The storied newspaper giant and J-Source supporter died Saturday at 75

John Honderich was a generous and unwavering supporter of J-Source.

Each year we would meet in late fall and he would renew his financial support for J-Source for another year. That usually took about one minute of a lunch that stretched to at least 90 minutes. We would quickly move on to debate about national, provincial and municipal politics, and the state of the media. Our talks were liberally punctuated with gossip, his booming laugh and insights based on decades of playing a central role in Canadian journalism and public policy.

When the Canadian Journalism Foundation ended its funding for J-Source in 2013, six years after it founded the publication, John stepped into the breach. He organized a small group including myself as director of Carleton’s School of Journalism and Communication, and Ivor Shapiro, in the same role at what is now the journalism program at the Creative School, to raise the funds needed to keep J-Source going.

Not only was he a significant annual financial donor to that process but he used his connections and influence throughout Canada’s media community to persuade other news organizations to support J-Source as well. Their support continued for several years but as the financial pressure facing news organizations in Canada deepened in 2017 and 2018, they withdrew.

John never did.

He was a newspaperman and a champion of traditional journalism in Canada, whose indomitable presence at the Toronto Star lasted more than 40 years. He co-founded the Atkinson Fellowship for Public Policy and was named a member of the Order of Canada and Ontario. The Star was honoured with four Michener Awards during his tenure as publisher. Some may remember him as a mentor. A principal patron of local news who helped rescue the country’s wire service from the brink of collapse. Some may think of him as a news boss involved in the departure of his paper’s prominent columnist on race and policing. 

John received the CJF’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019, using the occasion to advocate for philanthropic funding of public service journalism. “Think not on what journalism has done for you, but rather ask what you might do to make quality journalism thrive in Canada,” he said in closing. 

When we last met in November, John described the work he had done during the pandemic writing a book about the Toronto Star, his late father Beland and their time there. It is scheduled for publication later this year titled in true newspaper fashion, “Above the Fold”. 

We talked about the recent federal election. He described the memorial service for former Ontario premier William Davis he had attended a few days earlier, after calling to ask for a ticket a day before the event. He loved taking the subway down to Toronto Raptors games where he had acquired season tickets and had become a huge fan.

He also raved about the view from his southward-facing  condominium at the crest of the hill sloping down from St. Clair Avenue West. Lake Ontario and Toronto’s downtown fittingly stretched out below him — a city he loved and that he and the Star had done so much to shape over the previous half century.

J-Source sends its most sincere condolences to his family and his many friends.

Christopher Waddell is publisher of J-Source and a professor emeritus at the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University.