Skip to main content

Murray Westgate is one of more than 500 veterans living at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

This is part of The Globe's months-long series on the challenges facing Canadian hospitals. All of our published material has been reported with permission from staff.

Fields of tiny Canadian flags were planted like poppies in the grounds surrounding the veterans' wing of Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre on Remembrance Day. Each one represented a donation to a fund to enrich the lives of the more than 500 veterans, half of them with dementia, who call Sunnybrook home. At an average age of 91, most were too frail to march to the cenotaph, so the wreath-laying ceremonies were held inside, in Warrior's Hall.

"We will remember, we will remember YOU," promised one of the speakers before tenor John McDermott yanked heart strings with Danny Boy. What finished me off was watching men, who weren't even old enough to vote when they went overseas, struggle out of their wheelchairs so they could stand for the national anthem and the wobbly playing of the Last Post.

Story continues below advertisement

One of them was Murray Westgate, 95, a Navy vet who sailed on convoy duty in the North Atlantic and then entertained a generation of Canadians on Hockey Night in Canada back when you could count the number of teams on your fingers. Before discount gas and self-service pumps, Westgate was the genial, trustworthy face of Esso, the guy who could keep your car humming and who signed off every week with a smile. A bit of a loner, a bit of a rebel, he doesn't know what happened to his medals or his uniform, so he wheeled himself into the back of Warrior's Hall wearing a polo shirt, a windbreaker and a poppy.

For most of the past decade, the retired actor has lived at Sunnybrook, and as far as he is concerned, he will be leaving "feet first." And why not? With money from Veterans Affairs Canada, Sunnybrook offers art, music, photography and companionship, proximity to an acute-care hospital, and an innovative model for treating dementia patients with aggressive behaviours.

A couple of weeks later, I spotted Westgate wheeling into a concert in a sunny reception room as a three-piece combo swung into Let Me Call You Sweetheart. There were fewer veterans than on Remembrance Day, but I could see aged heads nodding in time to the music and visitors sharing low-sugar cookies with grizzled parents and grandparents.

Like most people, I want to delude myself that I will age "gracefully" in my own home surrounded by loving family and friends. If that is not to be, I'd like to be in a place like this. Maybe the veterans have a final gift for us: an example of how to care for the elderly.

Follow me on Twitter: @SmartinGlobe

We want to hear about health care in your community: What works, what doesn't, and what you think we should do about it. Share your experiences – and ideas for change. Follow @Globe_Health, tweet with #thehospital or email thehospital@globeandmail.com to join the conversation.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter