Bob Dawson BA"71

Bob Dawson 1967-68

Percy Paris, Bob Dawson BA'71, Trevor Stienburg, former Head Coach of the men's hockey Huskies, Darrell Maxwell BComm'72 and Willie O’Ree at Homecoming in 2018.

Bob Dawson BA’71

by Alec Bruce

Bob Dawson may well be the figment of a public relations professional’s dream. Born in Dartmouth, Dawson BA’71 is a sportsperson extraordinaire, retired federal public servant, Black hockey historian, diversity management consultant, social justice advocate, community organizer, husband, father, grandfather. Or as his old friend and former Nova Scotia MLA Hon. Percy Paris says, “Bob is as close to the perfect individual I have ever met.” It is hard to disagree. And if you did not know the man to know that he has stick-handled his way around obstacles both on and off the ice, you would be tempted to think that perfection came easy. Dawson has spent the better part of a lifetime fighting racism at all levels of hockey—from the moment he became the first Black man to play in the old Atlantic Intercollegiate Hockey League in the late 1960s, continuing to present day. In 2018, Saint Mary’s and the Alumni Association honoured him, along with Paris and Darrell Maxwell BComm'72, of the 1970 team for their achievements, not the least of which was forming the first line of all-Black athletes in Canadian university hockey. Yet, says Paris, “Bob is as steadfast today as he was at SMU.” Speaking from his home in Ottawa, Dawson states the facts. “Racism in hockey is a complex problem,” he says. “The sport doesn’t induce racism, but rather provides an environment for basic emotions like fear, anxiety and frustration—emotions that sometimes bring out the worst in people. Racism is learned behavior.” Over the years, Dawson has worked in partnership with community organizations and universities organizing events, such as Breaking the Ice Series (2020); Roundtable on Racism in Hockey (2019); Symposium on Race and Sports in Canada (2018); Panel Discussion on Hockey and The Black Experience (2017); and, International Hockey Conference, “Putting It on Ice III: Constructing the Hockey Family” (2012). Along with Sam McKegney and Courtney Szto (both of Queen’s University) and Michael Auksi (McGill University), Dawson co-authored the Policy Paper for Anti-Racism in Canadian Hockey to help create actionable items to encourage individuals, leagues, organizations and media to advocate for a more equitable hockey. Most recently, Dawson was named as one of the Social Change Advocates Making an Impact in the “Money and Power, 2022” edition of The Hockey News. In reflecting on his time at Saint Mary’s he says, “I’ve very fond memories of the university. That’s mainly because of feeling accepted and respected, and the wonderful people—not only my hockey teammates, but Coach Bob Boucher, as well as members of the administration.” Dawson retired in 2011, after a much-lauded career in the public service (he received leadership awards in the field of employment equity and diversity). But that was just a technicality. He is still busy. “I’m somewhat hopeful for things to change, but I think more needs to be done,” he says. “I’ll continue to try to make a difference by advocating for social change in the areas of racism and race relations.”