Dean Smith remembers the comments, the ridicule, the uneasy feelings he got
as a young hockey player growing up in Whitney Pier, N.S.
“I remember carrying my gear to the rink one day. There were a bunch of
African Nova Scotians there,” says Smith, one of the few black youth hockey
players in the province back then. “And I remember a bunch of white
gentlemen making comments to me as I went by with my duffel bag full of
gear, saying ‘You guys aren’t supposed to be playing hockey, your ankles
aren’t strong enough’ and having these stereotypes. I remember how it
really dissuaded me from continuing in hockey. So that’s a lesson that I
held dear in my heart all these years and I do everything I can to ensure
nobody experiences that again, at least in my company.”
Rather than be dissuaded for life, however, Smith took action. And a lot of
He has grown into a man who, through countless volunteer pursuits, has
paved the way for today’s youth and has made the game of hockey much more
diverse and inclusive in Nova Scotia.
Smith has been involved in hockey all his life, starting with those years
as a minor player in Whitney Pier. Now he is a father of three. There’s
daughter Tamara, who is 34 years old, and sons Tristan, 14, and Jade, 9.
About 12 years ago, Smith began his involvement with the Black Youth Ice
Hockey Initiative (BYIHI), one of two major programs in Nova Scotia under
the umbrella of the Black Ice Hockey and Sports Hall of Fame. (The other is
the annual Maritimes Coloured Hockey League memorial game, an event that
honours the league that was in existence from 1895 to 1930 and another one
that Smith is highly involved with putting on.) The youth initiative, offered in partnership with Hockey Nova Scotia, was
developed to provide black youth between the ages of five and 10 with basic
hockey instruction in the hopes they would fall in love with the game and
want to transition to minor hockey.
As with many not-for-profit initiatives, the BYIHI started small but has
grown and grown over the years.
“Each year we welcome about 25 to 30 African Nova Scotian youth to the
program,” says Smith. “There are a lot of impediments for them to make the
transition, but we’ve been fortunate to see four, six or even eight players
transition to minor hockey the last few years. It’s at the point now where,
regardless of which rink I walk into with my boys, I see one of our
graduates and I see them on the ice getting ready for a game. It’s quite
inspiring. They love to see me; I love to see them.
“For years and years, I used to walk into rinks and I wouldn’t see any
person who looked like myself or my boys. I wouldn’t see any First Nations
players or African Nova Scotian players.”
Smith’s involvement in the initiative rubbed off on his boys who, in those
early years, would be dragged to the rink with dad, eventually stepping on
the ice themselves and learning to love the game. Today, Tristan and Jade
play with the Chebucto Minor Hockey Association in Halifax, where Dean, his
partner Brenda and their two boys live.
Smith, a lawyer in the city, can’t seem to get enough of volunteering in
hockey. Along with his various not-for-profit initiatives, he also coaches
his sons – Tristan recently completed his first season of Bantam and Jade
is in Atom.
Whether it be as coach of his sons’ teams or as lead instructor with Black
Youth Ice Hockey, Smith has witnessed first-hand the many benefits of the
“I have seen the confidence with children in education and have received
many letters from parents through the BYIHI and through minor hockey that
their kids not only are having a wonderful time at hockey this year but
they have also improved in their educational goals and objectives,” says
Smith. “The kids become a little more focused, they become more determined
and they like to get that work done before they go to hockey.
“This year in Bantam is a transition period where you can join competitive
and go through the checking clinics or you choose to play recreational
hockey. I’m coaching one of the rec teams this year. A lot of the parents
were quite concerned about their kids going from competitive Peewee to rec
Bantam and I’ve heard wonderful feedback about how happy and how confident,
how respectful the kids have been since joining the team.”
And as if his plate wasn’t already full, Smith didn’t hesitate when asked
by Hockey Nova Scotia in December 2019 to join the HNS Diversity and
Inclusion Task Force. It’s obvious that his experience in the game, with
minor hockey, the Black Ice Hockey Youth Initiative and the New Canadians
Program, which helped Syrian newcomers to Canada get on the ice, makes him
a leader in the community.
Like many who constantly give back, Smith mentions his family as being
great supporters of his involvement.
“My partner Brenda, she keeps the schedule together. I’m grateful for that
and I’m grateful for her. I wouldn’t be able to do it without her,” he
says. “I found myself last year, going to an 8 a.m. practice with my oldest
boy, 10 a.m. practice with my youngest boy, taking them both to the 12 noon
BYIHI, then to the 3 p.m. First Shift program and then to their games in
the evening. And I wouldn’t be able to do it without Brenda.”