Well, let's just get this straight, I don't think he's the Greatest Canadian but I do think that he's the Greatest Hockey Player. And to Canada, hockey is pretty big (possibly everything) so I guess he's the equivalent of a national hero.
Now, unfortunately, I was too young to actually see him play and by the time I finally became interested in hockey enough to watch it, he had retired. I've never seen a game he played in but I'm sure that ESPN shows old games once in a while. I did grow up knowing about him and how great he was. I would always know when the playoffs were because my parents would hog the tv.
I can say that he has had a profound effect on the young children of Canada. There are a lot of kids out there who want to be the next "Great One". He inspires them to go for their dreams, something I completely support.
But at the same time, he's not a politician, he's not an activist or environmentalist; he's a spokesperson for Ford and once upon a time, a pro hockey player. I mean, have his achievements made the world a better place?
It's possible that he was on the list because we have so few people in the limelight that we picked whoever we could. Or it could be that we put our sports personalities on higher pedestals than others because they mean more to us. While this may sound horrible and I agree, it does, Canadians probably pay more attention to a flashy hockey game than a new scientific discovery. While one may be more important than the other, I'm not sure we, as a people, know which one it is.
By the way, does anyone else see an eerie connection between Gretzky's jersey number 99 and the year he retired (1999)? Maybe I'm just paranoid.
List of Achievements:
Hart Memorial Trophy (10 times)
Lady Byng Trophy ('80,'91,'92,'94,'99)
Art Ross Trophy (seven consecutive times,'81-'94)
Stanley Cup ('84,'85,'87,'88)
Canada Cup ('84,'87,'91)
Conn Smythe Trophy ('85,'88)
Lester Patrick Trohphy ('94)
Lester B. Pearson Award ('82,'83,'84,'85,'87)
Inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame ('99)
NHL All-Star Game MVP ('83,'89,'99)
NHL First All-Star Team ('81-87,'91)
NHL Second All-Star Team ('80,'88,'89,'90,'94,'97,'98)
IOC Olympic Order 2002
Executive Director of Team Canada, World Cup Champions 2004