In three weeks, Vernon’s Ken Holland will receive hockey’s highest honour.
On Tuesday, Oct. 26, in a short ceremony at Vernon city hall, Holland received his hometown’s highest accolade.
Holland, 65, the president of hockey operations and general manager of the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers, was presented the Freedom of the City of Vernon Award, the highest civic tribute bestowed by the city by unanimous decision of council.
The award is presented to a person or a distinguished unit of the armed forces of Canada or another country.
“I’m incredibly honoured,” said Holland, who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Nov. 15. “I was born and raised in Vernon. I spent the first 19 years of my life here then left to pursue my dream of chasing a hockey puck with the (Western Hockey League) Medicine Hat Tigers, then pro hockey.
“I’ve got a house here in Vernon. I call Vernon home. Vernon is the place where I got the opportunity to play minor sports, minor hockey, minor baseball. The City of Vernon and the people of Vernon gave me an opportunity to pursue my dreams so to receive the Freedom of the City award is a very special honour for me.”
Holland joined the Edmonton Oilers in 2019, after serving as general manager of the Detroit Red Wings for 22 seasons. He has won the Stanley Cup four times and Olympic Gold twice. He has been named the NHL’s GM of the Decade (2000-09) by Sports Illustrated, has captured four Presidents Trophies, 10 division championships, five regular-season conference titles and reached 100 regular-season points in 13 of his last 18 seasons.
Holland’s wife, Cindi, and former Vernon Essos and Vernon Vikings Junior A teammates Marty Stein, Gary Gilchrist and Dave Caldow were on hand to watch Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming present Holland with the Freedom of the City.
“Not only has Mr. Holland had a long and prestigious career within the NHL, he has also maintained close ties to his hometown community and has been an outstanding ambassador for both Vernon and the game of hockey on a global scale,” said Cumming. “Mr. Holland’s most respected character traits are his human side, compassion, integrity and ethical leadership. He’s always flying under the radar for the benefit of others.”
Cumming said Holland has influenced others to move to Vernon and support its residents within the areas of sports, art and culture. He has also personally continued to support the community through generous contributions to the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, Vernon Kal Rotary Club and many other charitable organizations.
Two of Holland’s biggest influences, his late parents, Lee and Rienie, were on his mind as he accepted the award.
“I think about growing up on 23rd Street and going down in the basement, my dad was head of the Pup Division, Peewee Division, Bantam Division and watch him make schedules,” said Holland, who plans to retire in Vernon when his NHL days are done. “Lining up cars to go to Revelstoke, Kelowna and Penticton with the travel teams, he was the general manager and was probably my first opportunity to watch somebody organize and it was my dad.
“I wish my mom and dad could be here today. I know how proud they would be and how much it would mean to them.”
Holland becomes the 21st recipient of the Freedom of the City Award. The last recipient was late Vernon Vipers team owner Dr. Duncan Wray in 2011.