Remembering The St. Catharines Standard when it was still owned by the Burgoyne Family
By Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted February 3rd, 2022 on Niagara At Large
With a recent health scare leaving me a little more mindful of my own mortality, I was reminded that it was 11 years ago this February that the last great daily newspaper publisher I ever worked for died.
His name was Henry Burgoyne, who died at age 61 in February, 2011 following a long, brave battle with cancer.
Henry was among the fourth generation of the St. Catharines-based Burgoyne family who owned and operated The Standard since it was purchased by his great grandfather, William B. Burgoyne for one dollar from a failing owner 1892.
Henry became The Standard’s publisher in 1975, four years before I was hired and five years before he and my managing editor agreed to assign me to cover environmental issues in our region – making the newspaper one of the very first of its size in Canada to have a full-time environment beat.
During my more than a decade and a half as environment reporter at The Standard, I am proud to say that we were able to shine a hot light on many crimes being committed against our local and Great Lakes waters, our lands and the air that we breathe – enough to rally provincial and federal environment agencies into action.
The coverage brought me my share of awards and requests to speak at conferences on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border and I always made sure I gave credit to Henry and his family for investing enough resources in the newsroom to make the depth of coverage I was able to do possible.
That kind of commitment to news coverage usually only comes from newspaper owners who, like the Burgoynes, have roots in the community and care about the community and its people.
Then one day the corporate sharks came in and it was all over.
The environment beat, along with a number of other full-time beats at the newspaper, focused on education, health, labour and other key areas of interest to the community, disappeared as, beginning in 1996, The Standard fell into the hands of one corporate chain after another that hollowed the resources of the newsroom out.
Like some of the other reporters and editors from the Burgoyne era, I tried toughing it out for a few more years but it became gut-wrenching to watch what they were doing to a once-great community newspaper.
According to the hatchet men these corporate chains sent in to run the newspaper, it wasn’t even a newspaper anymore. It was a “product.” Our readers out there in the community were no longer readers, they were “customers.” And we were told to give up editorial policies that had guided news coverage for decades for a “business plan” that among other things, allowed the advertising department to compromise and corrupt what passed for the “news” the paper would cover.
After a few years of this, I joined a number of other reporters in taking advantage of a buy-out package we had negotiated to get the hell out of there.
Last year, three or four Niagara At Large readers reminded me of a St. Catharines segment of TVO series I was interviewed for called ‘Main Street, Ontario’. A brief outline TVO produced for the St. Catharines segment reads as follows; “The St. Catharines Standard was at the forefront of breaking news during the golden age of newspapers. Run by four generations of the Burgoyne family, The Standard’s intrepid reporters delivered hard-hitting journalism and exposed environmental injustices. But times changed, and media consolidation hit the paper hard.”
You can watch this segment by clicking on the screen immediately below. But before you do I want to pay respect to the few journalists left at newspapers like The Standard who are trying to do a job that five to ten times there number were able to do when the newspapers were truly local and independent. It is not their fault f they fall short. Blame it on the corporate vultures that put higher and higher profit margins ahead of investing the resources in high quality news coverage.
Before the COVID plague overtook us in early 2020, I began talking to others in Niagara about how we might be able to build on Niagara At Large as a truly independent news and commentary source in Niagara, Ontario. But the virus put an end to any further planning on that.
Perhaps we can get back to it in the foreseeable future. I hope so.
If enough of us care to, we can work together to bring back a locally, owned and operated, independent news outlet for residents across Niagara,
Doug Draper, Niagara At Large
To read more on Henry Burgoyne and the once independent, locally owned Standard by Doug Draper and by two of my former newsroom colleagues at the newspaper, click on the following links – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2011/02/08/henry-burgoyne-was-without-doubt-the-last-great-publisher-of-a-daily-newspaper-in-niagara-ontario/