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Willie O'Ree named to the Order of Canada

Tuesday, 12.30.2008 / 1:12 PM / News

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - Willie O'Ree, the first black player to compete in the NHL, is one of 60 people named today to various ranks within the Order of Canada.

Two Canadian singing stars, Celine Dion and tenor Ben Heppner, were elevated to Companions of the Order, the highest of the three rankings. Also elevated to the Companion level were Barrick Gold founder and chairman Peter Munk and investment guru Stephen Jarislowsky of Montreal.

It was on Jan. 18, 1958 when O'Ree, a native of Fredericton, N.B., played for the Boston Bruins in a game against the Canadiens in Montreal.

O'Ree was playing senior hockey for the Quebec Aces when Boston called him up for a game in the Montreal Forum.

There were no racial slurs hurled at O'Ree that night. Jackie Robinson, the first black major-league baseball player, had been on a team in Montreal so seeing a black man in a major sport was nothing new to sports fans of the city, and O'Ree had previously skated in the city with the Aces.

O'Ree, 73, is now the director of youth development for the NHL's diversity program, which provides access to the sport for children throughout North America. It's a full-time job he took 10 years ago.

Among those named Officers of the Order - the second-highest rank - include Allan MacEachern and Iona Campagnola, two former members of Pierre Trudeau's Liberal government, and Nellie Cournoyea, the premier of the Northwest Territories from 1991 to 1996.

Retired Liberal Senator Michael Kirby, Quebec dancer Louise Lecavalier, Claude Lamoureux, the recently retired head of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, were also named Officers of the order.

O'Ree was one of 42 people named as Members of the Order.

The recipients of the Order will be invited to receive their insignia at a ceremony to be held at a later date.

The Order of Canada was first awarded in 1967 to recognize significant contributions to Canadian society.

Quote of the Day

I just think about how much it hurts. The feelings aren't going to go away, probably never. It's just something that sticks with you for a long time.

— San Jose forward Logan Couture to The Canadian Press on the Sharks' first-round loss to the Kings after taking a 3-0 series lead