Henry Burgoyne Was, Without Doubt, The Last Great Publisher Of A Daily Newspaper In Niagara, Ontario

By Doug Draper

What can one say about Henry Burgoyne.

I will always remember him as a great lover of life, an uncommonly generous person with people he liked, and the greatest fan Elvis Presley ever had this side of the American border.

Henry Burgoyne, speaking recently at another one of many community events in his beloved Niagara. Photo courtesy of the Burgoyne family.

Yet Henry Burgoyne, who died this February 7 at age 61 following a brave battle with cancer, was much more than that.

He was the last great publisher of the last great independent daily newspaper in Niagara, Ontario before that paper  – The St. Catharines Standard –was sold in 1996 to the first in a string of media chains that have owned and operated it ever since. And as someone who was privileged enough to work with Henry (I never felt like I was working “for” him), he was one of the best friends a journalist could ever have.

Henry became publisher of The Standard after his father, W.B.C. (Bill) Burgoyne died at age 49. By then it had a family legacy that went all the way back to 1892 when his great-grandfather, William Burgoyne, purchased what was then a floundering news publication in the community for a dollar.

“When his beloved father died, Henry was thrust into the job of publisher
as an unformed, and at the time, an undisciplined young man, barely in
his 20s,” recalls John Nicol, a former reporter and columnist at The Standard who is now an investigative news producer at the CBC. “But he was well brought up, and had his own great internal compass, that he was able to choose advice from his lieutenants wisely, such that he turned a good local newspaper into the best of its kind across the
country. “I don’t know if he ever realized how much he did his dad proud.”

One of those lieutenants was Murray Thomson who was The Standard’s managing editor through the 1980s and through the first few years of the 1990s. He remembers Henry as “a person who had a good soul,” who inherited The Standard and all it already stood for as a fine community newspaper and took it to heights that earned it an unprecedented amount of respect, provincially, nationally and sometimes even internationally for a newspaper its size. “He was a wonderful person to work with and to know,” Thomson said.

Indeed, with Henry at the helm and Murray Thomson running the newsroom, The Standard was consistently winning provincial, national and sometimes even international respect (not to mention awards) for news coverage, including in-depth analysis and investigative pieces that very often equaled or surpassed that found in newspapers with double or more the circulation.

I was fortunate enough to begin working with this very fine person in 1979, when we were both still relatively young kids in our 20s, and within a year Henry and Murray agreed to channel my interest in environmental issues into an environment beat – marking The Standard as one of the very few newspapers its size at the time to have a full-time environment reporter.

My beat was just one of a number that created a lot of waves as I expose evidence of environmental damage across our region, and along and across a border defined by a Niagara River that was being ravaged by raw discharges of pollution from industries and municipal sewage outfalls at the time. Sometimes I would do a story that upset someone Henry knew and sometimes they would complain to him, but he never once stopped me just so long as my stories were accurate and fair.

Once I wrote a pretty scathing column about a well-respected politician in the St. Catharines area that his family had known and respected for many years before I showed up on the scene. I can still see him walking down the hall from his office with a copy of the column. He came over and asked me if I was sure of all my facts. I assured him that I was and that I had taken careful notes and recorded all my phone interviews. He said; “That’s good. We are going to run this then because it is the right thing to do.” It wasn’t the last time I heard Henry Burgoyne come to that judgement over something I or others in the newsroom wrote – whether the content sometimes singed the feet of significant others in the community or some of the newspapers’ advertisers.

This guy, who set up a committee at the paper I was honoured to sit on, to update a code of ethics and conflict of interest policies that said no to any editorial people accepting freebees or sitting on boards or committees or even being a member of organizations we were covering, was a principled person who never wavered in that regard. He was a rock-solid person of integrity that none of us who cared about doing good journalism would ever think, for one moment, to let down.

In 1988, I was honoured to sit on a panel in Toronto during a conference hosted by the Canadian-wide Centre for Investigative Journalism that focused on environmental reporting. There I was from the little old Standard, up there with the environment reporter for The Toronto Star and the lead science reporter for CBC television, and I took a moment out of my remarks about my reporting to thank the Burgoyne publishing family for which I worked for providing me the resources and time I needed to do the kind of coverage that mattered to the larger community. As soon as I said that, one of the people who clapped loudest in the audience was none other than Henry Burgoyne, who did not let me know in advance he was coming to the event, but who came there anyway because, as Murray Thomson mentioned later, Henry was just so proud of what he felt we had accomplished as a newspaper on reporting environmental issues.

