(Left) Portrait of Betty Kwong in the 1930s; (Right) Betty’s Roll of Honour certificate from 1934.

A Famous Brother

Larry Kwong of Vernon is celebrated for being a gifted athlete, and the first hockey player to break the NHL’s colour barrier. However, his sister, Betty Kwong (later Chan) was no slacker either.

Betty was born in approximately 1920 to Ng Shu Kwong (1866-1929) and Loo See Kwong (1883-1943). Ng Shu immigrated to Canada from China in about 1882, and eventually set-up a general store in Vernon called the Kwong Hing Lung Grocery. It was perhaps the father’s determination to succeed (he tried to seek his fortune as a gold miner before he became a merchant) that encouraged success in the fifteen Kwong children.

A gifted sister

Betty was academically gifted, and was an honors student at the Vernon Public School (now known as École Beairsto Elementary) by the time she was in the sixth grade. A year later, Betty was awarded a certificate for placing first in her class in “proficiency, regularity, and punctuality.”

When she was fourteen, Betty took her high school entrance examination and earned the highest grade among all students in the Okanagan Valley; she placed just behind Florence Tamboline of Vancouver, who earned the highest grade in the province. Betty’s achievement was recognized when she was awarded a Governor-General’s Bronze Medal.

As an adult, Betty moved away from Vernon, but kept an interest in the area due to her status as the family’s self-appointed historian. Her local legacy continues to be felt in the many photos of early-Vernon life she donated to the archives.  

Vernon Vanguards of Winter Sports

If you are interested in learning more about Larry Kwong, the Museum and Archives of Vernon is hosting a Winter Sports Display featuring several athletic vanguards, including Kwong, Josh Dueck, and Sonja Gaudet

 

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

 

 

Larry Kwong wearing a New York Rangers jersey in 1946.

2021/’22 Hockey Season

With the cooler weather setting in, hockey season is only just around the corner. The 2021/’22 National Hockey League season begins on October 12 between this year’s Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The NHL has a long history, dating back to 1917 when it replaced the National Hockey Association. But it was not until 1948 that the league saw its first non-white player; the player who broke the colour barrier was named Larry Kwong, and he was born right here in Vernon.

 

One of Fifteen

Larry Kwong (1923-2018) was the second youngest of fifteen children. His father, Ng Shu Kwong, had immigrated to Canada from China in 1884, eventually setting up a store in Vernon called the Kwong Hing Lung Grocery.

Like many young boys, Larry grew up listening to hockey games on CBC radio. His passion for the sport was obvious even from the age of five, and two of his older brothers, Jack and Jimmy, encouraged Larry to start playing hockey himself. When the weather was cold enough, Jack and Jimmy would pour water into a vacant lot near the family store, creating a rink for Larry to practice. Larry and some of his friends also liked to frequent a nearby local pond to play their games and sharpen their skills.

 

A first hockey Team

When Larry was 16, he joined his first hockey team, the Vernon Hydrophones. His natural talent gained him instant attention, and his career took off from there. This is not to say that he did not face significant racial barriers along the way; in fact, in 1942, he was invited to the training camp of the Chicago Black Hawks, but the Canadian Government never processed the paperwork that would allow him to leave and return to Canada.

 

Joining the NHL

It wasn’t until after his enfranchisement as a result of serving in the Canadian Army during World War Two that Larry was able to accept an invitation into the NHL. He made his debut with the New York Rangers on March 13, 1948. However, Larry decided to leave the team after only one season; although he was the Rangers’ top scorer, he received very little ice time.

 

A long Career

He went on to have a long and successful career in senior leagues across Canada and the United States, and coached both hockey and tennis in England and Switzerland. He also helped to run his family’s grocery business, which had migrated to Calgary.

In 2011, Larry Kwong was inducted into the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame, and two years later, in 2013, into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame. This remarkable man passed away in Calgary on March 15, 2018. 

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator