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

Katherine Swampy
Maskwacis chiefs are opposed to RAPID Response

Alberta Treaty 6 First Nations say they were not properly consulted

UCP Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr spoke to the Ponoka Chamber about the potential a new provincial government would provide to help support small business.
File photo
MLA Ron Orr: ‘Our constituents … want us to defend their livelihoods and freedoms’

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA stands with 15 other UCP members calling out retreat on restrictions

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole to vote against Conservative MP’s private bill on ‘sex-selective abortion’

Erin O’Toole said he supports a woman’s right to choose and will personally vote against the private member’s bill

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Health Canada headquarters in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Health Canada releases guidelines for reducing COVID-19 transmission at home

Improve indoor air quality by opening up your windows and doors, among the encouraged ventilation measures

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney updates media on measures taken to help with COVID-19, in Edmonton on Friday, March 20, 2020. Alberta is set to join three other provinces in exploring the feasibility of small modular reactors as a clean energy option. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Four provinces to sign memorandum of understanding to explore small nuclear reactors

Alberta government said in August that it would enter into the agreement to help diversify its energy sector

Sharis Carr, a nurse at the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Service Center in Clarksdale, Miss., holds a box containing doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, April 7, 2021. The U.S. is recommending a “pause” in using the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
EXPLAINER: What’s known about COVID vaccines and rare clots

These are not typical blood clots – they’re weird in two ways

File photo
City of Wetaskiwin awarded $5.1 million grant for additional RCMP officers

10 Additional RCMP officers to serve the City of Wetaskiwin as a result of the grant.

Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ship in the world. Photo provided and colourized by Jiri Ferdinand.
QUIZ: How much do you know about the world’s most famous shipwreck?

Titanic sank 109 years ago today, after hitting an iceberg

A health-care worker holds up a vial of the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Montreal, Thursday, March 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
PHAC receives first report of blood clot linked to AstraZeneca

The federal agency says the person is now recovering at home

A real estate sign is pictured in Vancouver, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS Jonathan Hayward
1 in 3 young Canadians have given up on owning a home: poll

Data released Monday says 36% of adults younger than 40 have given up on home ownership entirely

Most Read