December 30, 2008 / 6:43 PM / in 9 years

First black NHL player among Canadians honored

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Willie O‘Ree, often called “the Jackie Robinson of hockey” was among the Canadians honored on Tuesday with the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian award.

<p>Willie O'Ree, (L) the first African-American to play in the NHL is congratulated by Commissioner Gary Bettman at a news conference in Vancouver January 17, 1998. REUTERS/Peter Jones</p>

Governor General Michaelle Jean, who represents Queen Elizabeth, Canada’s head of state, announced the appointment of 60 people as members or officers of the Order of Canada. Four people who had already received the honor were promoted to the higher rank of companion.

The award, established in 1967, recognizes lifetimes of achievement and service “in various fields of human endeavor.”

Jean said O‘Ree was being honored both for his pioneering role in professional hockey and his long-standing efforts to promote the sport to minority youths in both Canada and the United States.

O‘Ree broke the color barrier in the National Hockey League in January 1958 when he stepped on the ice as the NHL’s first black player in a game between his Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens.

Among others named as members of the Order of Canada were human rights lawyer David Matas, aboriginal leader Frederick Carmichael and publisher James Douglas.

Those named as officers included aboriginal rights activist Nellie Cournoyea and former politician Allan MacEachen.

Promotions within the order were given to pop singer Celine Dion, opera tenor Ben Heppner and businessmen Stephen Jarislowsky and Peter Munk.

Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson

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