Nova Scotia

Film about black hockey players sparks controversy with N.S. Sport Hall of Fame

The director of a National Film Board of Canada film about a young black hockey player and the history of black hockey players in Nova Scotia says attempts last month by the provincial sports hall of fame to stop its showing are "really troubling."

Director calls hall of fame's attempts to stop showing 'really troubling'

Ice Breakers is a film that looks at the history of black hockey in Nova Scotia and follows the career of young black hockey player Josh Crooks. (National Film Board)

A film funded by the National Film Board of Canada documenting the career of a young black hockey player and the history of a black hockey league in Nova Scotia has sparked a controversy with the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame.

Ice Breakers is a 15-minute film that follows Josh Crooks of Cole Harbour, N.S., through parts of two seasons of midget hockey.

In one segment of the film, Crooks and his father, John Crooks, are shown walking through the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame.

"That's a slap in the face, the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame and there's not one black hockey player in there, that's pretty disturbing if you ask me," John Crooks says in the film. "That's a disgrace."

Crooks told CBC News he's upset there aren't any displays honouring the four black players who are inducted in the hall and he'd like to see that changed.

That segment of the film quickly caught the attention of Bruce Rainnie, the president and CEO of the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame.

He said the scene gives the impression there are zero black players inducted in the hall.

'Really troubling'

The dispute between Rainnie and the NFB was the main reason why the showing of the film last month during African Heritage Month at Pier 21 in Halifax was postponed.

At the time, Rainnie contacted the NFB because he did not want the film shown as it currently stands.

That didn't sit well with the director.

"The fact the film was at risk of being silenced or censored is really troubling to me," said Sandi Rankaduwa, the Halifax writer and director of the film.

The NFB decided the matter would undergo an internal review. In the meantime, many people contacted Rainnie about the film being in limbo.

On Friday, the hall of fame posted a statement on Instagram asking the NFB to "immediately suspend" its review and let the film be shown as edited.

Rainnie declined to be interviewed but sent an emailed statement.

"We feel that the National Film Board's representation of the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame in the film Ice Breakers was seriously lacking in necessary context," he said. "In the film, a father and son leave our Hall in disgust after a quick visit.

"We are deeply saddened by this, and contend that this likely would not have happened if the NFB had sought greater balance."

Ice Breakers not only features Josh Crooks, now a 17-year-old forward playing with the Campbellton Tigers of the Maritime Junior Hockey League, but it also delves into the history of black hockey players in the Maritimes.

The only picture of any black hockey players that John Crooks says he saw on display at the hall of fame featured the 1921 Africville Sea-Sides.

The team played in the Coloured Hockey League, an all-black league founded in Nova Scotia in 1895. It featured several teams from across the Maritimes. Josh Crooks's great-great-great-uncle George Tolliver played in the league.

Bruce Rainnie is the president and CEO of the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame. (Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame)

Ice Breakers was screened as part of the Atlantic International Film Festival in Halifax in September and was also screened two weeks ago at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles.

"The film wasn't intended to cause any friction at all," said Rankaduwa. "It was about black history, as well as the erasure and minimization of the black experience."

Rankaduwa is hoping the Halifax showing will be rescheduled soon at Pier 21.

Rainnie said the story the film tells is significantly more important than the concerns of his organization. He said those areas of concern will continue to be addressed in a way that he hopes will shed even more light on those who founded and played in the Coloured Hockey League.

A spokesperson for the National Film Board said it is pleased to see the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame has changed its position. NFB said it will now pursue a deployment strategy for Ice Breakers.