Remembering “Canada’s Hockey Dad,” Walter Gretzky
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a prouder Canadian than my dad,” hockey legend Wayne Gretzky said in his emotional eulogy remembering his father, Walter, this past Saturday.
The Canadian hockey icon who made a tremendous impact within his community and towards the game of hockey passed away last Thursday at the age of 82.
Dubbed as “Canada’s hockey dad,” the news of Walter’s passing resonated with much of the country and even more so with Laurier, given Laurier’s campus in Brantford and Gretzky’s family ties to the city.
The university released a statement, calling Walter a “great friend of Laurier,” and a “linchpin of the Brantford community.” The statement continued to mention the honorary Doctor’s Degree that Walter received from the school as well as his several other accomplishments and charitable efforts within the community.
Countless tributed have poured in for Walter, with the vast majority of them mentioning the smile that he always had on his face and the kindness he displayed. Given his “heart of gold,” Walter would always want to give back, Wayne recounted the need for Walter to sign autographs and take pictures with youth hockey players.
He touched a tremendous amount of hockey families with his organization and appearances at youth hockey tournament as many current and former junior hockey players certainly remember the moment, they met “Wally”.
The hard-working father of “the great one,” was raised just outside of Brantford, meeting his wife as a teenager and working at Bell to help raise his family of five kids. Walter loved hockey and, coached and mentored Wayne, the first of his sons, believing that he could be great.
Wayne spent countless practicing his craft and developing his skills on his father’s legendary backyard ice rink. Walter would record his son playing and practicing drills and they would watch it back and look at ways to improve.
The bond between the NHL’s all-time leading scorer and his father was nothing sort of special. Teammate and NHL Hall of Famer Marc Messier told Sportsnet that whenever Wayne was off or in a slump, the team would fly his father out and Wayne would get back to his usual dominant self. Gretzky called him his “best friend,” in his autobiography several years ago.
“He was a remarkable man who loved life and his family…we’d be a way better world if there were so many more people like my dad,” Wayne Gretzky said tearfully as he finished his eulogy for his father.
Wayne was able to find some solace, knowing that his father’s journey was coming to an end and being able to spend the last three weeks “sharing stories” with his best friend and family.
Along with his numerous charity initiatives and Scholarship Foundation, which helps students with vision loss study at the post-secondary level, Walter Gretzky was also named the Brantford citizen of the year in 1996. He additionally received the prestigious honour of being named to the Order of Canada in 2007.
In what was a beautiful moment on Saturday during the service, hundreds of kids and adults lined the street where the procession drove off and tapped their sticks, paying homage to Walter.
The NHL and many of its 31 teams released statements of support and held a moment of silence before their upcoming games this past weekend. The Oilers are commemorating them with a decal on their helmet while Laurier flew their flags at half mass this past weekend.
While the passing of “Canada’s hockey dad” surely saddens hockey fans and Canadians in general, Walter lived a life that everyone can be proud of and will forever be remembered for his unwavering kindness through life.