Willie O’Ree

Willie O’Ree

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Willie O'Ree was born in Fredericton in 1935. He was the youngest of 13 children. His grandparents came to Canada through the Underground Railroad to escape slavery in the United States. When he was growing up there were only two other Black families in Fredericton at the time.

From an early age, Willie loved playing hockey and became involved in organized sport. As he grew older the "colour barrier' was becoming more noticeable to him. 

He later moved to Quebec and then Ontario to play. When playing for the Kitchener Canucks, he was badly injured by a pick that hit his eye. Despite suffering 95% vision loss, Willie was determined to play for the NHL. He kept his injury secret because NHL rule states that players who are blind in one eye cannot play.

In 1958, Willie became the first Black hockey player to play a game in the NHL. Despite experiences of racism, Willie continued to play and later became NHL's Director of Youth as well as an ambassador for NHL Diversity. Willie O'Ree was recognized for his dedication and skill with the Order of New Brunswick and the Order of Canada. In 2018 he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

No comments yet