Norman “Normie” Lim Kwong (né Lim Kwong Yew), CM, AOE, football player, executive, businessman, lieutenant-governor of Alberta 2005–10 (born 24 October 1929 in Calgary, AB; died 3 September 2016 in Calgary). Nicknamed “the China Clipper,” Norman Kwong was the first Chinese Canadian to play professional football. In his 13 years as a halfback in the Canadian Football League (CFL), Kwong won four Grey Cups and set 30 league records. He was twice named the CFL’s most outstanding Canadian player and received the 1955 Lionel Conacher Award as Canada’s male athlete of the year. He served as president and general manager of the Calgary Stampeders (1988–92) and part owner of the Calgary Flames (1980–94) before becoming the first Chinese Canadian to serve as lieutenant-governor of Alberta. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
First Chinese Canadian Professional Football Player
Kwong was born in Calgary to Chinese grocers. They had immigrated to Canada from Canton, China, in the early 1900s, despite the $500 head tax the Canadian government required of Chinese immigrants.
Kwong began his Canadian Football League (CFL) career in 1948 as Canada’s first professional Chinese Canadian player. This was just one year after Chinese Canadians were granted the right to vote in federal elections.
Football Career Highlights
At 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, Kwong seemed an unlikely threat on the football field. But his talent quickly became apparent. A writer for the Toronto Sun described him as a “bruising runner despite his small stature.” At the age of 18, Kwong helped the Calgary Stampeders win the Grey Cup in his first season (1948), making him the youngest player to win the championship.
Kwong was traded to the Edmonton Eskimos (now the Edmonton Football Team) three years later. Together with teammate Johnny Bright, Kwong gave Edmonton a potent running attack. He soon rose to the top of his sport. The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Brooke called Kwong “[a]n unstoppable human battering ram” and “a crashing, relentless force that would not be denied.” He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons and led the Western Division in rushing yards in 1951, 1955 and 1956.
When Kwong retired from his 13-year career in 1960, he had played in seven Grey Cups and won four — one with the Stampeders in 1948 and three with Edmonton (1954–56). In 1,745 total carries, he rushed for 9,022 yards and 72 touchdowns (still an Edmonton Football Team career record). He also made 75 career receptions for 903 yards and four touchdowns. He was named All Canadian Fullback five times and was awarded two Schenley Awards (1955 and 1956) as the CFL’s most outstanding Canadian player.
The once-unlikely football star set more than 30 league records during his playing career. In 1955, Kwong set the CFL record for most rushing yards in a season by a Canadian (1,250). The feat earned him the 1955 Lionel Conacher Award as Canada’s male athlete of the year. He then broke his own record with 1,437 yards in 1956. That mark stood until 2012, when it was broken by Jon Cornish (1,457). Kwong’s record for most career rushing yards by a Canadian (9,022 yards) was broken by Andrew Harris in 2019 (9,038).
Kwong remained active in both sporting and community activities after his retirement. He became a strong advocate for both multiculturalism and health and wellness in Alberta. Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame described him as an “eloquent speaker and well-loved community man.” He was named the National Chairman of the Canadian Council on Multiculturalism (1979–80) and served as Chairman for the Calgary Easter Seals Campaign.
He returned to football in 1988 as president and general manager of the Calgary Stampeders. He helped stabilize the troubled franchise, saving it from bankruptcy and bringing it back to respectability with a Grey Cup appearance in 1991. He resigned in 1992 after the team won its first Grey Cup since 1971. Kwong was also part owner of the Calgary Flames from 1980 to 1994, a period when they won their first and only Stanley Cup.
Kwong was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1969; into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1975; and into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in 1980. He was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1998, in recognition of his groundbreaking career in the CFL.
Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta
On 20 January 2005, Kwong succeeded Lois Hole as Alberta’s 16th lieutenant-governor. He became the first Chinese Canadian to serve in the position, which he held until 11 May 2010. In 2005, Queen Elizabeth II appointed him Knight of the Order of St John of Jerusalem; the University of Calgary created the Normie Kwong Bursary in his honour; the Canadian embassy in Beijing named their gymnasium in his honour; and he received the Alberta Order of Excellence. The University of Alberta awarded Kwong an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 2006.
See also Lieutenant-Governors of Alberta.