Another colour barrier was broken in professional sports on January 12, 1958, and once again that barrier was broken in Canada.
That was the date that Fredericton New Brunswick’s Willie O’Ree took to the ice in a National Hockey League matchup in Montreal. He became the first black player in an NHL game.
To commemorate that event and Black History Month, the Royal Canadian Mint has released a special silver coin in O’Ree’s honour
In announcing the commemorative coin Marie Lemay, President and CEO of the Royal Canadian Mint said in a press release, “Willie O’Ree’s courageous determination to play at the highest level of professional hockey inspired generations of black players to carve their own paths as NHL legends. The Mint is delighted to immortalize his special place in history on a skillfully crafted silver coin.”
Although O’Ree was a short-term call- up for the Boston Bruins, it was an historic first. He later went on to play 43 games for the Boston Bruins in the 1960-61 season, but persisted through the too-often racist taunts from fans. He was traded to the Montreal Canadians and played 14 seasons on the minor professional leagues team before ending his career in 1979.
Willie won the Western Hockey League scoring title twice between 1961 and 1974. He tallied 30+ goals four times while setting career-highs with 38 during the 1964-65 and 1968-69 seasons
The NHL recognised his role in history and they engaged him as their ambassador for diversity in 1988, a role he continues to this day. He inspired the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award and received both the Order of Canada and Order of New Brunswick. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018 for his far-reaching impact on the game.
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