Windsor

First black baseball team to win provincial championship honoured at Chimczuk Museum

Breaking the Colour Barrier: Wilfred Boomer Harding and the Chatham Coloured All Stars 1932 - 1939 is an exhibit that was curated by professors at the University of Windsor and members of the community. It tells the story of a Chatham baseball team winning an Ontario Baseball Amateur Association championship in 1934.

'This is not just about baseball, or sports. It's about changing society,' says exhibit co-creator

A group shot of the team, the Chatham Coloured All Stars. Taken from the Harding family scrapbook. (Supplied photo)

A new temporary exhibit now on display at the Chimczuk Museum highlights a black baseball team from Chatham who broke the colour barrier by winning a provincial championship in 1934.

'Breaking the Colour Barrier: Wilfred Boomer Harding and the Chatham Coloured All Stars 1932 - 1939' is an exhibit curated by professors at the University of Windsor and members of the community.

Despite the massive role the team played in history, many people still don't know much about them. That's part of the reason why the exhibit was created, according to Miriam Wright, one of the co-directors of the project.

"It's a larger issue, many stories of African-Canadians or Indigenous people haven't been told," she explained.

The University of Windsor history professor first got involved in the project when community members approached her and a few colleagues.

The family of one of the team members, Wilfred Boomer Harding, asked the history professors if they could digitize a scrapbook they collected on their father and the All Stars.

Wilfred Boomer Harding, a team member of the Chatham Coloured All Stars. Harding's family approached the University of Windsor professors about digitizing they collected on Boomer and his team. (Supplied photo)

That's when an idea of a bigger project began. The professors enlisted the help of community members to find out more about that time in history.

They heard stories of exclusion — where the team would be denied to enter a restaurant or stay in a hotel while they were on the road — but were also told tales of excitement, like when the team won the championship.  

"There were white fans and black fans at the parade, it was such a beautiful moment in history," Wright said. "Even if it was a brief moment, people of all colours came together, and it was through baseball."

Wright is hoping people will gain awareness of the amount of African-Canadian history in southwestern Ontario, and of the important role sports played in the bigger picture of social justice. 

"This is not just about baseball, or sports. It's about changing society," Wright said.  

The exhibit was started by digitizing the Harding family scrapbook. (Supplied photo)

The exhibit opened on Feb. 1 2018, in honour of Black History Month, and will stay on display until the end of March.

There will also be a smaller version of the exhibit at the Chatham-Kent Public Library for the month of February. Wright and her colleague, Heidi Jacobs, will be presenting on Feb. 7 at 7:00 p.m. at the Chatham branch.