garden city orioles

The Orioles’ line-up in February of 1937. Back row, left to right: Ben Walker (secretary), Chuck Smith, Doug Nicholson, Ted Smith, Touch Woods (sponsor), Alex Nicholson (business manager), Dick Nicholson, Amos Dorsey, Reverend J. Ivan Moore (pastor, British Methodist Episcopal Church). Front row: George West, Ted Wilkins, Wilfred Bell, Ken Bell, Larry Dorsey, Hope Nicholson (captain), Gordon Dorsey. Sylvia Moore, centre, is listed as the team’s mascot. (Image: St. Catharines Museum, St. Catharines Standard Collection, S1937.37.3.2)

Formed this month in 1937, the all-black St. Catharines Orioles played two seasons in the OHA’s intermediate Niagara District Hockey League. As Stephen Hardy and Andrew Holman write in Hockey: A Global History (2019), the players were all members of the British Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Catharines. The hockey team was the brainchild of several local (white) businessmen, including Harold “Touch” Woods, a prominent advocate of amateur sport who owned Dominion-Consolidated Transport, a trucking company. Outfitted in orange-and-black uniforms, the Orioles played a shortened schedule their first year on the ice, losing four and tying one of their five games. They went winless the following year, too, finishing the 1938 schedule 0-8. They featured, from time to time, in Toronto newspapers and beyond as a novelty; the coverage was, often, openly, racist. “Occasional individual plays earned praise,” Hardy and Holman write,

such as Hope Nicholson’s blistering shots or the frenetic skating of George “Ninny” West, “a whole show in himself.” But nothing would have convinced reporters that the Orioles were the real deal. Modern hockey — white hockey — involved speed, system, and science, the attributes the Orioles sorely lacked. Their white opponents, such as the Thorold Arena team that defeated them 9-2 in March 1937, all seemed to have “too much finish.” That the Orioles could not win against all-white teams must have been interpreted by readers as a convenient confirmation of the popular “truth:” real hockey was the brand of hockey fashioned by the all-white NHL.

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