Former Alberni resident Ken Larsen was the first African Canadian to play basketball for the Alberni Athletics. Larsen died at his home in Prince George earlier this fall. He was 76.

First black hoops star in Alberni passes away

Ken Larsen,76, was the first black player on the Alberni Athletics in the 1960's. Larsen died at his home in Prince George last September

A gentle giant who was one of the first African Canadian citizens in Port Alberni and first to play on the Alberni Athletics Basketball team has died.

Ken Larsen died in Prince George in September after succumbing to a stroke. He was 76.

Larsen is survived by his wife Rita, children, daughters Zoe and Tanya, as well as sons Ken, Ron and their mother Trudy. Also left to mourn are Larsen’s brother Henry and sister Berdi.

Ken was born in Calgary and grew up in Prince George, said his son Ron, who still lives in Port Alberni.

An athlete, Larsen played high level baseball and football, even earning workouts with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.

But Larsen’s first love was always basketball.

After leaving Prince George, Larsen played with Everett Junior College in the US, then with the Vancouver Cloverleafs where he earned the team’s rookie of the year award.

He left Prince George in the 1960s and came to Port Alberni where he roomed at a boarding house run by Sharky and Kitty Schwarz.

Larsen played basketball with the Alberni Athletics for one year, then made his way to Lethbridge, Alta. where he played hoops with the Lethbridge Broders, winning three senior A championships.

Larsen also played basketball with Team Canada at the Pan American Games in Brazil in 1966-67, then the following year played with Team Canada at the first Canada Games.

He returned to Port Alberni, where he made a life with his first wife Trudy and their sons Ron and Ken.

Former Athletics teammate Bill Andrews remembered the day when the six-foot-six Larsen took to the floor for his first workout with the club.

“You could see right away he was good, really good,” Andrews said. Larsen was a big man who had an even bigger zest for life, Andrews said.

“He was talkative, had a quick smile and a great sense of humour. I really enjoyed his company, all of us did.”

Larsen worked for the pulp mill and played basketball with the athletics. He was also a pitcher in the inter-mill softball league.

Larsen left the mill to form his own construction company. He helped build the Cygnet apartment building on 10th Avenue, the Spencer Park apartments, and some homes on the Tseshaht Reserve.

Larsen was one of the few African Canadians to live in Port Alberni during the 1960s. Two African Americans — Vince Knight and Billy Joe Price — played with the Athletics later but never stayed.

Port Alberni was a contrast to the racially charged US during the 1960s. But Larsen never spoke about his experience as one of the few people of colour living in the Valley, teammate and close friend Garry Panton said. “He felt really comfortable with the guys and I think he felt he found a home here,” Panton said. “As far as I know he never spoke about being subject of any negative racial issues in Alberni.”

The last time Andrews saw Larsen in Port Alberni was five or six years ago at a funeral, he said. “We talked about the old days and he talked about his life in Prince George. That was the last time,” Andrews said.

The memories of Larsen after death are the same as his first impressions of him when they met, Andrews said. “That’s what I remember: that he was a good man, a jovial man, and a man who was fun to be around,” Andrews said. “That’s what I’ll always remember,” Andrews said.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

Twitter.com/AlberniNews

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

West Coast Trail to remain closed for now

Federal government won’t open world-famous trek until its First Nations are ready for visitors

New gazebo for Victoria Quay opens with help from Alberni Rotary club

A new gazebo that has been erected at Victoria Quay is the… Continue reading

New Vancouver Island airline eyes Alberni’s airport for charter flights

ACRD has work to do to support air operations, says GM of environmental services

True crime podcaster on mid Island inspired by case of missing Island woman

‘Island Crime’ Season 1 covers 2002 disappearance of 21-year-old Lisa Marie Young

Alberni Valley Community Foundation releases second round of emergency funding

The Alberni Valley Community Foundation will provide $75,000 to support local charities… Continue reading

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

An ongoing updated list of Alberni Valley events affected by COVID-19

Has your event been cancelled or postponed? Check here

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto vying to be NHL hubs, but there’s a catch

The NHL unveiled a return-to-play plan that would feature 24 teams

As SD84 schools look to reopen, Kyuquot and Zeballos opt out

Schools in Tahsis and Gold River will open on June 1, with 30 per cent students expected to come in

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Illicit-drug deaths up in B.C. and remain highest in Canada: chief coroner

More than 4,700 people have died of overdoses since B.C. declared a public health emergency in early 2016

CMHC sees declines in home prices, sales, starts that will linger to end of 2022

CMHC said average housing prices could fall anywhere from nine to 18 per cent in its forecast

B.C. Paralympian named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Three-time world and Paralympic gold medalist Sonja Gaudet is part of 11-member class

Most Read