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Chinese-Canadian, Black, and Indigenous players of the WKHL and WIHL

Updated: Jul 13

A terrific new book looks at the life of Larry Kwong, the first Chinese-Canadian player in the NHL. The Longest Shot is by Chad Soon and George Chiang and illustrated by Amy Qi. While intended for young readers, adults will find the book just as charming. 

Soon has been leading the charge to have Kwong inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Alas, Kwong was not chosen last year, which marked the 75th anniversary of his lone but groundbreaking shift with the New York Rangers. Supporters, however, have not given up.

Kwong, who died in 2018, also played in the West Kootenay Hockey League, suiting up in 1941-42 and 1945-46 for Trail, where he was a fan favorite. The book includes a very stylish spread of him lighting the ice on fire while wearing a Smoke Eaters jersey.

However, a promised job at the smelter did not materialize and he ended up working as a bellhop at the Crown Point Hotel. Later he was told Cominco did not hire Chinese Canadians. 

While Kwong was the first Chinese Canadian to play in the local senior hockey circles, he wasn’t the only one. Jim Chow played both football and hockey as a teen in Saskatoon and Moose Jaw and also coached little league baseball. 

After several years of senior hockey in Saskatchewan, where he became known for a blistering slapshot, he headed west to join the Rossland Warriors of the Western International Hockey League in 1964-65 but only appeared in six games. The following year he signed with the Spokane Jets of the WIHL and settled in for five outstanding seasons including three Allan Cup runs.

From the 1967-68 Spokane Jets program 

Over the course of his WIHL career, Chow played 233 regular season games at centre, scoring 71 goals and 123 assists for 204 points. He also put up seven goals and 21 assists in the playoffs. But his biggest night came on Dec. 16, 1966 when, as a member of the WIHL All-Stars, he scored the first and last goal in a 5-4 win against the Moscow Selects before 4,500 fans in Trail. He was also voted the Jets’ MVP and most popular player that season. 

He retired in 1970 after helping Spokane win the Allan Cup. He died in Toronto in 2012, age 78.

Here’s something amazing: when Chow’s wife Pat gave birth to a son in 1970, they named him Gordon Martin Chow: Gordon for Gordie Howe and Martin for longtime Trail (and sometimes Spokane) goalie Seth Martin!

Chow’s brother Joe was a hockey player too, and spent three seasons with the University of Denver. 

The back page of the 1967-68 Jets program contained a bizarre ad (seen below) that featured a photo of Jim Chow in action and an endorsement for Darigold Milk from coach Colin Kilburn.

A teammate of Chow’s in Spokane was John Utendale, one of two Black players I am aware of in WIHL history. Utendale was from Edmonton, where he began playing for the Oil Kings. In 1955, three years before Willie O’Ree became the first Black player in the NHL, Utendale signed a contract with the Detroit Red Wings. Although he practiced with the Wings and played for their farm team in Edmonton, he never made the NHL. According to his family, Red Wings coach Jack Adams would not give Utendale any playing time because his girlfriend (and future wife) was white. 

In 1958-59, Utendale played for the Quebec Aces on a line with fellow Black players O’Ree and Stan Maxwell. He also played senior hockey for Penticton and Edmonton as well as collegiate hockey for UBC, where he obtained a teaching certificate, before arriving in Spokane in 1967 for his lone season in the WIHL. He had 10 goals and 25 assists in 45 regular season games with the Jets plus two goals and one assist in 11 playoff games.

He played one more season of senior hockey in Edmonton after that before becoming director of physical education at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, where he coached the school’s hockey team. He was subsequently academic co-ordinator for the athletics department at Washington State University, where he earned a doctorate in education.

From the 1967-68 Spokane Jets program 

Utendale was then hired by Western Washington State College, where he spent more than 25 years heading a master’s degree program. He was an assistant training coach with the US national hockey team that won gold at the 1980 Winter Olympics (later depicted in the movie Miracle, partly filmed in Rossland).

Utendale died in 2006 in Bellingham, Wash., age 69. The Seattle Kraken honored him at a 2022 game as part of Black History Month. 

Spokesman Review, Sept. 14, 1967

When he joined the Jets, Utendale was incorrectly described in the Spokesman-Review as the first Black player in the WIHL. In fact, that distinction belonged to winger Ron Carothers (often misspelled Carruthers), who played for the Nelson Maple Leafs in 1961-62.

Carothers was from Calgary and also played fastball and football. In 1955-56 he was part of the Inglewood team that won the city championship and had two Black players on its roster in addition to Ron: his brother Jack Carothers and Bernie Sneed, whose younger brother Floyd was once the drummer for Three Dog Night. Jack and Ron were also part of the Inglewood team that won the Calgary Junior B championship in 1958-59.

In 1960-61, Ron won the scoring championship of the Calgary Junior B league with 29 goals and 21 assists. The following year he came to Nelson for his first year of senior hockey. He finished with eight goals and 11 assists in 28 regular season games. 

Nelson Daily News, Oct. 17, 1961

Nelson Daily News, Nov. 20, 1961

He then returned to Calgary and played in the Big Six Hockey League where he was considered one of the most versatile players. It looks like his hockey career ended in 1965, but he continued to play football and had a tryout with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1971.

Like the rest of his family, Carothers was a musician. When he wasn’t on the ice or the field, he could be found behind the drums leading his own quartet. He was also an impresario, cabaret and restaurant manager, and occasional actor, appearing in local theatre productions and a TV western with Christopher Reeve called Black Fox: Good Men and Bad

As of 2012, Carothers was living in Hanna, Alta. and playing hockey with a Red Deer team at the Alberta senior games. One fun fact: from 1975-77, he also played for a Calgary oldtimers team with Larry Kwong.

