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Larry Kwong (1923-2018)

You heard it here last: Larry Kwong, the NHL’s first player of Asian descent and the oldest Trail Smoke Eaters alumnus, died on March 15 in Calgary, age 94.

Kwong played for Trail in 1941-42 and 1945-46. I was reminded of him today when I came across the team program for 1946-47 at the Selkirk College Archives, which featured his picture and biography (seen at right and below).

Though he only stood 5-foot-6, Kwong had a giant nickname: King Kwong.

The Vernon native was well liked in Trail, but faced discrimination there: he wasn’t allowed to work at the smelter like the other players and instead settled for a job as a bellhop at the Crown Point Hotel. (You might argue that working in the smelter in those days was the less desirable job, but it paid better.)

He only played one game in the NHL, for the New York Rangers, in 1948. Racism probably limited his major league stint, but he had a terrific career in the Quebec league in the 1950s, and in the last years of his life, he was honoured many times as a hockey pioneer. Stories about his passing appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post.

In the wake of his death, a small boom emerged for his memorabilia. His 1951-52 and 1952-53 hockey cards as a member of the Valleyfield Braves of the QSHL now fetch $25 and up on eBay. (He also appeared on more recently produced cards.)

Paula Johnson wrote a biography of Kwong published in 2015 and there are several videos about him on YouTube. His 1942-43 Nanaimo Clippers sweater hangs in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Larry Kwong is seen with his 1945-46 Trail linemates

Ron Gardner and Emil Kwasney.

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