OTTAWA - Although he's been retired more than a decade, Wayne Gretzky still holds an enduring and enviable place in Canadian hearts.
The Great One is widely considered to be the best hockey player ever and a new poll suggests Canadians rank him tops among a list of celebrities that includes NHL and Olympic sensation Sidney Crosby and environmental crusader David Suzuki, who ranked second and third.
The survey by The Canadian Press-Harris Decima suggests that Gretzky not only has a high favourable rating, only about one person in 16 has an unfavourable opinion of him.
The poll asked people to rate a list of well-known Canadians on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being extremely favourable. Gretzky scored an overall rating of 7.29. Crosby had a 7.24 ranking and Suzuki was right behind at 7.17. The spread is within the poll's margin of error, which could leave all three in a statistical tie for first.
This trio ranked above basketball star Steve Nash, former governor general Michaelle Jean and singer Celine Dion, with mixed-martial arts champ George St-Pierre, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, hockey commentator Don Cherry and baseball MVP Joey Votto rounding out the list.
Harris Decima pollster Doug Anderson said some of the celebrities weren't well known. For example, almost three quarters of those polled didn't offer a rating for Votto, first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, and almost half didn't have an opinion on St-Pierre.
Only Harper had a higher response rate than Gretzky and Harper was rated unfavourably by 28 per cent of the respondents.
"Wayne Gretzky, other than Stephen Harper, was the guy for whom most Canadians could give an answer and it tends to be good," Anderson said.
He pointed out that even after Gretzky retired as a player, he remained linked to hockey, acting as executive director of Canada's gold medal team at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
"He's got a legend and a personality, I think, that attracts a lot of admiration."
The legend includes 60 NHL records which still stand. They include career records for points, goals and assists and the single-season records for points goals and assists, as well as the records for just about anything ever done by a centre.
The survey was conducted in the days before Gretzky's 50th birthday, an anniversary that a produced a spate of radio, TV and newspaper flashbacks and reminiscences.
The poll questioned just over 1,000 people Jan. 13-16 and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points 19 times in 20.