Marco Levytsky, Western Bureau Chief.
Walter Gretzky, father of hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky has died. He was 82.
Gretzky announced his father’s death on Twitter March 4. “He bravely battled Parkinson’s and other health issues these last few years, but he never let it get him down,” Wayne Gretzky wrote in a statement.
“For me, he was the reason I fell in love with the game of hockey. He inspired me to be the best I could be not just in the game of hockey, but in life,” he added. “He truly was the Great One and the proudest Canadian we know.”
Walter Gretzky was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2012, two years after noticing a tremor in his left hand. Parkinson’s disease kills dopamine-generating cells in the brain, which causes shaking and, later, difficulty with walking as well as cognitive problems.
Walter Gretzky was the son of immigrants. His father was born in Grodno, then part of the Russian Empire, but now in Belarus, his mother came from Pidhaitsi, Ternopil Oblast, present-day Ukraine. Prior to the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, Gretzky’s father Anton (“Tony”) Gretzky immigrated along with his family to Canada via the United States (landing in Chicago). Following World War I, Anton, who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, married his wife, Mary, who immigrated to Canada on her own.
(Ed. Note: The Canadian Press has erroneously reported that his father was Russian and his mother Polish)
Gretzky’s ancestry is typically described as either Belarusian, Ukrainian, or Polish. In interviews, Gretzky has stated that his parents were “White Russians from Belarus”, and whenever anyone asked his father if they were Russian, he would reply, “Nyet. Belarus.” In his autobiography, however, Walter Gretzky stated that his first language was Ukrainian. He also states that during his recovery from a brain aneurysm, the only language he could speak was Ukrainian. This stroke was the subject of a CBC docudrama, Waking Up Wally: The Walter Gretzky Story, in which the role of his mother was played by Lesia Petriw, Founder and first Artistic Director of UNF Edmonton’s theatrical group Suzirya.
Walter Gretzky became a name himself, a constant in Wayne’s world. As Wayne’s star ascended, Walter remained a blue-collar symbol of a devoted hockey parent in a country filled with them, reports the Canadian Press.
He played minor hockey in Paris, Ont., then junior B for four years in Woodstock. He went on to play some senior hockey but said he wasn’t good enough to play pro.
The winter when Wayne was four, his father turned the backyard of their Brantford home into a rink which young Wayne called The Wally Coliseum. From the time he was a tot, Wayne wanted to do nothing but play hockey.
Walter decided to make his own rink to avoid having to freeze standing outdoors at some outdoor rink elsewhere — or sit in his car with the engine running to get some heat — while Wayne skated. Gas was too expensive, he said.
“It truly, truly was self-preservation,” he explained.
Walter fed his eldest child’s obsession, recruiting bigger kids for Wayne to practise against in the backyard rink, and finding him a spot on a team of 10-year-olds when he was six.
“You knew he was good at his age at what he was doing,” Walter said in a 2016 interview. “But to say that one day he’d do what he did, you couldn’t say that. Nobody could.”
Walter Gretzky was named a Member of the Order of Canada on December 28, 2007, “for his contributions to minor hockey in Canada and for his dedication to helping a myriad of local, provincial, and national charities.”
On February 12, 2010, Gretzky carried the Olympic Torch during the Olympic Relay on the last day of the relay, hours before the opening ceremonies in Vancouver, British Columbia, where Wayne later lit the Olympic Flame.
On April 12, 2012, in his hometown of Brantford, Ontario, the Grand Erie District School Board opened Walter Gretzky Elementary School. It is part of a dual-track Catholic-Public Green School with the Brant Haldimand-Norfolk Catholic District School Board’s St. Basil’s School.
Walter Gretzky’s funeral was held March 6 at St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Brantford. Due to Covid restrictions it was limited to family members. In his eulogy, Wayne Gretzky stated: “He was a remarkable man who loved life, loved family. “We’d be a way better world if there were so many more people like my dad.
(With files from Wikipedia, the Canadian Press, and the Edmonton Journal)