The earliest Indigenous senior hockey player in the Kootenays I am aware of was right wing Ken Moore, a member of the Peepeekisis Cree Nation. His family moved to Regina to prevent him from being taken to residential school like his brothers, both of whom died.

Moore was a standout in many sports and had his pick of athletic scholarships. He chose the University of Saskatchewan, where he captained the rugby and hockey teams. In 1930, he scored the winning goal in the Memorial Cup final for the Regina Pats and the following year led Winnipeg to the Allan Cup championship.

In 1932, Moore became the first Indigenous athlete to represent Canada at the winter Olympics and the first to win Olympic gold. Winnipeg represented Canada in hockey at Lake Placid and Moore scored in the championship game. The club was eventually inducted into the Manitoba hockey and sports halls of fame.

Ken Moore in the Indigenous Sport gallery at the BC Sports Hall of Fame.

Moore played for the Kimberley Dynamiters from 1933 to 1936 and assisted on the winning overtime goal in 1936 to make them the first BC club to win the Allan Cup, his second such championship. The team was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame. However, he was not part of the team that won the world championship the following year, though I don’t know why. He remained in Kimberley and played with some others who didn’t make the trip to Europe. They called their team the Orphans! 

In 42 regular season WKHL games, he had 23 goals and 23 assists, leading the league in assists in 1934-35. He also played 26 playoff games, scoring seven goals and 12 assists. His six assists in the 1933-34 playoffs were also tops in the league.

Moore later coached hockey for many years in Winnipeg where he worked as a fire alarm operator. He died in 1981, age 71. His granddaughter has twice nominated him unsuccessfully for Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, which in 2015 erroneously identified Shirley and Sharon Firth as the first Indigenous athletes to represent Canada at the winter Olympics. 

Johnny Harms, a right wing for the WIHL’s Nelson Maple Leafs from 1950-52 was born to a Cree mother, something that went unacknowledged during his playing career. Harms was born in Saskatchewan in 1925 but never knew his biological parents. He was adopted and raised by a Mennonite family. 

He started his pro career in Hershey, Penn. and was called up later that year by Chicago and scored his first three NHL goals in the Stanley Cup final before scoring his first regular season goal. He spent most of 1944-45 in the NHL, followed by five years in the minors with Kansas City. A former teammate, Eddie Wares, who was coaching in Nelson, encouraged him to come to town.

During his two solid years in Nelson, Harms played on the H-line with Bill Haldane and fellow NHL alumnus Fred Hergerts. He had 22 goals and 42 assists in 62 regular season games. He and his wife also welcomed a son in Nelson. Afterward the family moved to Vernon and Harms was a mainstay of the Canadians of the Okanagan league, captaining the team that won the Allan Cup in 1956.

According to his daughter, Harms knew of his Indigenous heritage and never tried to hide it but felt disconnected from it. He tried unsuccessfully to gain status. Harms, who died in 2003 at 77, never appeared on a hockey card during his playing years, but in 2023 he was one of eight players included in a series from Upper Deck called the First Peoples Rookie Cards. 

Johnny Harms in the First Peoples Rookie Card set

At least three Métis players played in the WKHL/WIHL, including a member of the 1939 world champion Trail Smoke Eaters who was also likely the first Métis to make the NHL.

Joe Benoit (pictured) hailed from St. Albert, Alta. He played for the Smokies from 1936-40 and was part of the team’s famous top line with Bunny Dame and Ab Cronie. In 57 regular season games he had 65 goals and 30 assists for 96 points, while in the playoffs he aded 19 goals and 13 assists in 24 games. He went on to play over three seasons with the Montreal Canadiens and won the Stanley Cup. 

Two members of the famous Bentley family of Delisle, Sask. also played in the WKHL/WIHL. Wyatt (Scoop) Bentley patrolled the blueline for the Trail Smoke Eaters in 1941-42 and for the Spokane Flyers from 1948-53 putting up a total of 65 goals and 95 assists for 160 points in 296 regular season games and seven goals and nine assists in 51 playoff games. He also coached the Flyers from 1949-53, leading them to a Savage Cup championship in 1953. 

Scoop’s nephew, goalie Bev Bentley, played first for the junior Trail Smoke Eaters in 1943-44 and then for the Spokane Flyers in 1951-52, while his uncle was coaching. He appeared in 66 regular season games, leading the Flyers to a first place finish. He also led the league in goals against average. 

Very likely some Ktunaxa players skated in the WIHL, especially for Cranbrook or Elk Valley, but I haven’t identified them. However, two members of the Kainai Nation of southern Alberta played briefly for Elk Valley in 1986-87. Gilbert Weaselfat scored one goal in four games on defence while Jason Weaselfat played three games in net, surrendering 10 goals on 54 shots over 95 minutes. Gil also played for Kimberley the following year, but his statistics are unavailable. Sadly, Jason was killed along with three others in a car accident in 1988 while going home after a game with the Kanai Golden Chiefs. He was 20.

At the intermediate level, there were definitely Ktunaxa players. In the 1950s, the Creston Del-Macs boasted an all-Yaqan Nukiy line: Frank Francis (who was normally a goalie), J. Basil, and Z. Zachery. All Yaqan Nukiy boys learned to play at St. Eugene Mission and played against non-residential schools throughout the East Kootenay and Crowsnest Pass.

— With thanks to Tammy Bradford

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Great work that will be saved and savored by many

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