Born in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia (NS), Bob Dawson, an all-round athlete, excelled in baseball, basketball and hockey. On the latter, he was the “first black” in 1967 to play in what was then the Atlantic Intercollegiate Hockey League (AIHL) with Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. As a result, he was often the target of racial slurs by opposing players and their fans. In 1968, Coach Bob Boucher regarded him as one of the most improved defensemen in the league. Darrell Maxwell (Truro, NS) and Percy Paris (Windsor, NS) later joined Bob, making Saint Mary’s the first and only Canadian university to have 3 black players on the same hockey team. To add to that distinction, during a game in 1970 against Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Coach Boucher played Bob, Darrell and Percy together on a line thus becoming the “first all-black forward line” in the history of Canadian university and college hockey. The trio played together again in a few other league games.
During Bob’s stint with the Huskies from 1967 to 1971, he helped the team win AIHL conference championships in 1969, 1970 and 1971, and go on to represent the league at the Canadian Intercollegiate Hockey Championships. Former NHL player Lowell MacDonald of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who was completing his degree at Saint Mary’s, saw Bob play and felt that he had the talent to play in the NHL, if given the opportunity. The NHL, however, had what appeared to be an “unofficial policy of exclusion” against blacks between 1961 and 1974.
Rather than pursing a career in hockey, Bob went on to Dalhousie University where he graduated in 1973 with a Masters Degree in Social Work. After graduating, he was appointed by the Public Service Commission of Canada with the important task of establishing and managing a program to improve the representation of blacks in federal government departments in Nova Scotia. When not working, Bob played in the Halifax Intermediate Hockey League where he was selected a First Team All-Star in 1978-1979. He also played in the Nova Scotia Senior Hockey League and was regarded as one of the top defensemen in the league.
After his time in Halifax, Bob and his family moved to Ottawa, Ontario, in 1980 where he continued his career in the federal Public Service in the field of human resources management in the areas of (a) career development and talent management (managed a department’s Management Trainee Program and served as the Departmental Liaison Officer for the Career Assignment and Interchange Programs), (b) employment equity (EE) and diversity (coordinated and managed departmental EE programs, analyzed and developed HR personnel policies, reviewed assessment and selection tools for bias, stereotyping and offensive content; and assisted in the development of diversity training initiatives), and (c) recruitment and staffing (recruited, selected and appointed candidates to positions in the professional, technical and administrative categories as well as represented departments at appeal board hearings).
While living in Ottawa, Bob continued his passion for hockey. He was invited in 1983 to play with the Montreal Rusty Blades in the 2nd Annual Global Cup in Puigcerda, Spain. At the tournament, he was selected to play on the Tournament All-Star Team, which played an exhibition game against the Spanish National Hockey Team.
Over the years, Bob has worked with community groups and organizations, and law enforcement agencies in Ottawa on issues related to employment equity, racism and discrimination, race relations, and police-community relations. As a member of the Ottawa-Carleton Area Police Community Council, he helped develop the “Community Partners in Action”, which was a strategy for the prevention, management, and resolution of critical incidents involving the police, visible minority and Aboriginal communities. While on the Executive of the National Capital Alliance on Race Relations, Bob developed and implemented the “Police-Minority Youth Program” to improve relations between the police and youth in the visible minority community, and participated in the conciliation process with the Canadian Human Rights Commission concerning the landmark discrimination case against Health Canada involving acting appointments and the promotion of visible minorities in management positions. In recognition of his work with the police in the areas of personnel policies on race relations and diversity, and police-community relations, he received a Civilian Citation and Community Service Award from the Police Services Boards of Gloucester and Ottawa.
After 37 years in the federal Public Service, Bob retired in 2011. In view of his contributions in human resources management, EE and diversity, he received the PSC’s Excellence and Bravo Awards and the Public Service of Canada’s Michelle Comeau HR Leadership Award. Bob also received a Certificate of Merit for his contribution to the successful implementation of the Public Service Modernization Act and new Public Service Employment Act.
In February 2012, the Black Ice Hockey and Sports Hall of Fame Society in Dartmouth, NS recognized Bob for his achievements in and contributions to hockey. As a former hockey player at Saint Mary’s University, Bob was asked by Dr. Colin Howell, Academic Director, Centre for the Study of Sport and Health, to assist in organizing an international hockey conference (Constructing the Hockey Family: Home, Community, Bureaucracy and Marketplace) that was held at Saint Mary’s in July 2012. He subsequently organized and moderated panel discussions on Hockey and The Black Community, Black Ice: A Retrospective on The Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, and Hockey and The Black Experience.
As a senior sports writer for Box Score World Sportswire, Bob has written numerous articles on blacks in various sports. He also has appeared on local TV and radio shows to talk about issues on blacks and hockey. In January 2015, Black History Ottawa presented Bob with the John G. Dennison Award for excellence in the study, preservation and promotion of Canadian black history and heritage. He, along with his former hockey teammates at Saint Mary’s University (Darrell Maxwell and Percy Paris) were featured in Sportsnet’s video The First All-Black Line in Canadian University Hockey that aired nationally in February 2015 on “Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada”. Moreover, Bob received the Pioneer Award in June 2015 for his community work and achievements in hockey from the Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame of Oakland, CA at a special community awards ceremony at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.
Bob continues his passion for hockey and plays in the Ottawa Senior and Kanata Masters Hockey Leagues. He is a member of the Ottawa Independent Writers and the North American Society for Sport History. In addition, Bob is on the Executive Board of SONAHHR (Society of North American Hockey Historians and Researchers). He is also one of the founding members of the Black Ice Hockey and Sports Hall of Fame Conference in Dartmouth, NS. In his spare time, Bob serves as a “family advisor” to aspiring black hockey players.