Collectors say new Willie O’Ree stamp is ‘long overdue’

Still of the new stamp for the Canadian Hockey legend Willie O'Ree, made by the Canadian postal services. (Submitted: Canada Post)

On Oct. 27, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers took the ice at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton for the 2023 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic. Alongside this game was the unveiling of a new postage stamp of iconic Fredericton-born Willie O’Ree.

Canada Post launched the new postage stamp commemorating the hockey winger famous for breaking the NHL’s colour barrier in 1959 when he suited up for the Boston Bruins, becoming the first Black player to play in the NHL. The new stamp features a picture of O’Ree sporting his signature fedora and a portrait of him from his playing days with the Bruins, all while using the signature yellow, black, white and grey colors synonymous with ‘Beantown.’  

“It’s a wonderful stamp and it’s really going to promote inclusion even more and amplify his wonderful story,” said Doug Ettinger, CEO of Canada Post at the unveiling of the new stamp in Edmonton. 

“He’s a Canadian hero, he’s a pioneer, he’s a game changer.”   

Known to many as the “Jackie Robinson of hockey,” O’Ree was an iconic trailblazer for many hockey players, especially those in the Black, Indigenous and other people of colour. His impact is felt in hockey across many levels, including the minor league, grassroots and professional levels. 

After a short stint in the minors, O’Ree retired from professional hockey in 1979. However, he wasn’t inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame (NBSHF) until 1984, when he was publicly nominated, according to Jamie Wolverton, executive director of the NBSHF.

Today, he is one of the 700 New Brunswickers inducted into the Hall of Fame.  

“I think having his own stamp from Canada Post, I think just adds again to his story and it adds to the excitement that people have,” said Wolverton.

According to Wolverton, a large part of the work at the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame is telling the stories of inspiring athletes to ensure that the next generation of children from the province are proud of being from New Brunswick.

“When they can see that we have a Black New Brunswicker on a Canada Post stamp right from this community … it doesn’t matter what adversity that they face,” said Wolverton. “[Those children] may say, ‘I can overcome it because Willie was able to achieve that.’”   

Furthermore, Wolverton thinks organizations like the Hockey Hall of Fame have finally recognized O’Ree thanks to his tireless work as the NHL’s Director of Youth Development and Diversity Ambassador.

“It took until 2018 for them to actually induct him into their Hall of Fame and he didn’t get inducted as an athlete like he did [at the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame],” said Wolverton.  

At the Hockey Hall of Fame, they inducted him as a builder for his contributions to what has done for the development of the game and adding diversity to the sport of hockey.”   

Dianne Earl, the President of the Fredericton Stamp Club, also gave her thoughts on the new stamp released by Canada Post and whether the stamp will further O’Ree’s legacy in hockey.  

According to Earl, Canada has a tradition of releasing stamps for most of the Olympic Games held every four years, which dates back to the 1970s. Although hockey stamps were also issued around the same time, Earl mentioned that they were a more recent addition.

“Worldwide, there’s [thousands] of stamps on sports.  Everybody issues stamps about the Olympics,” she said.

Earl is the current president of the Fredericton Stamp Club, a group that was founded at least 50 years ago by a group of people from the Royal Philatelic Society. She has a stamp collection with about 400,000 stamps in her possession.  

“[O’Ree] was an important part of hockey in Canada and I think it’s long overdue.”