Willie O’Ree, the first black player in the NHL and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, sits for a photo with students from St. Peter’s High School in the NHL’s Black Hockey History Mobile Museum, an initiative for Black History Month, in Ottawa, on February 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Willie O’Ree, the first black player in the NHL and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, sits for a photo with students from St. Peter’s High School in the NHL’s Black Hockey History Mobile Museum, an initiative for Black History Month, in Ottawa, on February 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

O’Ree’s hockey stick reminds Trudeau daily of the work needed to combat racism

Willie O’Ree was the first Black man to play in the NHL

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he keeps a signed hockey stick from “living legend” Willie O’Ree as a constant reminder of the work that remains to combat racism.

Trudeau added himself to a long list of people inspired by the life and career of O’Ree, who in January 1958 became the first Black man to play in the NHL.

Both Trudeau and O’Ree participated Monday in a virtual assembly with Canadian students, marking both the first day of Black History Month and the Canadian release of a new documentary about O’Ree.

Trudeau said he keeps the stick O’Ree gave him on a visit to Parliament Hill in 2018 next to his desk, where it represents the work still outstanding “to make sure that our game, and our country, includes everyone.”

“On a personal level, that hockey stick is a symbol of your incredible strength and perseverance and always a daily reminder in the work ahead of us to fight racism and discrimination,” Trudeau told O’Ree.

O’Ree, now 85, played professional hockey for more than two decades, including 45 games for the Boston Bruins in 1958 and 1961. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, and later this month the Bruins will retire his sweater number.

O’Ree looked delighted at the idea that his stick plays such a role for Trudeau. He said it is an honour to remain with hockey and continue to work with kids.

O’Ree has been the NHL’s director of youth development and diversity ambassador since 1998. He said he decided when he was 14 that he wanted to be in the NHL, and that any young person with a big dream needs to remember hard work, and three specific words: choices, decisions and consequences.

“If you take a look at these words and the meaning of them I think that will help you in your daily life,” he said.

Students from across Canada participated in the event, hosted by Classroom Connections, and were able to ask questions of Trudeau, O’Ree and other participants.

Canadian Olympic medallist Sarah Nurse, a member of Canada’s hockey team at the 2018 Olympics, said O’Ree opened doors for players like herself.

“I’m just here to follow in Willie’s footsteps,” she said, noting Willie’s story needs to be shared more.

Students asked O’Ree several questions, including how he kept up his confidence, and whether he had ever experienced racism from his own teammates.

O’Ree said that his teammates were always supportive but the film documents the racism he experienced throughout his life and career.

Last year, several NHL players spoke out about racism they had experienced and what they deemed lacklustre attempts to diversify the game.

ALSO READ: Dix says review launched after stillbirth leads to allegations of racism at Kitimat hospital

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Justin TrudeauRacial injusticeracism

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Terrace & District Chamber of Commerce hosted a virtual all candidates forum for the Coast Mountains School District trustee by-election on Feb. 23, 2021. (Screenshot/Terrace & District Chamber of Commerce Facebook)
Terrace trustee candidates lay out top priorites during virual all candidates forum

All candidates forum was held virtually on Feb. 23, 2021

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Murder charge laid in February 2020 stabbing death of Smithers man

Michael Egenolf is charged with the second-degree murder of Brodie Cumiskey

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Murder charge laid in February 2020 stabbing death of Smithers man

Michael Egenolf is charged with the second-degree murder of Brodie Cumiskey

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

The Majagaleehl Gali Aks Elementary School in Hazelton is being shut down for a week by the Gitanmaax Band Council following a confirmation of a COVID-19 exposure there on Feb. 26. (Black Press Media File Photo)
COVID-19 exposure notice shuts down Hazelton school

Closure to last for one week and school is to be sanitized

Older rental apartments are prime candidates for renovations, and could result in lost affordable housing stock. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
B.C.’s renoviction overhaul a good start, but won’t preserve affordable stock, lawyer says

And still no protection for people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

The machines are located in four cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Victoria

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

The incident happened in downtown Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar teen recounts stabbing after stranger breaks into grandmother’s house

The unnamed teen survived a terrifying attack Feb. 21

(Black Press file photo)
Agassiz boy, 11, dies from ‘extensive injuries’: Homicide team

Agassiz RCMP were called out Friday to assist with a child in medical distress

Dr. Amit Desai of St. Francis Hospital receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17. (Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan)
B.C. has now vaccinated more people from COVID-19 than total confirmed cases

B.C. has reached a milestone, vaccinating roughly 1.6% of its population from the coronavirus

Most Read