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New international bridge to honor Howe

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper chats with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder after announcing that the future publicly-owned bridge between Windsor and Detroit will be named the Gordie Howe International Bridge, in honor of the Red Wings' legend. (PMO photo by Jason Ransom)

WINDSOR, Ontario – It’s been talked about for more than four years, but it finally became official Thursday when Michigan Govenor Rick Snyder joined Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to announce the name of the new bridge that will span the Detroit River.

The Gordie Howe International Bridge is a fitting tribute to the Red Wings’ great, who began his illustrious playing career in Detroit in 1946. Born in western Canada, Howe spent the majority of his life in southeast Michigan.

“His career, not just his career in hockey, but in sports has symbolized and has been about an unprecedented combination of skill, strength and ability,” Harper said. “That’s everything you want this particular bridge, this great international bridge, to be.

“Mr. Hockey, one of the greatest players in the history of the game, is a proud Canadian who led the Detroit Red Wings to four Stanley Cup victories, building extraordinary goodwill between our two countries. It is my sincere hope that this bridge, which bears his name, will continue this proud legacy by accelerating the flow of people, merchandise and services between our great nations for years to come.”

The publicly-owned bridge is expected to be completed in 2020.

According to Gov. Snyder, the Detroit-Windsor trade crossing is the busiest between the two North American neighbors, and the new bridge will alleviate some of the congestion at the Ambassador Bridge, which is more than 85 years old. The Detroit-Windsor border handles 31 percent of Canada-U.S. trade carried by truck. In 2014, approximately 2.5 million trucks carrying over $100 billion in trade used this corridor.

“So very great to have his name associated with this,” Snyder said. “It does bring the attributes that we want – excellence in terms of a world-class crossing, longevity in terms of an enduring bridge that will be for decades and decades, community spirit in terms of bringing our nations together, our state, this wonderful country.”

However, Snyder wanted to clear the air first, offering an apology to the Canadian prime minister.

“I’ve created a lot of confusion on this bridge over names in the past,” Snyder said. “Originally it was the Detroit International River Crossing, and then I came up with the New International Trade Crossing. I’m glad we have clarity with an answer that there could be no better answer out there, which is to name it after Gordie Howe.”

Gordie’s sons, Marty Howe and Dr. Murray Howe, were present at Thursday’s event, which was held at the Canadian Club Heritage Center.

Murray Howe said his father, who continues to recover from a serious stroke last October, is sincerely appreciative of the honor.

“When I told my dad that the bridge would be named in his honor he said, ‘That sounds pretty good to me,’” Murray said. “He is deeply moved by this gracious gesture. Our mother and father’s goal was always to be a bridge between people, and especially a bridge between the people of the United States and Canada. This bridge will stand as a beautiful symbol of their efforts. The entire Howe family would like to express our sincere gratitude for recognizing our father in such a monumental and magnificent and memorable way.”

Harper said he was pleased that an agreement on the name could be reached while Mr. Hockey is still alive and doing better. “Many people are legends, many people are heroes in their own time, but very few people are living legends, and it’s great that we’re able to honor this living legend.”

The 87-year-old Howe, who underwent stem-cell treatments last December, plans to return to Mexico for a second round of treatments next month.

Humbled by the recognition for their father, Marty Howe said he hopes Gordie’s legacy can continue to transcend generations.

“I’m still surprised at how many people know him and he can’t go anywhere,” Marty said. “But he’s always been the type of person … he’s a people person. He loves being out in the public. People who meet him, he’s been to thousands of hospitals, just pops in to visit people and he just has that knack. He just has a way with people and it’s just amazing. So to have his name stay out in the public for many years is a really fantastic thing. I just hope they don’t retire too many nines because people still have to wear that No. 9 out there.”

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