It’s what some would consider a long overdue tribute to Brantford’s most famous family.
Organizers of what’s known as the “Gretzky Project” this week unveiled plans to erect a 12-foot tall bronze statue of Wayne Gretzky outside the entrance to Brantford’s Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre.
Locking eyes with the larger-than-life statue of Gretzky – which will feature the Great One lifting the Stanley Cup in celebration as a member of the Edmonton Oilers – will be smaller, life-sized statues of a young Wayne, his father, Walter, and mother, Phyllis, holding hands.
“This is about honouring the Gretzky family,” said Gretzky Project co-chair Len Offless. “Not only the achievements of Wayne, but all that the Gretzky family has done for this city.
“We’ve got streets named after them, facilities and schools, but we don’t have that one piece that can show off what the Gretzky family has done for our city. This will be that place to tie it all together.”
A wall covered in plaques commemorating both Wayne’s NHL achievements and the Gretzky family’s countless charitable endeavours will be featured behind the statues.
“That is what makes Brantford distinctive,” said Gretzky Project co-chair Barry English. “Other places have put up statues of Wayne, but no other community can say they are the home of the Gretzky family.”
Offless, who is general manager of Brant News, and English, the president of TDG Marketing, first came up with the idea for the Gretzky Project when they were president and vice president of the Brantford-Brant Chamber of Commerce in 2008.
After years of thinking about the project, Offless and English scheduled meetings with the Gretzky family earlier this year. That’s when things started snowballing.
“We met with Glen Gretzky and he was really supportive,” Offless said. “He helped nail down what we wanted to do with the statue. Then we met with Walter and showed him the idea. Walter broke into tears when he saw that Phyllis, who passed away in 2005, would be a part of it.”
Glen, Wayne’s brother, said the planned monument is “a great honour” for his family.
“But more importantly it’s a great honour for the city,” he said. “It will be a huge tourist attraction all on its own. It’s unique because it will separate itself from the statues (of Wayne) in Edmonton and California because it’s of the family.”
Offless and English commissioned artist and sculptor Brad Oldham of Texas to fabricate a small-scale version of the planned monument. The trio brought the replica to a meeting with Wayne last month.
“Wayne immediately took ownership of the project and even started offering some ideas,” Offless said. “He went as far as to request a small version of the scene for his restaurant in Toronto.”
Positive reaction from Wayne has pushed the Gretzky Project forward and the team is taking the idea to the public.
The Gretzky Project team will be in attendance at a May 13 meeting of city council to seek approval for the project under Brantford’s public art policy.
“I’ve loved this idea since the beginning,” Mayor Chris Friel said. “This is absolutely perfect for the front of the new Gretzky centre. I can just see people lined up during tournaments for a chance to get their picture taken.”
The estimated total budget for the Gretzky Project is just under $500,000. Half of that amount has already been raised by project partners. The project will be privately funded and a gift to the City of Brantford.
The Gretzky Project team is now looking for public and corporate support. For more information about the Gretzky Project and how you can help, contact Offless at email@example.com or English at firstname.lastname@example.org.