Hockey pioneer Kwong dies at 94

Vernon’s Larry Kwong was the first player to break NHL colour barrier in 1948

Vernon student Gavin Donald presents his hero, Larry Kwong, with a plaque commemorating the hockey legend’s induction into the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame in 2011. (Morning Star file photo)

He made history as the first player to break the NHL’s colour barrier.

Vernon’s Larry (King) Kwong, the first Chinese-Canadian to play in the NHL, died March 15 in Calgary. He was 94.

Kwong’s death came two days after the 70th anniversary of his historic one-minute, one-shift appearance for the New York Rangers in Montreal on March 13, 1948.

Born in Vernon on June 17, 1923, Kwong played hockey on a lake in Blue Jay subdivision with his friends, and suited up with his hometown Hydrophones, winning a provincial midget hockey title in 1939 and a B.C. juvenile championship in 1941, before moving up to the senior ranks, joining the Trail Smoke Eaters as an 18-year-old.

Kwong faced discrimination in Trail, unable to get a job at the smelter like his teammates because of his heritage.

He eventually joined the New York Rovers, a Rangers farm team, and led them in scoring in the 1947–1948 season.

After his brief appearance with the Rangers, Kwong – nicknamed The China Clipper – went on to play several seasons with the Valleyfield Braves of the Quebec Senior Hockey League, drawing praise from a man who would go to become of the all-time greatest players in NHL history.

“Larry made his wing men look good because he was a great passer. He was doing what a centre man is supposed to do,” said Jean Beliveau, who played in the league before going on to a Hall of Fame career with the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens.

Kwong also played in England and Switzerland, where he also coached.

Kwong’s story was immortalized in a pair of films.

He was part of the documentary Lost Years, which had its world premier at the Towne Theatre in Vernon in 2011. Lost Years ventures into history to the sites of lost Chinatowns around the country, uncovering past injustices, such as the treatment of Chinese immigrant workers on Canada’s railways, and follows the reverberations to the present day.

RELATED: Hockey legend immortalized in film

The film features exclusive footage of Kwong, who fondly recalls his hometown, with memories of skating on the frozen road that is now Coldstream Avenue in what was then Vernon’s Chinatown.

Kwong’s father came to Canada in 1882, seeking fortune in the gold fields of Cherry Creek. Eventually settling in Vernon, he ran a grocery store from 1895 until his death in 1929, when Larry was only five. The second youngest of 15 siblings, Kwong eventually moved to Alberta in the mid-1940s in the midst of his trailblazing career.

Vernon teacher Chad Soon championed to have Kwong’s story told on a global level.

“I picked up on Larry Kwong’s story when I moved to Vernon from Ontario three years ago. I always had an interest in hockey and my grandfather, who was also a fan, told me about Larry,” said Soon in a 2011 interview with The Morning Star.

“When I looked into it, I was frustrated that there were hardly any tributes to him. He broke the colour barrier 10 years before the first black player came on the scene, but he was ignored and forgotten.”

RELATED: Talking about the Lost Years

Kwong was also the star of the 45-minute documentary The Shift: The Story of the China Clipper, which had its world debut at the Okanagan College Lecture Theatre in Vernon.

New York Rangers scout Ernie Gare Jr. of Vernon presented Kwong with a numbered and lettered New York jersey, courtesy of Ranger president and GM Glen Sather.

RELATED: Film commemorates Larry Kwong’s historic moment on ice

Kwong was twice featured on Rogers Sportnet’s Hometown Hockey broadcasts, once in 2017, when Hometown Hockey stopped in Vernon, and earlier this year when Hometown Hockey broadcast from Calgary.

Kwong was inducted into the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame at Kal Tire Place in 2011, and the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.



roger@vernonmorningstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

RELATED: Athletes score Hall of Fame honour

Just Posted

Telephone poles placed in centre of sidewalk angers West Kelowna watchdog

Audience Group calls placement of poles in new Boucherie Road upgrade project ‘idiocy’

Kelowna asking public to help update its Cultural Plan

Second survey this year to posted to gather public input about cultural programs and services

Three candidates drop out of Central Okanagan municipal election

Two running for Peachland/OK West trustee and OK East rural director candidate step aside

West Kelowna water warning downgraded

City lowers boil water notice for Lakeview water system to a water quality advisory

Ancestral remains uncovered at Fintry to be reburied

Remains found along Shorts Creek in Fintry Provincial Park during flood remediation measures

Your weekend weather update

Rain continues to move right across the Okanagan, Shuswap and Similkameen.

B.C. premier apologizes for removal of 1950s totem pole at Canada-U.S. border

First Nations say pole was raised at Peace Arch but removed to make way for tourism centre

Tornado touches down in Ottawa and Gatineau, Que.

Environment Canada says cars and homes have been damaged by severe thunderstorms and high wind gusts

Low risk associated with case of pneumococcal disease in the South Okanagan

No identified risk to the public from recent case of pneumococcal disease with associated meningitis

An unexpected sight: Bear spotted eating another bear in central B.C.

Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief finds bear eating another bear’s carcass

RCMP confirm death of missing BC teen Jessica Patrick

No details on cause were given. Case is under criminal investigation and police are asking for tips.

CUTENESS OVERLOAD: 2 sea otters hold hands at the Vancouver Aquarium

Holding hands is a common – and adorable – way for otters to stay safe in the water

B.C. teen with autism a talented guitarist

Farley Mifsud is gaining fans with every performance

Yukon man facing new attempted murder charge in B.C. exploding mail case

Leon Nepper, 73, is now facing one charge each of aggravated assault and attempted murder

Most Read