Saskatoon

Gordie Howe's dying wish comes true today with special ceremony at SaskTel Centre

Sixty-one members of Gordie Howe’s family made the trip to Saskatoon this weekend to bear witness as the ashes of Gordie and his wife Colleen are interred at Howe’s statue at SaskTel Centre.

Ashes of hockey legend and his wife will be interred at Gordie Howe's statue at SaskTel Centre

Gordie Howe statue outside the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon. (Peter Mills/CBC)

Sixty-one members of Gordie Howe's family made the trip to Saskatoon this weekend to bear witness as the ashes of Gordie and his wife Colleen are interred at Howe's statue at SaskTel Centre.

Raised in Saskatoon, Howe, also known as Mr. Hockey, died on June 10 at the age of 88. He was last in Saskatoon in February 2015 for the Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Dinner, alongside Wayne Gretzkey and Brett Hull.

It was Howe's first public appearance since a series of strokes threatened his life a few months before and his family said it would likely be his last trip back to the city where he grew up.

But today, Howe and his family return to the Bridge City for a special interment ceremony emceed by longtime Hockey Night in Canada commentator Bob Cole.

Among Howe's family members is one of his grandsons, Corey Howe, who — thanks to his grandfather — now lives in Saskatoon.

Howe said his grandfather invited him for the sports dinner in February, and that's where he met his now girlfriend.

"We came for this dinner and I met this girl who was serving there and we hit it off so I've been visiting Saskatoon back and forth and we started dating and I ended up here in April so now I'm living here," he said, adding the sports dinner was his first time in Saskatoon, and he was pleasantly surprised to see what kind of city it is.

"I imagined Saskatoon as barren ice land and just covered in snow. I would hear stories from my grandpa skating to school and always cold. I imagined it was always winter here," he said. "Now I absolutely love Saskatoon, the people and the city here is just incredible and it's so special to be here and hear the stories of how my grandpa grew up."

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Recalling his last moments with Mr. Hockey, he said he remembers how kind and respectful his grandfather was.

"He was the nicest guy, always kind, I never saw him yell or angry, he was always having a good time and always respectful and someone always to look up to."

Remembering a hockey hero

Steve Hogle, president of the Saskatoon Blades junior hockey team, told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning the idea for today's ceremony blossomed quickly following the death of the hockey legend.

"When he passed away everybody paused and reflected on the unbelievable man. He reached super stardom in a sport we all loved and never forgot where he was from or who he was about, so it really resonated with all of us," Hogle said.

Shortly after Howe's death, Hogle said he reached out to the Howe family and ended up speaking with Howe's son Marty about a last wish his father had.

"Marty Howe casually mentioned it was his dad's last wishes to have his ashes and Colleen's ashes placed at the statue at SaskTel Centre. When he mentioned that we kicked it into high gear and found a way to make it happen."

In the following weeks, both the Saskatoon city council and the provincial government approved a small portion of land adjacent to SaskTel Centre be designated a cemetery.

Today's ceremony includes a meeting at the top of the hill at Diefenbaker Park at 10:30 a.m. CST. There, the group of city and provincial officials will observe the city's new bridge, which has been renamed the Gordie Howe Bridge.

Afterwards, Hogle said the group will pass by King George School where Howe attended as a child, then visit one of Howe's childhood homes.

At noon the Saskatoon Blades are hosting a tailgate party followed by a Blades game and special interment ceremony.

That's where the Howes' ashes will be interred at the Gordie Howe statue near SaskTel Centre.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning

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