Statue of NHL’s first Black player now featured at African American history museum
A statue of Fredericton’s Willie O’Ree, who was the first Black player in the NHL, is now a part of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The Smithsonian Institution museum, located in Washington, D.C., unveiled a new exhibition case this week dedicated to hockey.
The case is part of the “Sports: Leveling the Playing Field” gallery, and highlights hockey’s early history and Black athletes’ contributions.
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O’Ree was born in Fredericton and began his hockey career at the age of 15 with the Fredericton Falcons in the New Brunswick Amateur Hockey Association.
He became the first Black player in the NHL when the Boston Bruins called him up from the minor leagues to play against the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 18, 1958.
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The hockey icon went on to play 45 games over two seasons.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018 and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2020.
“However, even after the first Black player joined the game in 1958, the presence of Black hockey players in the NHL has been slow to increase, reaching a record high of 28 players in the 2017–18 season,” the museum notes in a news release.
In addition to the statue, the exhibit showcases several objects from the Black hockey league in Nova Scotia, known as the CHL.
Among the artifacts is a newspaper article from the Acadian Recorder “issuing a notice of an accepted challenge from the Halifax Eurekas to the Africville Seasides’—both teams in the CHL—to play for the title Jan. 28, 1904.”
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