On February 8, Mike O’Brien, Mayor of the City of Fredericton, designated January 18 as Annual Willie O’Ree Day to celebrate the Boston Bruins retiring his jersey, number 22.
Willie O’Ree, a Fredericton native, made history and broke the NHL’s colour barrier through his debut on January 18, 1958.
“The fact that I was black never came up when we played as kids,” O’Ree recalled in his autobiography, Hockey’s Black Pioneer. “It was only later when I became older, that I learned what ‘color barrier’ meant.”
Prior to his NHL debut, O’Ree made his way through the Fredericton hockey system, playing with the Fredericton Falcons, Fredericton Merchants, and the Fredericton Capitals.
His accomplishments saw him inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1994, and he has since been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
O’Ree, 85, was the 12th player to ever have his jersey retired in the franchise’s history, and continues to advocate for diversity in the NHL community.
“Willie O’Ree works tirelessly to bring our National sport to thousands of underrepresented, underprivileged and disadvantaged youth in North America as the NHL’s Director of Youth Development and Ambassador for NHL Diversity,” said O’Brien in his proclamation.
In 2008, Fredericton City Council announced that they would be naming its newest sports and leisure complex Willie O’Ree Place in his honour.
“O’Ree exemplifies the admirable attributes of teamwork, perseverance and dedication,” O’Brien said.
As the date has already passed in 2021, February 18 of this year will be celebrated as Willie O’Ree Day.