NHL trailblazer Willie O’Ree graces latest ‘Black History’ coin

Willie O’Ree’s groundbreaking hockey legacy is celebrated on the Royal Canadian Mint’s 2020 Black History Month coin, which was issued today as part of the Crown corporation’s latest numismatic catalogue.

Born in 1935 in Fredericton, N.B., O’Ree made sports and human-rights history the moment he donned a Boston Bruins jersey and stepped onto the ice of the Montreal Forum on Jan. 18, 1958. That night, O’Ree became the first black player to play in the National Hockey League (NHL), inspiring generations of hockey players from diverse backgrounds to chase the tantalizing dream of NHL stardom.

“I am humbled and beyond grateful to have my image displayed on the Canadian silver coin,” said O’Ree, now 84.

Called up as a short-term replacement at the time of his historic 1958 NHL debut, O’Ree played 43 more games for the Boston Bruins during the 1960-61 season.

O’Ree was also the first black player to score an NHL goal. A game-winner, O’Ree’s goal helped his Bruins defeat the visiting Montreal Canadiens on New Year’s Day in 1961 by a score of 3-2. It earned O’Ree a standing ovation from the home crowd.

That season, he scored four goals and 10 assists while enduring racist taunts by opposing players and fans. Then traded to the Montreal Canadiens, O’Ree played 14 seasons in the minors before calling it a career in 1979.

O’Ree, 84, holds the $20 Fine silver coin featuring his player portrait. (Photo by CNW Group/Royal Canadian Mint)

O’Ree returned to the NHL in 1998 as an ambassador for diversity, a role he continues to serve today. He inspired the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award and received both the Order of Canada and Order of New Brunswick. His 2018 induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame recognizes his far-reaching impact on the game.

“Diversity and inclusiveness are cherished Canadian values, and it is wonderful to see them come to life every time kids and adults of all backgrounds band together to play Canada’s game,” said Mint President and CEO Marie Lemay. “Willie O’Ree’s courageous determination to play at the highest level of professional hockey inspired generations of black players to carve their own paths as NHL legends.  The Mint is delighted to immortalize his special place in history on a skillfully crafted silver coin.”

O’Ree was also the first black player to score an NHL goal. On New Year’s Day in 1961, he scored the game-winning goal in a 3-2 victory over the visiting Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by CNW Group/Royal Canadian Mint)


The reverse of the $20 Fine silver Black History Month coin features an engraved player portrait of O’Ree alongside his signature and jersey number (22).

Also on the reverse, the Boston Bruins logo forms a repeating field pattern.

The obverse features the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II by Susanna Blunt.

The coin has a weight of 31.39 grams, a diameter of 38 millimetres and a mintage of 5,500.

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