This was Henry, the grand dad of a newspaper he loved, and I can say that there are many other editors, reporters and photographers from that time who have similar stories and whoknew they had a publisher that was behind every effort they made to produce one of the best community newspapers on this continent.

Henry and his family have also continued to be very generous to the United Way and other charitable causes in the community. Henry joined other members of his family in contributing tens-of-thousands of dollars more to the United Way as recently as this past fall.

So what can one say about Henry Burgoyne except God bless you Henry. You were a true believer in community and in putting the news first in a paper that, while you were at the helm, did such a proud and brave job of serving the interests of everyone, regardless of their station in life, who lived in the community.

My fear is that we may hardly ever see your like, on the media front and on the humanitarian front, in this Niagara region of ours again.

(Please share your thoughts below on the passing of former St. Catharines Standard publisher Henry Burgoyne and visit Niagara At Large at http://www.niagaraatlarge.com for more news and commentary on matters of interest and concern to our greater binominal Niagara region.)


12 responses to “Henry Burgoyne Was, Without Doubt, The Last Great Publisher Of A Daily Newspaper In Niagara, Ontario

  1. I knew Henry from the one and only time I baby-sat him but I never did work for him. I did work for his father in whom I had great faith.
    When I read Doug’s column, I realized that Henry had learned a lot from his Dad when it came to backing his reporters. I was in trouble with a reader about a story I had done and Bill asked me to come to his office to meet the complainant. Full of trepidation I presented myself. Bill asked me if I had checked my facts and I assured him I had. Bill politely but firmly assured the complainant that he had every faith in my work and that was the end of that.
    Henry evidently operated the same way. He had learned well.


  2. I was only privileged to meet Henry on only two occasions, both involving heritage publications, but could see that this person I had only heard of, was a true gentleman, full of integrity and deep interest in the history of his community.


  3. I never did meet this man and my initial introduction was through the reverence of Doug Draper. Since then I journeyed into history to learn more about this remarkable family and through revelations it was obvious that publishing was a passion of soul, NOT the “Creed of Greed” that seems to have totally taken over our medias of today.
    In closing I want to thank Henry Burgoyne and Yes! Doug Draper for his continued efforts, using his boundless Journalistic skill, his Honesty and his Perseverance for the deliverance of integrity to a medium that is lost to Greed and Corporate conglomerates.
    Once again Thank You Doug


  4. I have great memories of Hank (Henry) from our High School Days and he really had the ability to make people laugh.
    My sympathy to the Burgoyne family!
    He will be missed.


  5. Thank you Doug for a wise and fitting tribute to Henry, “with” whom I was also lucky enough to work when you and I were both starting out as reporters. What I will always remember about Henry is his cheerful courage. Our friend John Nicol got it exactly right in saying that Henry was properly raised and obviously well tutored in journalistic integrity. Though he was born into power and wealth in a small conservative city, he never wavered even slightly in championing our duty to stand for the truth, regardless of the consequences… which were considerable for him, given his place and station. But he was never pompous about it; he was a man ever ready with a gregarious smile and a slap on the back . As young journalists, he made us feel our work was important — but also insisted it be fun. Even then, in our callow youth, we knew how lucky we were. A friend of mine, who retired young after investigative careers with The Toronto Star and the CBC, recently said: “As far as I can tell, journalism is illegal now.” She was joking, sure… but not really. Publishers who put what’s right ahead of what’s expedient have pretty much gone the way of hand-set type. Henry will be missed in more ways than he could have ever imagined.


  6. I began as an apprentice and was in the composing room for almost 40 years. I never heard a bad word about the Burgoyne family from staff; from anybody, for that matter. We had a lot of printers come in for a few weeks’ work who said they’d never before worked for such a good employer, and stayed until they retired. Some of us old timers had a comment “It’s one of those days” by which we meant we would almost pay the company to let us come in and play. Bill and then Henry treated us well. Thank you, Henry.


