Herbert H. Carnegie, CM, O Ont, hockey player, philanthropist (born 8 November 1919 in Toronto, ON; died 9 March 2012 in Toronto, ON). Carnegie was arguably the first Black Canadian hockey star and a member of the Black Aces, the first all-Black line in hockey (outside the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes). He played competitive hockey in the 1940s and 1950s, mostly in the Québec and Ontario Junior A and senior leagues. Carnegie is widely regarded the best Black player never to compete in the National Hockey League (Willie O’Ree would become the first Black player in the NHL in 1958). Following his retirement from hockey in 1954, he established the Herbert H. Carnegie Future Aces Foundation; he was also an accomplished senior golfer. Carnegie was a recipient of the Order of Canada and was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Carnegie was born in Toronto to Jamaican immigrants Adina James Mitchell and George Nathaniel Carnegie and was the fifth of seven children. He grew up in North York, where he played sports including softball, golf and hockey. Carnegie began dreaming of playing professional hockey at around age eight, when he first laced up a pair of skates and took to the ice. From that moment, hockey was his calling. His older brother Ossie was also an aspiring professional hockey player.
Amateur Hockey Career
At 5 feet 8 inches and around 170 pounds, Carnegie was considered small by hockey standards, but he was determined to play professional hockey. During the 1930s, Carnegie registered with local amateur leagues, playing for the Toronto Observers, Earl Haig Secondary School and Toronto Vocational. According to Cecil Harris, author of Breaking the Ice, Carnegie earned the nickname “Swivel Hips” in this period owing to his ability to get past opposing players. A skilled skater and puckhandler, he was also a creative and instinctive playmaker.
In 1938, he started playing with the Toronto Young Rangers Junior A team. That year, Conn Smythe, boss of the Toronto Maple Leafs, allegedly remarked that he would take Carnegie “tomorrow” if he could “turn him white” (another version is that Smythe said he would pay $10,000 to anyone who could turn Carnegie white). In a 2002 interview, Carnegie recalled that he was “shatter[ed]” when he learned what Smythe had said. However, his passion for hockey was not diminished.
The Black Aces
From 1940 to 1942, Carnegie played with the Timmins Buffalo Ankerites, which travelled throughout Northern Ontario and Québec. During the 1941 season, the Buffalo Ankerites were the first semi-professional organization to feature an all-Black line, consisting of Carnegie, his brother Ossie, and Vincent Churchill (Manny) McIntyre. Sportswriters and fans referred to the trio as the “Brown Bombers,” “Dusky Speedsters,” and “Dark Destroyers,” but ultimately they became known as “Les Noirs” or the “Black Aces.” Herb (the playmaker) played centre while Ossie (the shooter) and McIntyre (the enforcer) covered the wings. During two seasons with the Ankerites (1940–41 and 1941–42), they helped the club earn two league championships. The Black Aces became one of the most skilled and respected lines in minor hockey during the 1940s and played together on various teams, including the Sherbrooke Saints.
Semi-Professional Hockey Career
While playing with the Ankerites, the Carnegie brothers and McIntyre came to the attention of teams based in the Quebec Provincial Hockey League (QPHL). In 1944, Carnegie began his QPHL career as a member of the famous Shawinigan Cataractes, but only played with them for one season. The following season, Carnegie joined the Sherbrooke Randies, which was renamed Sherbrooke St. Francis (or Saints) in 1946. During the 1947–48 season with Sherbrooke, Carnegie scored an astounding 127 points (48 goals, 79 assists) in 56 games — this achievement brought him to the attention of NHL talent scouts.
In 1948, the New York Rangers invited Carnegie to their training camp, offering him a chance to qualify for their official NHL roster. However, Carnegie was not selected for their NHL team and was recommended to the minor leagues. The Rangers were interested in holding the rights to him, but according to Carnegie, he would have made less money in the minor leagues than he could earn in Québec. He turned down the Rangers' offer and returned to Sherbrooke for the 1948–49 season — by then the Sherbrooke organization had joined the Quebec Senior Hockey League (QSHL). This was the last season the Black Aces played together; they scored a combined 142 points in 63 games, helping Sherbrooke to a second-place finish in the league standings.
