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Awarded Canada’s top honour in 2009, Gretzky has yet to pick it up

Agent says hockey legend has had trouble fitting an investiture ceremony into his schedule


 
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper shakes hands with Wayne Gretzky during a campaign event in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper shakes hands with Wayne Gretzky during a campaign event in Toronto on Sept. 18, 2015 (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

When Wayne Gretzky endorsed Stephen Harper on Sept. 18, calling him an “unreal Prime Minister” who has “been wonderful to the whole country,” many commentators pointed out that the California-based hockey legend was unable to vote in Canada. Yet that may not have been the most unusual aspect of Wayne Gretzky’s relationship with his home country.

Though he’s appeared in Canada numerous times, including at a Conservative political rally last week, as well as to take part in Canadian Tire’s newly launched #WannaPlay campaign—in a video, Gretzky plays street hockey in Edmonton—the wealthy retired hockey player hasn’t picked up Canada’s top honour, six years after it was awarded to him.

On Canada Day, 2009, Rideau Hall announced that Wayne Gretzky had been appointed a companion of the Order of Canada. It is the highest rank of the nation’s system of honours (above the ranks of officer and member). The “Great One” isn’t the only giant of hockey to have been so recognized: The list of companions includes Jean Béliveau and Maurice Richard. The Governor General’s website states that Gretzky was given it “for his continued contributions to the world of hockey, notably, as one of the best players of all time, as well as for his social engagement as a philanthropist, volunteer and role model for countless young people.”

Yet, Gretzky still hasn’t collected the insignia, a six-point white enamel snowflake with a stylized maple leaf at its centre bearing the order’s motto, Desiderantes meliorem patriam (“They desire a better country”), as well as a royal crown. Produced by the Royal Canadian Mint (and stored in an undisclosed, secure vault in Ottawa until the morning of the investiture), the honour’s insignia, which can be hung from a red-and-white ribbon worn around the neck, come with some intricate protocols as to when and how it can be worn. Luckily, there is a handy, picture-laden guide.

On Sunday, Adam Dodek, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s faculty of law, noted the irregularity found on the Governor General’s website.

In case the website isn’t up-to-date, Maclean’s asked the Governor General’s residence to double-check. It was correct. “Mr. Gretzky has been invited to attend investiture ceremonies at Rideau Hall. Attendance at these events depends on the recipient’s availability,” said spokeswoman Marie-Pierre Bélanger in an email.

When asked about the situation, Wayne Gretzky’s Canadian agent, Sam Galet, contacted the retired star, currently in Europe. Because the honour had to be picked up in person, and the Governor General’s investitures were held at specific times during the year, Gretzky has had trouble fitting one into his schedule, the agent says.

Yet there have been opportunities. On Sept. 11, 2014, Gretzky appeared on stage in Toronto with Stephen Harper, whom he praised: “It’s really nice to see that our Prime Minister is not only protecting Canadians in Canada, but Canadians around the world. So congratulations for leading our country the way you are.” The next day, Sept 12, Governor General David Johnston presided over an Order of Canada investiture in Ottawa, a one-hour flight away. Indeed, since then, four more events were held in November, February, May and this week, on Sept. 23.

Certainly, Gretzky’s delay in getting the honour is unusual. “Since the Order of Canada’s creation in 1967, 467 individuals have been named Companion of the Order,” Bélanger explained. “Of this number, there are five Companions, including Mr. Gretzky, who have not been invested. Two were appointed within the last six months. Two others are deceased.”

This isn’t the first time Gretzky has been a tad slow to collect an honour. He was first awarded the Order of Canada in 1984, this time in the officer class. It took him 14 years before finally being invested, on Jan. 28, 1998. Galet says it was because he was playing hockey. Regarding the current honour, companion, the agent went on to say they would try to fit the ceremony in Gretzky’s schedule. If it happens during Johnston’s tenure at Rideau Hall, perhaps Gretzky should bring his skates and gear. The Governor General played the game at Harvard and is known to enjoy hitting the ice.

 

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Awarded Canada’s top honour in 2009, Gretzky has yet to pick it up

  1. Although I wish Wayne Gretzky well, I’ve lost a lot of respect for him.

    • These days he’s just a Canadian of convenience … or not as it would appear in this particular case… guess he’s too busy selling bad clothing and golf supplies … anything for a buck (USD).

  2. I am saddened by the disrespect Wayne is showing by not picking up his order of Canada and by hanging onto the coattails of Harper. He does not vote, does not pay taxes in Canada and represents Harper, I think that says a lot! !

  3. Harper’s cynical electioneering of Gretzky does not fool us. Gretzky’s indifference to his Order of Canada award is tantamount to contempt. Any respect he once had among us has dwindled to remnants, ragged and blowing in the wind of neglect. I’m ashamed I once so admired him. Let him go back to California and stay there.

  4. Shame on you Macleans. Wayne Gretzky is a Canadian icon. He has done more to promote this country than almost anyone on the planet, certainly more than Neil Young or Donald Sutherland. Yes, he married an American who happened to make her living in a warm climate and they raised their children in her country when he was traded by an owner of a hockey team to play in USA. His family of origin (parents, siblings) are Canadian. Whether he picks up one of the hundreds of metals bestowed upon him is not really the point. He played hockey as a Canadian in the Olympics and following his retirement ran our Olympic program. I guess if Steve Nash should turn political and happen to give his opinion about who he thinks will make the best Canadian PM, you will browbeat him as well…unless perhaps it is about whom Gretzky chose to endorse that has you stepping out to try to demean the most decent and talented player we have ever had the honor to watch play the game. Look out Syd Crosby, they will be gunning for you next.

    • Shame! Shame! Stop telling us stuff!
      Ok, not all stuff. You can tell us that a hockey player who has lived in California for 30 years likes Harper, but stop right there!
      I’m going to plug my ears now.

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