Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Story of Larry Kwong: Bellhop, Shipyard Worker, Grocer, Hockey Player, Hero.

Sixty year ago, on March 13, 1948, in the cramped visitors dressing room at the old Montreal Forum, he slipped a blue sweater over his thin frame, the number 11 on its back, the letters RANGERS spilling across the chest.

Little Larry Kwong, who had been born in Vernon, B.C., one of 15 children, who fell in love with hockey by listening to the radio in the apartment above the family's grocery store, who, in fact, carried the name of the store - Kwong Hing Lung (Abundant Prosperity) - rather than the venerable family name of Eng, was about to make his National Hockey League debut.

He spent the entire first period at the end of the bench. He spent the entire second period at the end of the bench.

He spent most of the third period at the end of the bench.

Finally, coach Frank Boucher gave the signal. Mr. Kwong leaped over the boards. His shift lasted about a minute. He returned to the bench.

The first player of Asian ancestry to skate in the National Hockey League had launched - and, though he did not yet know it, ended - his major league career.

He never got another chance, not even to sit on the bench.

That's from Tom Hawthorn's most recent column in the Globe and Mail. And it got me to thinking about a couple of things.

The first was that these are the kinds of stories you sometimes encounter if you spend any time hanging around with Todd Wong, and I'm kicking myself because I'm not going to be able to make it to see Todd once again transform himself into Toddish McWong tomorrow night in Vancouver at the 10th anniversary of the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Chinese New Year - Robbie Burns Night celebration, a tradition with roots in Vancouver's Chinatown Robbie Burns Day, which goes back to the 1920s.

I won't be able to avail myself of the specially-ordered Guinness or the Johnny Walker Red. I will miss stomping my feet to this great band. There will be no haggis su-mei or Scotland The Brave singalongs for me. I'll just have to wait to hear eyewitness reports of what this wild man got up to.

But I'm told there may still be tickets available, so if anyone reading this is going to be anywhere near Vancouver on Sunday and has any sense at all they will get their tickets here now, and go.

But the main thing Tom Hawthorn's Globe column about Larry Kwong got me to thinking about was Tom Hawthorn. We were out for pints with some mates the other night and Tom and I got to talking about the great Jimmy Breslin, and I'd forgotten just how much Tom admired Breslin. I'd forgotten how much I'd admired Breslin. I wondered what had become of him, and Tom brought this story to my attention, from last week's New York Times.

Then it occurred to me.

Let's say by some magic Tom Hawthorn and Jimmy Breslin had been free agents floating around the universe and the Gods had traded them differently. Let's say Hawthorn had been plunked down to begin his vocation as a copyboy in New York 60 years ago. And Breslin had started out as some teenage kid in the late 1970s, in student newspapers and weeklies in Canada.

I'd have been out for pints with some mates the other night, and I'd have ended up talking about great writers - really solid reporters - with Breslin. And he'd have said, you know, that Tom Hawthorn. What an inspiration, that guy. Hell of a writer.

Have a read of some of Hawthorn's more recent stories here.

You'll see what I mean.


Blogger richard said...

That is an excellent story - but there's a punch there that needs to be thrown about the lack of recognition for Larry Kwong. Why wouldn't Hawthorn throw it? Or does the obviousness mean he'd see no need for him to throw it?

9:59 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Tommy doesn't throw punches as a rule. He leaves it to his readers. But in this case, I think he does throw one, of a kind, as in, Hey Rangers, Flames, Canucks, call the guy:

"As the 60th anniversary of his debut – and his swan song – nears, he has yet to hear from his old team the Rangers, nor from the Calgary Flames in the city in which he lives, nor from the Vancouver Canucks in the province of his birth and in which he got his start.

"Like the long night when he waited expectantly on a bench at the Forum, he again waits for a call that may never come."

10:24 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hello Terry,

I had the fortune of authoring a major feature on Larry Kwong a handful of years just before Tom's Globe article which your readers should be able to find at Hockey's Hall of Fame in Toronto.

I'm sure Larry would be pleased to know that his story has inspired many fans and readers. As Tom's article may have mentioned, we still hope to see Larry's life in the documentary form, so please ask your loyal reads to keep their eyes open in the future.


Kenda Gee

7:46 PM  
Blogger Lost Years said...

Here is an update to the documentary featuring Larry:

1:56 PM  

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