Black Ice: Boomer Harding’s On-Ice Legacy | Black History Month
Wilfred ‘Boomer’ Harding may be best known as a baseball legend with the Chatham Coloured All-Stars, but his hockey career is one for the ages as well.
Harding’s hockey career started the same year the All-Stars became the first all-Black team in Canadian history to win a provincial baseball title. Here he added to his trophy case in 1934 and 1935 winning back-to-back WOSSAA championships with Chatham Vocational School.
In 1936, Harding joined the Chatham Adanacs in the Chatham City League, and won a Kent Hockey League title in 1937 with the Chatham Queens A.C.
Soon, with World War II looming, Harding enlisted and joined began his service at Basic Training #12 in Chatham. From there, he travelled to London playing hockey for the London Active Army team and the London Army All-Stars.
After being transferred to Kingston, Boomer Harding became one of the top players in the Kingston City Hockey League, which at the time was filled with NHL and AHL talent. Here he played for the Kingston Vimy, sometimes called the Vimy Signals. This is where he first met Adam Brown, a member of the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings who would become one of Harding’s biggest supporters in hockey. Brown played in the league with the Barriefield Bears.
Sent overseas to England and Holland, Harding continued playing. At the end of the war, Harding joined the “Red Wings,” a Canadian Armed Forces All-Star team. They travelled primarily in England, but also Holland and Scotland, and played teams from various towns. Their main opponent in most communities were other Army teams, including the “Bruins,” who toured with Harding’s Red Wings.
Following his return to North America, Adam Brown recommended Harding to the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, earning him a contract with the Detroit Auto Club in the professional IHL. When the Detroit Auto Club found out Harding was Black however, they traded his rights to the Windsor Staffords.
It was with the Staffords, that Harding became the first Black player to ever compete in the IHL. He also broke the colour barrier at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium, as the first Black man to step foot on the ice here, on what would become Remembrance Day, November 11, 1946.
Following the 1946 IHL season Harding returned to Chatham, playing for the Chatham Cardinals in OHA Senior ‘B’ action.
He then spent multiple seasons with the Chatham Maple Leafs between 1948 and 1950 winning the 1950 Kent Hockey League title. In 1951 he also played in the Chatham Industrial League for Chatco.
During the 1952 and 1953 seasons, Harding was a member of the Chatham Golds in “OHA Senior B” as part of Tri-County League. He also played for the Independents in Chatham City League in 1953.
In 1954-55 he joined the Chatham Merchants in South Western Ontario Hockey Association, leading the team in scoring, and played for the Ridgetown East Kents in 1955-56 in the SWOHA Intermediate league.
Following his career as a player, Harding served as a hockey referee across Southwestern Ontario.
While is legacy on the baseball diamond is well known, Harding’s on-ice accomplishments are worth of recognition as well.