Framed and hanging on the walls of Catherine Connell’s Armstrong home is landscape watercolour art created by her father, the late John (Johnny) Harms.
And clutched tightly in Connell’s arms and hands is a recent piece of unframed, 11 x 17 bristle board work prominently featuring her dad – an oversized hockey card with Harms in a Chicago Blackhawks jersey.
Thanks to Upper Deck, a world leader in the sports collectibles industry, eight former Indigenous players, including Harms, who made it to the world’s highest stage for their sport, now have their own National Hockey League licensed trading card.
Harms was a forward for the NHL’s Blackhawks from 1943-45 before eventually finding his way to Vernon to play hockey for the Vernon Canadians.
He was captain of the Canadians when they won the Allan Cup Canadian Senior Hockey Championship at the Vernon Civic Arena in April 1956, defeating the Chatham Maroons of Ontario four games to one.
Official news of the Upper Deck’s eight-card NHL First Peoples Rookie Cards set was released on Jan. 13. A total of 10,000 of the eight-card sets have been printed.
“My dad was a really humble man but he would be just thrilled to pieces to be involved in all of this,” said Connell of her dad’s hockey card. “Our whole family is really just thrilled.”
Connell has been given a set of the Harms card, and she’s been doling them out to family members, including her grandson on Vancouver Island.
Harms worked for B.C. Hydro and died in Vernon at the age of 77 on Jan. 5, 2003. He was inducted into the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2002.
Born in Battleford, Sask. to John Laird and Helen Haubeck, a woman of Cree descent, Harms was then adopted and raised by Helen and John Harms Sr., Dutch Mennonite migrant farmers.
The eight players featured in the hockey card set are Harms, Ted Nolan, Jason Simon, Rocky Trottier, Dan Frawley, Danny Hodgson, and Victor Mercredi, a former B.C. Junior Hockey League with the Penticton Broncos, and William LeCaine, now deceased.
The idea for the hockey set was spawned a few years ago when an Upper Deck representative met with Kelowna hockey card collector Naim Cardinal, a member of Tallcree First Nation in Alberta.
Cardinal had earned some recognition in the sports card industry last decade as he had a large collection of rookie cards of Indigenous players who had suited up for at least one game in the NHL.
Through his hobby, he discovered that several other Indigenous players had seen some NHL action that never had a licensed rookie card produced for them. That’s when Upper Deck stepped up and offered to make a limited edition set.
“I’m honoured to work with Upper Deck to help shine a spotlight on Indigenous hockey legends and be a part of bringing these cards to life,” Cardinal said. “These former players have earned their names and images on official trading cards, and it’s great to see both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people honour them as athletes in a real way.”
Representatives from the NHL, National Hockey League Players’ Association and Hockey Hall of Fame assisted with the project.
Jacob Alexis, an artist from Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation in Alberta, designed the cards. And Cardinal also worked with a board, comprised mostly of Indigenous people, who provided advice throughout the project.
Cardinal and his team encountered some challenges along the way, including trying to find family members of players who had passed away. He was helped to find some of Harms’ family by The Morning Star.
Paul Nguyen, Upper Deck’s senior marketing manager, is thrilled Indigenous youth will be receiving these cards for free.
“If we’re doing something really for the goodness of the community, it’s really important to have accessibility, especially when we really focused on providing them at these Indigenous hockey tournaments and camps,” he said.
“It was just important that those in the community would have these and if we were to add a cost to it, that’s just a barrier that I don’t think was necessary when we’re trying to highlight these athletes and put a spotlight on them.”
Nguyen also believes the set of Indigenous cards will inspire Indigenous youth.
“Seeing someone that they can look up to from their own community, I think that just speaks volumes saying if they can do that and accomplish so much, I can see myself doing that as well.”
With files from Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative reporter