She peered at the bright ice below her at the Air Canada Centre and blew kisses at the players in blue and white as they stood on the ice celebrating a victory. That's veteran Martha Roy's most cherished memory of a recent outing to a hockey game.
Mrs. Roy has hockey in her blood. Her brother, Sammy Ecarnot, once played semi-pro hockey back in her birth province of Saskatchewan. In honour of him, she and her husband held season tickets for the Toronto Maple Leafs for years, until her husband's death.
Now, at 99, Mrs. Roy is unable to get out to the games. But it became possible through the unique Grant-a-Wish program at the Sunnybrook Veterans Centre.
"That was the biggest surprise. I was only here a short while, so I didn't expect to get my choice quickly," Mrs. Roy says. "During the game, I was up there and banging my hands and jumping up and down like a 15-year-old. I was so excited."
The Grant-a-Wish program provides two wishes in a lifetime for every veteran at the centre. More than 500 people have benefitted from the program so far since it was launched at Sunnybrook in 2005 to honour the Canadian Year of the Veteran.
The average age of veterans at the centre is 89. For the most part, they are brave men and women who served in the Second World War or the Korean War.
Mrs. Roy earned a British Empire Medal for her work at the Canadian military headquarters in England, serving as the chief telephone operator during the Second World War. By 1942, when she took the job, she had had years of experience in the field; her childhood house in Montmartre, Sask., was retrofitted to become the first telephone operation station in the town.
"My job was to send the girls around, arrange for holidays and supervise important calls," Mrs. Roy says. "I remember walking the streets of London. For somebody coming from a small town, I had never been to the big city. Regina had been the biggest city I had been in. It was quite the experience."
Up to $14,000 is awarded annually to the veterans at the centre. Each month, 11 wishes are granted – 10 "gem" wishes that cost up to $150, and one "pearl" wish that can be up to $1,000.
Among other wishes, the program provides an opportunity for veterans to receive a visit from a relative who cannot usually make a trip, or to go out to dinner when their condition prevents a visit to a restaurant.
"Some of the veterans first saw it as charity, but over the years it has been helpful for them," says Leanne Hughes, the co-ordinator for the program at Sunnybrook. "We were looking for a way to fulfill the hopes and dreams of the veterans who life at Sunnybrook. That's where the spark of the program came."
The program is entirely driven through donations. This year, Sunnybrook has a new online campaign to raise funds for the veterans: Operation Raise a Flag. Canadians of all ages can show their appreciation by purchasing a flag and sending a heartfelt message.
Early on Remembrance Day morning, staff will plant flags with attached messages throughout the grounds, so the veterans will see the flags from their bedrooms when they wake up.
Canada's Veterans will wake up to a red and white sea of support this Remembrance Day
A new Sunnybrook initiative, Operation Raise a Flag, encourages Canadians to sponsor a Canadian flag and write a message of thanks to our Veterans for their courage and sacrifice.
The flags – there's a goal of 5,000 – will then be placed on the lawn in front of Sunnybrook's Veterans Centre on the morning of November 11, so Canada's veterans can see that citizens across the country recognize and value their courageous contributions
Flags are available for $20 or $50, with the larger donation purchasing a larger flag.
Anyone wishing to take part in Operation Raise a Flag can visit www.raiseaflag.ca.