John McDermott and Paul Gross paid a visit to seniors at Sunnybrook hospital. Turns out the biggest stars were in the audience

Fri, December 22, 2006

Sometimes the best story at a concert is sitting in the front row.

You certainly wouldn't get an argument from famous tenor John McDermott or actor Paul Gross who were on the stage yesterday. Hand them all the music and acting awards in the world but they will never forget the day they performed at Christmas time before Canada's great veterans at Sunnybrook.

"Humbling," said Gross.

It was their Christmas present to the veterans but in essence the gifts came back to the two top flight Canadian entertainers. It's the gift of freedom but also the gift of remembering to savour each day in this free land of Canada.

"It's just so special to be in their presence," said McDermott, who is performing at the Royal Alex tomorrow.

You do learn something when you are. By attending this special Christmas concert in Warrior's Hall in the Veteran's Wing at Sunnybrook there is something I learned as well: Not so fast on the state funeral talk for the last World War I veteran folks. Nice idea but lets not get ahead of ourselves.

Judging by their energy, if two Great War veterans at Sunnybrook have anything to say about it, such an honour won't be coming anytime soon.

It certainly will be a sad day when the last of these heroes have left us. The staff at Sunnybrook do such a great job in keeping our veterans healthy.

Canadian students should be required to visit there.

In the front row they are aged 105 and 107, respectively, and if there is anything Dwight Wilson and Lloyd Clemett know for sure, it's how to live far past when people say you are supposed to. They are living history.

As McDermott sang they were tapping along to Silent Night, Time Goes By and Christmas in the Trenches and later Wilson showed off his pipes by surprising everyone with his own version of Danny Boy. He's good. He's got a nice voice.

"He's trying to steal my job," kidded McDermott.

You can see the fun feel there was to this event -- which is nice at a time when the news is filled with such sadness.

For the troops

It's also a perfect way to wish our troops in Afghanistan and around the world a Merry Christmas, which Gross, McDermott and the veterans did by signing a banner for the troops.

We pray one day there won't be a need for a special wing for veterans. But, for now, we should be grateful there is.

"If you have to live in a hospital this is where to live," said World War II veteran Jim Mathieson, originally from Welland, who served in 1942 and 1943 in Italy and London.

He's moving around in a wheelchair these days and still has issues from being wounded from shrapnel then.

But everyday, no matter the day, he wears his Canadian flag ball caps, with some poppies pinned to the side. He remembers the men and women back then and the ones now.

"A lot of good people die," he said of every fight for freedom.

He never forgets that. And he did appreciate Gross' words in his speech where he said it's time Canada "boasts our military history."

Gross has got that right. In all my years as the Night Scrawler I'd never met the Due South star but I was impressed with him yesterday and his devotion to our veterans. He was telling me next year he's going to film a World War I movie he wrote on the story of Passchendaele, where so many Albertans fought.

His own grandfather fought in that battle which Canada made such a mark at. That's going to be interesting to watch for. It was a real labour of love for Gross who said "I have been working on it for 10 years."

It's going to be a big feature film for the theatres and sounds like the kind of thing Canadians can embrace. It's a Canadian-made movie, about Canadians, made by a guy in Gross who doesn't just talk about doing things but actually does them. Perhaps when he's done he will come back to Sunnybrook and give the veterans a screening.

My prediction is both Lloyd Clemett and Dwight Wilson will not only still be around to see it but will help McDermott sing O Canada before they play it.

When it happens, once again, the best story will be in the front row.