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

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Chris Paulson of Burns Lake took a quick selfie with a lynx over the weekend of Feb. 20-22, 2021, after the wild cat was found eating some of his chickens. (Chris Paulson/Facebook)
VIDEO: Burns Lake man grabs lynx by scruff after chickens attacked

‘Let’s see the damage you did, buddy,’ Chris Paulson says to the wild cat

Design work continues for planned new hospital

Construction contract still in the works

Northern Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Brucejack mine, 65 km north of Stewart on Feb. 11, 2021. (Pretivm Photo)
Northern Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Brucejack Mine, 65 kilometres north of Stewart on Feb. 11, 2021. (Pretivm Photo)
Northern Health reports 20 more COVID-19 cases in outbreak at Brucejack Mine

So far, 42 people have tested positive, nine cases are active and self-isolating onsite

Fisheries and Oceans Canada released it's 2021 Pacific Herring Integrated Fisheries Management Plan Feb. 19. (File photo)
Northern herring opportunities kept to a minimum

2021 management plan caps Prince Rupert fishery at 5 per cent

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk 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
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

“Support your city” reads a piece of graffiti outside the Ministry of Finance office. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Slew of anti-bylaw graffiti ‘unacceptable’ says Victoria mayor, police

Downtown businesses, bylaw office and Ministry of Finance vandalized Wednesday morning

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

The late Michael Gregory, 57, is accused of sexually exploiting six junior high students between 1999 and 2005. (Pixabay)
Former Alberta teacher accused of sexually assaulting students found dead in B.C.

Mounties say Michael Gregory’s death has been deemed ‘non-suspicious’

According to a new poll, a majority of Canadians want to see illicit drugs decriminalized. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Majority of Canadians think it’s high time to decriminalize illicit drugs: poll

More than two-times the B.C. residents know someone who died from an overdose compared to rest of Canada

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

Most Read