  7. A wonderful tribute, Doug. It was Henry who made possible my first full-time job in journalism 30 years ago at the Standard. He was one of a kind and the last emblem in Canada of a sadly missed era of family-owned, community-first daily newspapers. I have always considered myself fortunate to have started my career at a place where news mattered and young reporters were given wing. Henry cared about his journalists, valuing us as creative troublemakers rather than “content providers” or “profit centers.” He was the boss every journalist dreams of and few are fortunate to know. I am proud to have been among those fortunate few.


  8. Bruce Williamson

    Henry earned the respect of employees at all ranks. My Dad enjoyed and appreciated working for father and son for 42 years. Every time I put on the retirement gift watch my dad passed on to me I have a warm feeling of pride about his career and the place where he worked. Thanks, Henry


  9. Great words, Doug, Kevin, Peter and everyone. I remember Henry in very public and private ways. In the 1980s, he and ME Murray Thomson allowed me and others in the newsroom to investigate ticklish issues in the community (don’t put all the blame on me for the Niagara police inquiry!). We were allowed to have a writer’s paper (any of those left?). Thanks, Henry, for the trips to Ottawa and the Vancouver award, as well. While he was an important part of the news product, Henry was a little shy of the newsroom. I’d secretly meet him on Sundays to teach him how to use the computer. Hope that helped later with tallying your golf scores, HB!


  10. I first met Henry when I was ushered into his office at The Standard in the early 80’s. I was on a mission on behalf of the Canadian Cancer Society. I was there to ask “Mr. Burgoyne” to be our Honourary Chairman and lend his name and support to our cause. Without hesitation he agreed and thus began a personal friendship between he and I that has lasted for all these years. This amazing, kind-hearted, gentle man appeared as a dancing daffodil, a jailbird at our Jail and Bail fundraisers and curled in our Curl for Cancer events. There wasn’t anything Henry wouldn’t do to ensure that the Cancer Society succeeded. His kindness overflowed on a personal level when he chauffeured me on my wedding day, champagne served as we exited the chapel, it was just a typical act of kindness that Henry has shown to so many others during his lifetime. He will be missed and never never forgotten. Thank you Henry for being “you”.


  11. I remember the first meeting with Henry; I was working in advertising sales for one of the little papers in the mid 80s’. We knew it must have been someone of stature when a teal green Jaguar pulled up in front of the office and two suits bounded out and into the newspaper office. A Mr. Tony Blaikie introduced himself and Henry (who appeared to be younger than I, he was) and after a look around the office were gone again in the Jag. It was the begining of what turned out to be a decade plus of service with the Burgoyne empire. I guess he saw something in me that I didn’t recognize, because as the paper grew I was moved along to manager of the newspaper then sales manager of Rannie Publications and finally promoted to the position of General Manager of the Rannie Newspaper Division.
    I remember him taking me to the country club and over lunch telling me he wanted me to be the GM of the newspapers. Wow, never in my life had someone given me such a break. I think Tony Blaikie had something to do with it as well. He was a good friend in the Standard organizaiton.
    The Standard company was going through a lot of changes in the ninties and at a certain point when I was offered a position with the Southam organization I left the pennisula and went to work in the Golden Horseshoe. I’ve since started my own marketing company, lectured at Niagara College for over 10 years and currently on the speaking circut talking about creating remarkable customer experiences. Henry, I’m convinced, if it weren’t for you seeing something in that bearded ex-hippie ad rep that I would still be playing guitar in a bar somewhere.
    Thank you for helping me realize that I had something bigger to offer, your belief in me changed my life. I recall the last time we spoke over a beer at the Mansion House his boisterous laugh echoing above the din. Henry Burgoyne was a big man with and even bigger heart.


  12. I worked for the St. Catharines Standard in the Classified Advertising Department from 1978 – 1981. My girlfriend at that time worked for CKTB radio as the front receptionist. We both knew Henry well, and one of the most entertaining and smart men I have met. Henry used to take me to Whiteoaks Tennis Club, and not just for the food, however, to observe the other guests from the female persuasion. We would then zip back to the office via the QEW going 140 kms to continue our working day.
    He was a great man, and still have pictures of our annual St. Catharines Standard up north trips with all the advertising and management staff at Gord McFarlanes cottage.
    God Bless You Henry.


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