Creator(s): New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame
The year 2008 marked the 50th anniversary of two significant events in New Brunswick and Canada's sports heritage: on January 18th of 1958, Willie O'Ree made history when he became the first black player in the National Hockey League when he suited up for the Boston Bruins; and on December 10th, 1958, Yvon Durelle and Archie Moore met in the Montreal Forum in one of boxing's greatest fights ever, the World Light-heavyweight Championship.
Born in Fredericton, NB, the youngest of 13 children, Willie O'Ree always stood out on the ice - not just because of the colour of his skin - but because he was an excellent athlete. Like many Canadian kids, all O'Ree wanted to be was a hockey player but, being black, extra challenges faced him on the way to achieving his dream. After completing high school, Willie headed to Quebec to play junior hockey which led to his signing with the Bruins. Despite his talents and contributions to the team, O'Ree was berated constantly by opposing fans and players because of his colour. Overcoming racial slurs, death threats and physical challenges, O'Ree would go on to have a 21-season, 10-team professional career as a player. Today, in his early seventies, O'Ree continues as the Director of the National Hockey League's Youth Development and an ambassador for NHL diversity, roles which see him travel across North America to speak to boys and girls and expose them to the hockey experience.
In an era when Maurice Richard epitomized the hopes and aspirations of the French Canadian population, Yvon Durelle carried the standard for New Brunswick's Acadians. One of 14 children born to a Baie-Sainte-Anne fishing family, Yvon grew strong, tough and fearless working the waters alongside his father, brothers, uncles and cousins. When he entered the ring for the first time in the late 1940s, he knocked out a local boxer for a purse of $8. Durelle won 31 of his first 35 fights and his record would, eventually, tally a total of 87 wins (50 by knockout), 24 losses, two draws and one no-contest, but it was the famous bout in 1958 which made the "Fighting Fisherman" a household name.