For the 1949–50 season, Carnegie put on a new jersey and transferred to the Quebec Aces (based in Québec City), under coach George “Punch” Imlach. Carnegie played with the team for four seasons. During the 1950–51 season with the Aces, Carnegie played alongside Jean Béliveau, the future Montreal Canadiens star and Hockey Hall of Fame inductee. According to Béliveau, Carnegie was “a super hockey player, a beautiful style, a beautiful skater, a great playmaker. In those days, the younger ones learned from the older ones. I learned from Herbie.”
Carnegie spent his final season with the Owen Sound Mercurys of the Ontario Hockey Association Senior A league (OHASr), retiring from hockey in 1954 at age 34.
Prejudice and Lost Opportunity
Carnegie never achieved his dream of making the NHL and believed, like many, that his African heritage was the sole reason he was unable to break into the league. In several interviews, he recalled being devastated by the alleged (and widespread) remark by Maple Leafs boss Conn Smythe that he would sign Carnegie if only someone could “turn him white” (historians have debated Smythe’s actual words and what he meant by them). In his autobiography, Carnegie also wrote that hockey fans and opposing coaches hurled insults and derogatory terms at him and other Black players throughout his amateur and semi-professional careers. During a 2009 CBC interview, he cried openly when discussing the prejudice he had experienced during his hockey career.
After Hockey Retirement
After retiring from hockey, Carnegie joined Investors Group in 1964 and became the first Black Canadian financial advisor employed by the company. He worked in this position for 32 years.
Carnegie continued his sports career as a senior golfer, winning numerous local and national championships. He won the senior championship at the Whitevale Golf Club three times (1963, 1964 and 1968), the Canadian senior tour two times (1977 and 1978) and the Ontario senior tour three times (1975, 1976 and 1982).
In 1955, Carnegie founded the Future Aces Hockey School, the first registered hockey school in Canada. In 1987, he established the Herbert H. Carnegie Future Aces Foundation with his wife, Audrey, and his daughter Bernice, with the aim of helping youth develop into responsible and capable future citizens. Since its inception, the organization has provided over $630,000 in scholarships. In the 1990s, Carnegie and the Future Aces appeared as heroes in two special issues of The Amazing Spider-Man comic, titled "Skating on Thin Ice!"and "Double Trouble."
Legacy and Recognition
Carnegie passed away on 9 March 2012 at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, at 92 years of age. He was survived by his four children — Goldie, Dale, Bernice and Rochelle. Carnegie’s wife of 63 years, Audrey Redmon, died in 2003.
Despite never having played in the NHL, Carnegie was inducted into several sports Halls of Fame including Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (2001), Ontario Sports Hall of Fame (2014), Owen Sound Sports Hall of Fame (1997), International Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame and Gallery (1997) and Senior Hockey Hall of Fame Immortal (2004).
He was also the recipient of numerous community and honorary awards. He received the Order of Ontario in 1996, the Order of Canada in 2003, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977, the Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 and the Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 (posthumous). Carnegie also received the City of North York Volunteer of the Year (1989), Volunteer Award of Distinction (1997), Apple Creek SDA Role Model Award (2009), Planet Africa Lifetime Achievement Award (2007), as well as many other community service and lifetime achievement recognitions.
The Investors Group instituted their own Herbert H. Carnegie Award in 2003, which is awarded to employees who demonstrate professional excellence and devotion to their community. In June 2006, Carnegie received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from York University. A Public School in the “Maple” district of Toronto is named in his honour. The hockey arena formerly known as North York Centennial was changed to Herbert H. Carnegie Centennial Centre in 2001.