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

Sisters share exhibit in Qualicum Beach

From gnomes and fairytales to trees and texture, but plenty of connections between pair

Parksville council disagrees over parkland, payment

Developer planned to provide 0.5 ha. of land

Rodeo returns to Coombs for fourth year

Events include saddle, bareback riding and barrel racing

Model trains, historical exhibits offered at Parksville museum’s Railway Days

The family-friendly event takes place on Aug. 17 and 18 and is by donation

Coombs, Errington area director won’t run again

Julian Fell endorses Leanne Salter for role

Kim XO is Black Press Media’s fashionista

Starting Sept. 7, stylist Kim XO will host Fashion Fridays on the Life channel on Black Press Meida

Whole city of Kimberley on an evacuation alert due to wildfires

Residents woke up Friday morning being told to get ready to leave any moment

Feds to allow charities to engage in political, but not partisan, activity

The plan is to allow charities to pursue political activities

Trump suggests Canada has been sidelined from latest NAFTA negotiations

Canadian officials have insisted they’re unfazed by being left out of the discussions

B.C. judge who cried during a victim statement to rule on recusing herself

The judge will decide if she’ll disqualify herself from sentencing a man for sexual assault

Photographer files complaint with police after alleged assault on the job

Toronto photographer says he was attacked while covering a protest

Happy birthday Boler: An anniversary gathering of the cutest campers in Winnipeg

Hundreds of the unique trailers in Winnipeg to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Manitoba invention

Details revealed about Fredericton shooting

Judge lifts publication ban on court documents related to the Fredericton shooting

Minister optimistic after 2 days of Columbia River Treaty negotiations

Canadian and U.S. officials met in Nelson Wednesday and Thursday to discuss future of the treaty

Most Read