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

Info sessions in Langley, Surrey for New Horizons for Seniors Program grants

MP John Aldag says program reaffirms government’s ongoing commitment to supporting seniors

Langley-Cloverdale MP’s reconciliation-focused bill passes in House of Commons

Surrey MP’s Bill C-374 would add ‘much-needed Indigenous representation to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board’

Spotlight directed on ‘working man’s car’ at Sunday’s St. George’s Motoring Show

‘Britishautophiles’ will gather in front of Fort Langley Community Hall for 13th consecutive year

Pancake picnic in the park this Saturday

Grand re-opening of Hunter Park includes music and tree planting

Past versus present as Spartans volleyball program takes the court

Trinity Western will represent Canada in Brazil this summer, begin preparation with match against alumni

NDP gives Liberal budget ‘failing grade’ on gender equality

Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Sheila Malcolmson said budget doesn’t do enough to focus on pay equity

Trump could bail on meeting with Kim

President Trump says he could still pull out of meeting if he feels it’s “not going to be fruitful”

Cochrane reworks ‘Big League’ for Broncos

Tom Cochrane releases his reworked version of “Big League” following Humboldt Broncos bus crash

Supreme Court upholds law in cross-border booze case

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled Section 121 does not impose absolute free trade across Canada

Trudeau looks for less plastic, more LGBTQ rights at Commonwealth

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends the Commonwealth meeting in London

Humboldt Broncos GoFundMe stops at $15 million

Humboldt Broncos GoFundMe site stops accepting donations as planned

Builder of Kinder Morgan reinforces concerns over project

B.C. heads to court over pipeline jurisdiction as builder says doubt warranted

Health committee cheers idea of national pharmacare program, but cost an issue

Conservative health critic Marilyn Gladu says she fears costs could be far higher than $19 billion

Canada’s oldest blood donor says it’s all gain, no pain after decades of giving

Great-grandmother and Coquitlam, B.C., resident has been donating blood since the late 1940s

Most Read