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King Kwong


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Every once in a while in this job I am honoured to shake the hand of history. That happened this week when I met Larry Kwong, a true gentleman if there ever was one and a real piece of Canadian history.

When you mention the name "Kwong" in this country most people think of Normie Kwong, the Calgary Stampeders football player and the 16th Lieutenant Governor of Alberta.

The lesser-known Larry Kwong, is from Vernon, B.C. and he was the first person of colour to play in the NHL. Many folks think that was another Canadian too, Willie O'Ree from New Brunswick, a black man. But Larry, a Chinese-Canadian, played for the New York Rangers almost ten years earlier. By all accounts Larry was a true star of the game. He was a leading goal scorer for its farm club, the Rovers, when he laced up his skates as a Ranger on March 13th, 1948.

After sitting on the bench for two periods, his career in the NHL lasted exactly one shift about a minute in the third. His team lost 3-2 to Montreal and the Rangers lost a top prospect. Larry was so disappointed he left, going on to a fabulous career in the Quebec Senior League and overseas. Players like Jean Beliveau and Toe Blake remembered his playing skills years later.

What happened to Larry is as much about the Chinese struggle for identity in this country, indeed in North America, as it is about hockey. Larry told me that earlier in his career he would sometimes hold back, afraid his talent and his colour would be too much of a target. Yet he kept his composure, kept pursuing his dream and always maintained his dignity.

Larry will be 90 in June. Another young man with a Chinese heritage, teacher Chad Soon, is now helping to spread the word about Larry's accomplishments. This story is my little contribution and I tell it with pleasure. Larry is a true star, a Canadian hockey hero and a great one at that.
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