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Friday, December 3, 2021

‘Canada’s hockey dad’: Funeral for Walter Gretzky held in Brantford, Ont.

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Wayne Gretzky said an emotional goodbye to his father, Walter, at a memorial service held in Brantford, Ont. Saturday.

The memorial was held at St. Mark’s Anglican Church where mourners paid tribute to Walter Gretzky and a sign outside the church read “We will miss you, Wally.”

Walter died Thursday after sustaining a hip injury three weeks ago, Wayne said at the funeral. He was 82-years-old.

Fans of Walter lined the street outside the church to pay their respects. Inside the church, Wayne and Rev. Tim Dobbin shared stories, while Walter’s grandchildren read scripture.

“Walter, in many ways, belonged to us all,” said Dobbin at the memorial service.

Wayne said that his father sustained a hip injury three weeks before, and that Walter didn’t expect to last as long as he did.

“We thought weeks ago that the end was here,” said Wayne.

But they had three weeks more to enjoy with him.

“He had a love for life and he didn’t want to leave,” he added. “We were 21 days sitting with him, and just enjoying life.”

He reminisced about his father’s love for the sport, so much that he left his heavily pregnant wife to take Wayne to a hockey tournament telling her the baby could “wait until we got back.” 

Brent Gretzky was born that Saturday, before the end of the tournament. When admonished by a neighbour for missing the birth of his son, Wayne recalled that his father held up the trophy from the tournament and said “Yes, but we got the trophy.”

“I don’t think I ever met a prouder Canadian than my dad,” he said in a heartfelt eulogy.

“We’d be a way better world if so many more people were like my dad,” he added.

“I’m so proud of the fact that so many people have reached out and given him such great tributes, he deserves it. He has a heart of gold, and just wonderful,” finished Wayne before breaking off, overcome with emotion.

The father of the Great One became a household name alongside his son, a symbol of the dedication and commitment from parents across the country who see their children through sports to professional levels.

Condolences poured in on Friday after Wayne Gretzky confirmed the death of his father in a social media post.

“Dad was our team captain – he guided, protected and led our family every way, every day,” he said in a statement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also offered his condolences on Friday saying, “Walter Gretzky cared deeply about his family and his community — his kindness was undeniable, his passion was obvious, and his impact was immense. My thoughts are with Wayne and the entire Gretzky family, and all who are mourning the loss of Canada’s hockey dad.”

Hockey fans took to Twitter to share memories of Walter, proving that his loss was felt across the country and throughout the sport of hockey. He signed their jersey, he made them laugh, he gave them a smile, they felt he cared.

Walter was a staple and a celebrity at Toronto Maple Leafs home games, often waving to anyone who said hello. Many said he was never too busy to chat, and always had a smile on his face at the rink.

Walter was there every step of the way as Wayne dominated the sport, eventually leading the Edmonton Oilers to four Stanley Cups in the 1980s on top of countless other accolades.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman paid tribute to Walter’s love for the sport and how he “embodied all that is great about being a hockey parent.

“Walter instilled in (his children) not only an uncommon understanding of hockey’s essence, but a love and respect for the game that has become synonymous with the name Gretzky, all while ensuring that the game was fun to play,” Bettman said in a statement.

With files from The Canadian Press

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