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Breaking the Colour Barrier: Wilfred “Boomer” Harding and the Chatham Coloured All-Stars (1932-1939) is the first part in a larger digitization project related to the Boomer Harding scrapbooks. Using photographs, newspaper clippings, oral histories, interviews, and curricular resources, this site documents and preserves the story of the Chatham Coloured All-Stars, a baseball team from Chatham, Ontario who became the first Black team to win a provincial Ontario Baseball Amateur Association championship in 1934.

old picture of Sarah Holmes HardingWe first became acquainted with the story of Boomer Harding and the Chatham Coloured All-Stars through a chance encounter at a local history event in Chatham. In 2015, Miriam Wright, a history professor at the University of Windsor, met Mrs Pat Harding, the daughter-in-law of the late Wilfred “Boomer” Harding (1915-1991), one of the Chatham Coloured All-Star players. Pat told Miriam about how Boomer’s mother, Sarah Holmes Harding, had collected news clippings and other materials related to all of her children and saved them carefully. Along with her own careful research, Pat assembled three meticulous scrapbooks documenting not only the story of the Chatham Coloured All-Stars and Mr. Harding’s fascinating life story but also a vital and compelling chapter of Canadian history.  

When Mrs Harding asked if Miriam could use the scrapbooks to make a website, Miriam immediately said yes and then quickly contacted Heidi Jacobs and Dave Johnston, Co-Directors of the Centre for Digital Scholarship at the University of Windsor’s Leddy Library. Heidi and Dave, like Miriam, instantly saw the importance of this rich historical resource and the urgency of preserving and sharing this story. In the fall of 2015, the University partnered with the Chatham Sports Hall of Fame who were equally committed to preserving and disseminating this vital chapter of sports history. In early 2016, the team applied for and was awarded a $72,500 Ontario Trillium Foundation grant to develop an oral history and a range of resources for scholars, teachers, students, and community members.

Old picture of Earl ChaseIn documenting this barrier-breaking but largely overlooked baseball team, this website introduces us to men like Boomer Harding, Earl “Flat” Chase, Kingsley Terrell, Willie Shaugnosh, and others who were denied opportunities because of racial segregation in professional sports and society as a whole. In getting to know Boomer Harding and his teammates through these scrapbooks, we came to understand the stories of those who confronted, navigated, challenged, and transcended racial barriers in both sports and life.  These are stories that are not often told about Canadian history and they need to be preserved and shared.

As we examined the scrapbooks and talked with family members of the players, we’ve been particularly struck by both the vitality and the fragility of the historical record.  While people today still have keen and detailed recollections of Boomer Harding and other members of the Chatham Coloured All-Stars, we know that memory is fragile and many memories and stories have already been lost.

Had it not been for the careful collecting of Sarah Holmes Harding and Pat Harding, it is quite likely that the fascinating and vital story of Boomer Harding and the Chatham Coloured All-Stars would also have been long-lost in future generations. Because of the efforts of these two women who saw the importance of documenting, preserving, and sharing history, we are now able to share these stories with future generations. The physical scrapbooks Sarah Holmes Harding and Pat Harding developed are being preserved at the University of Windsor’s Archives and Special Collections but we have also scanned and digitally preserved these scrapbooks. Over the coming months and years, we will be making these files available to researchers and the general public.  Breaking the Colour Barrier: Wilfred "Boomer" Harding & the Chatham Coloured All-Stars (1932-1939) is the first in what we expect will be a series of websites dedicated to telling the story of sports, race and community in southwestern Ontario in the twentieth century.

None of the work of the Harding Project team would have been possible without the help, support, and trust of the Harding family, other Chatham Coloured All-Stars families, Dorothy Wright Wallace of the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society, and other community members. The support of the Chatham Sports Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors and that of the University of Windsor have also been instrumental. Please visit our acknowledgments page for a larger thank you to all the members of the research team.

Finally, we would like to dedicate this site to Sarah Holmes Harding and Pat Harding for their unwavering dedication to preserving history and to the memory of the men and women who played for, supported, and cheered on the Chatham Coloured All-Stars.

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