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

Love North Island Society’s dance raises $1,162 for Port Hardy food bank

“It wasn’t just a dance, but a dance party.”

North Island to get new highway maintenance contractor

Ministry provides update on North Island projects and services

115 new wildfires burning across B.C. due to 19,000 lightning strikes

More fires expected to start today, says BC Wildfire Service officials

‘Daddy bonus’ common in B.C. workplaces, study finds

UBC researchers say dads don’t have to be number one in the office to get a raise

Marijuana to be legal in Canada Oct. 17: Trudeau

Prime Minister made the announcement during question period in the House of Commons

VIDEO: B.C.’s ‘unicycle cowboy’ aspires to be rancher one day

Burklan Johnson has only ridden a horse once, but this unicyclist has big plans to become a cowboy.

Rescued Oregon family simply unprepared for adventure, RCMP say

Agencies now helping the group of four get to their destination in Alaska

Large B.C. tree dies after possible poisoning

Police and District investigate after large chestnut tree’s rapid decline

Canucks release 2018-19 season schedule

Vancouver to face Calgary Flames on Wednesday, Oct. 3, for home opener

VIDEO: Luxury Home and Design Show opens with Italian flare

Event set to run Friday to Sunday at BC Place in Vancouver

Small new charge on BC Hydro bills goes toward new crisis fund

The new fund aims to help customers who find themselves in financial emergencies

UPDATED: Crown appeals B.C. polygamous leader’s acquittal in child bride case

James Oler had been charged with taking his underage daughter to the U.S. to marry her off

Fake cops ‘arrest’ woman, steal $6,000 in latest CRA scam

Vancouver police urge people not take calls from anyone saying they’re from the Canada Revenue Agency

Study shows increase in mountain bike tourism in B.C.

Numbers are up, way up, for bike-related visits to the province

Most Read