As a hockey fan, the entire situation was baffling. The Montreal Canadiens were the most successful franchise in hockey. They won Stanley Cups with a mixture of French and English.

French and English - In line ...

Maurice Richard passed to Elmer Lach. Jean Beliveau? More than happy to pass the puck to Dickie Moore or Doug Harvey. A united cause brings people together. A divided cause brings people to schoolyards…

I wondered:” If Frank Mahovolich, a former Toronto Maple Leaf, could play with the Canadiens de Montreal and win a championship – surely a boy named Greg could play ball hockey at Gaston’s schoolyard “?

The Suburbs – The Insulated

In 1976, I was lifted from my ‘ roots’ and placed into an affluent, predominately ‘white’ neighborhood – west of the city. Kirkland was my new home and Kirkland did not have very many black people.The few that were there; appearing much less happy than the ones in Lasalle. In 1976, buses in the west island were scarce and the kids did not integrate with one another like the city. The suburbs insulated people into clicks and more or less – races rested among their own kind.

During this period of my adolescence, I commenced my sojourn into minor hockey. Thanks to my desire and good coaching – I was able to play high caliber hockey,thus enabling trips to the United States to play the game I loved.

One of the first excursions was to Boston, Massachusetts.

On these trips, it was common for the road team to be billeted with the home team. I stayed with a family rich in pride with their American ancestry and they were very kind to me. They did everything possible to make my stay pleasurable, including sight- seeing tours around their history – rich city.

In Boston, there is a park across the street from the famous Cheers bar. The name of the park is the Boston Common. It is the oldest park in the U.S.A and it is the beginning of the Freedom Trail. An ironic start to a tale that commenced my journey into racism. A hockey trip that started in Boston and continued in Philadelphia the following year.

I was with my hosts and we were walking in the park. I could not help noticing there were several ‘ black people ‘ standing about. What made this band of buddies unusual – everyone had a cast on either their arms or forearms. I do not recall which arm, left or right, yet the casts were all on the same side. An observation which brought the inevitable;’ What the …?’ from my tourist lips …

According to my American hosts – these people were suspected drug dealers or general bad asses. They had been arrested and without enough evidence to convict them to long sentences, they were released and free to ply their trade. My adopted family informed me – the police would break their arms so it was easier to keep tabs on them and in turn, make life hard for the dealers themselves.

” They are all black guys …!?” I asked. ” Don’t tell me that white guys don’t deal drugs!”
My hosts laughed. ” Of course there are. Look around … there are white guys here.”
” So why no casts …?” I wondered.
” Do you have to ask ?” they replied.

The City of Brotherly Love

The following season, a trip to Philadelphia and another eye – opening trip.

Once again, billeted with a wonderful American family – bristling with American pride, I discovered another opportunity to explore another city stoked in history. One evening, my host, my opponent on the ice, brought me with his friends for a night in the city.

His buddy picked us up in an old Chevy Impala and off we went to pick up ‘chicks ‘ and for all intensive purposes – be teenage boys. Following a few minutes driving around, the kid who was sitting in the front passenger seat, a kid I just met – asked me to pass him the broom that lay at my feet. I was in the rear of the car. With no reason not to – I handed him the broom as he commenced rolling down his window.

” What’s going on … ? ” I innocently asked my billet who was sitting beside me.
” We are playing ‘ broom the coon ‘ ! He replied as everyone laughed.
” Broom the coon … ? What’s that … ? ” I wondered.

The three boys looked at me as if I had just landed from the moon.

” You take a broom and when you see a black guy walking on the sidewalk … You hit him! You guys don’t do that in Canada?”
Silence and anticipation awaited my response.
” Um … no … ?!” I responded.

These two examples were an introduction into the realities of life. Racism exists in every culture and in every country. If my excursions had been to Norway or Sweden – the same type of thing may have happened. If I had remained in Lasalle, age and the eventual vanishing of innocence would have been inevitable.

Racism was quite common in the Suburbs and Kirkland – Canadians are just more polite than our neighbors to the South. More sneaky in their racial views. More cowardly …?


A History Lesson

Years later, in my mid – thirties, I was sitting with my Mom who was in the twi – light of her years. Our thoughts, going back in time to the days of Lasalle and in turn – the days when my Father still breathed.

It was at my Mom’s table, twenty – five years after Terry Jones was a frequent guest at another table, I learned a valuable lesson.

It seemed that all the occasions that Terry and others sat at my kitchen table with my Dad was not pleasant for David Keene. According to my Mom, my Dad could not stand black people. In fact every time Terry was there, my Dad would secretly kick my Mom’s leg under the table to make sure my Mom did her best to ensure a quick visit and not a sleepover.

The times that Terry slept over would inevitably bring a house search the following morning. My Dad convinced at one time or another, something would be stolen.

” Mom …? ” I asked somewhat flabbergasted. ” If Dad felt that way, why didn’t he tell me how he felt? ”

My Mom smiled.

” It was not his place to inflict his beliefs unto you …”

Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell
An innocent man in a living hell
That’s the story of the Hurricane
But it won’t be over till they clear his name
And give him back the time he’s done
Put him in a prison cell but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world.

Bob Dylan – Hurricane

—————————————–

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2 Comments

  1. Jim

     /  May 12, 2014

    They played Broom the Coon in halifax…

    Reply
  2. Kevin

     /  May 23, 2015

    Broom the coon has been played in Dartmouth NS since the early 1920’s when ex servicemen started owning their own cars after returning from the 1st world war. Hwy 7 thru Preston on a Sunday morning after the black people left the churches to walk home was ripe for the game, right up to the early and mid 70’s.

    Reply

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