Two Minutes for Reading so Good

Herb Carnegie's story still relevant today

Two Minutes for Reading so Good

Greg Oliver


Herb Carnegie's story still relevant today

Posted November 07, 2019

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A Fly in a Pail of Milk Book Cover

The launch date for A Fly in a Pail of Milk: The Herb Carnegie Story has been on the mind of his daughter, Bernice Carnegie, for some time. It's November 8, and that would have been her father's 100th birthday. No doubt, plenty of friends and family, as well as hockey media, will be out to celebrate the legacy of a hockey player denied the chance to show his skills in the National Hockey League because of the colour of his skin.

“The Maven” Stan Fischler wrote in 1978 that Carnegie was “Born Too Soon,” and the re-release of Carnegie’s memoir, originally published in 1997 by Mosaic and co-written with Robert Payne, will further share the story what was and what could have been.

Born and raised in and around Toronto to Jamaican immigrant parents, Carnegie not only was an accomplished hockey player, but he could have been a competitive golfer too, had his skin colour not been an issue there as well.

Very little has been changed to the original manuscript in this 2019 edition from ECW Press, said Bernice Carnegie. There were some factual errors to fix up and a few references to projects and activities that were no longer relevant. But it's essentially the same, from the foreword penned by a former teammate, Jean Beliveau, right through to his contributions to the community through his Herbert H. Carnegie Future Aces Foundation. Racism existed then, and it has not completely gone away, keeping Carnegie’s story relevant today.

“It is my father's voice. I keep thinking how grateful I am that he actually wrote the book, because it gives me an idea of what he was thinking at certain times in his life,” said his daughter.

Along with plenty of new photos, Bernice Carnegie added an entire second part to this new edition. Her coda details her father's charitable and community works, the loss of his wife/her mother, and Herb's descent into blindness, and his passing in 2012.

“The second part is my comments around my relationship with my father,” she explained. “The book is about my father and how he affected so many people, especially my perspective on life.” The shared experiences go beyond just being his daughter, one of four children. Bernice worked alongside Herb at Investor's Group, offering financial advice, and then with the Future Aces Foundation.

It's not like it is hard to talk about him, she said. “My passion has been carrying my father's message forward. I have such a great role model to talk about, and an inspirational person to talk about,” she said. “Every time I talk about my father, the feeling gets stronger and stronger, it's like his presence totally permeates me, because he did so many amazing things in his life beyond hockey—but every story that's ever written always mentions his hockey. But for 50 years, he served the community by helping youth, and if I heard him say it once, I heard him say it a hundred times, 'I want to make this world a better place.' And he did.”

Writing was a bit more of a challenge for Bernice. Encouraged by a friend, Damon Kwame Mason, who did the documentary Soul On Ice: Past, Present & Future, she wrote out her own life story, but just sat on the project, never pushing it through. Brown bugged her again about getting her story out there, and arranged a meeting with ECW Press. The result was a hybrid—a reprint of the original book with all-new material from Bernice.

“Initially, I was going to be light-hearted with my little stories, and somebody pointed out to me that there really aren't that many books out there about Black-Canadians, and the experiences that we've had,” she said. “Hence, I decided to add a chapter on racism.” The tales she added range from poignant to infuriating. Her own kids and grandchildren come into the narrative, and their takes on experiencing racism are different than hers. “Even minor racism ... affects who you are,” she said. “I feel like, for my own children, this is an opportunity for them to get to know me better too.”

New Jersey Devils star defenceman PK Subban provided a blurb for the book, and his own father, Karl Subban, an educator himself for many years, has been a supporter of Bernie's through the years. “Apparently, PK really did read my father's book,” she said, adding that Karl told her that he had talked to his sons about Herb's experiences as their own hockey careers started to gain steam. “For him to say that he was influenced by my father was really quite interesting.”

Both Damon Kwame Mason and Karl Subban will be at the book launch, on Friday, November 8, at, appropriately enough, Herbert H. Carnegie Public School, 575 Via Romano Blvd., in Vaughan, ON. Further details are available here. (https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/book-launch-the-herb-carnegie-story-celebrating-100-years-tickets-73577392963?utm-medium=discovery&utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&utm-source=strongmail&utm-term=listing )

Bernice Carnegie is happy that the book will see a new life shortly, that the articles and photographs strewn around her Toronto home will find a new spot to rest. “It's all very exciting,” she concluded. “I'm smiling from ear to ear.”

 Herb Carnegie as an honourary police chief, alongside his daughter, Bernice
Herb Carnegie as an honourary police chief, alongside his daughter, Bernice

BOOK NOTES

In its books section on Saturday, November 2, the Toronto Star made note of 'tis the season for hockey books to crack the top of the charts. Stu Grimson's The Grim Reaper: The Life and Career of A Reluctant Warrior, written with Kevin Allen, was the first to make it, followed by the release of last week's subject, The Fundies: The Essential Hockey Guide from On the Bench which puzzled the Star). The Ken Dryden-penned Scotty Bowman book, Scotty: A Hockey Life Like No Other, is the odds-on favourite to be the top selling Canadian hockey book this winter. In the U.S., Eddie Olczyk's new autobiography. Beating the Odds, written with Perry Lefko, has climbed the charts through Olczyk's high profile on TV, and this past week, Olczyk was named the ambassador for the 21st annual Hockey Fights Cancer campaign.

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As always, I welcome your suggestions, notes, and feedback on other books and authors to feature here. You can email me at goliver845@gmail.com and you can follow me on Twitter @gregmep. For info on my own books, see OliverBooks.ca