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

Darlene and her son, Nolan, share time with a book. To protect his health, Nolan is not able to visit the library branch but the many services it offers allows the family to access materials at home. (FVRL/Special to The News)
COLUMN: Maple Ridge library branch has been a lifeline for many during pandemic

Did you know FVRL library cards are free to local residents?

Members of the Haney Horsemen and other equestrian users will be riding the Thornhill Trails in large numbers this weekend. (Haney Horsemen/Special to The News)
Horsemen out in force in Maple Ridge this weekend

Riders assert need to save Thornhill Trails for equestrian users

There has been a COVID-19 exposure at Olympians Gym in Maple Ridge. (Black Press files)
COVID exposure at Maple Ridge gym

Exposure took place at Olympians Gym Feb. 17-19

Local letter writer said fundraiser might help change social perception about people who are homeless. (Black Press Media file photo)
LETTER: What if society held a telethon to help homeless

Pitt Meadows resident lauds Variety Club for telethon. Would the fundraiser work for other causes?

The Harris Park pool in Pitt Meadows will not be open for the 2021 season. (The News files)
Pitt Meadows closes pool for the coming season

COVID-19 safety measures would limit swimmers at Harris Park pool

Dr. Bonnie Henry leaves the podium after talking about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
COVID: 589 new cases in B.C., and 7 new deaths

No new outbreaks being reported Feb. 26

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

Passengers aboard Komagata Maru in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet, 1914 - Library and Archives Canada image
Abbotsford council is asked to rename street in memory of Komagata Maru victims

Most of 376 the passengers aboard ship were denied entry into Canada in 1914

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Framed photos of Travis Selje and other items fill the top of a dresser in his bedroom. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
Crown says defence case epilepsy caused fatal Surrey crash fails on balance of probabilities

‘She very clearly had some form of control over that vehicle,’ Crown argues

Most Read