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New stamp honouring ‘Canadian hero’ Willie O’Ree unveiled in Edmonton Saturday

Canada Post unveiled a new stamp Saturday as part of the 2023 Heritage Classic celebrations.

The stamp honours Canadian hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree, who was the first Black player in the NHL.

O’Ree was unable to attend the unveiling in person, but he did appear in a video message.

“Being a Canadian stamp is a tremendous honor. Being a part of hockey, and the NHL for over 60 years has been a dream come true,” O’Ree said. “Diversity and inclusion are important to both the game of hockey and to life.

“With this said, I encourage everyone to use the stamp as a reminder to continue to break down barriers and follow your dreams both on and off the ice.”

O’Ree played his first NHL game in 1958 for the Boston Bruins. Despite leaving the NHL in 1961, O’Ree remained involved with the league as an ambassador for inclusion and diversity.

He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018 and is the inspiration behind the NHL’s Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award.

Canadian hockey player Willie O’Ree was the the first Black player in the NHL. Stamps in his honour were unveiled Saturday in Edmonton. (Supplied)Former Oiler Anson Carter was at the unveiling and said it’s important to recognize O’Ree for what he did in paving the way for other players of colour in the NHL.

“All the players of colour that played the game growing up in my generation, we all went through some stuff, but it got easier as time went on,” Carter said. “So imagine what Willie went through.”

“To show that kind of perseverance and then come out the other side – the level of humility and grace that he exudes is amazing,” he added. “He would have every right to be bitter, but he’s not and he’s paying it forward.”

After retiring from professional hockey, O’Ree helped build more than 30 non-profit youth hockey programs throughout North America.

“We’re glad to honour Willie, it’s long overdue. He’s just a legend, a Canadian hero,” said Canada Post CEO Doug Ettinger. “He broke down racial barriers and fought racial discrimination … he had those additional hurdles to overcome and he made it.”

Around 1 million stamps have been printed. They will be available in post offices Monday.

With files from CTV News’ Lauren M. Johnson and The Canadian Press

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