John Honderich, former publisher of the Toronto Star, dies at 75

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Published February 5, 2022 at 9:54 pm

TORONTO — Known for his trademark bow ties and imposing six-foot-two presence, John Allen Honderich was an old-fashioned newspaperman with ink in his veins and a hearty lust for life.

The Canadian businessman who was the publisher of the Toronto Star from 1994 to 2004, has died.

Honderich passed away in his Toronto home at the age of 75 on Saturday, Star spokesman Bob Hepburn said.

Honderich, whose father was the late Beland Honderich, a former publisher of the Toronto Star, was part of the Canadian newspaper industry from birth and much of his working life revolved around the media icon founded in 1892 and — until recently — partly owned by his family.

He accepted his role as a senior statesman and spokesman for the industry, defending it and demanding support from government and rivals alike.

“Canada is facing a crisis of quality journalism,” he wrote in a January 2018 editorial demanding the federal government act on recommendations in the Public Policy Forum’s The Shattered Mirror media report released in early 2017.

” … If you believe, as I do, that a vigorous, investigative press is essential for a strong democracy, we should all be very concerned.”

In part to avoid accusations of nepotism, Honderich started his newspaper career as a copy boy with the Ottawa Citizen in 1973.

He joined the Star in 1976 as a reporter, eventually becoming chief of the Star’s Ottawa and Washington bureaus. After serving as deputy editor, he was appointed business editor in May 1984. 

In 1986, he moved to London, England, to study at the London School of Economics. At the same time, he wrote a book called Arctic Imperative, published in the fall of 1987 by the University of Toronto Press, in which he outlined the serious dangers threatening Canada’s North.

He was editor of the Toronto Star from 1988 to 1994, then served as its publisher from 1994 until May 2004.

His departure from the Star shocked Toronto. It was unveiled in a “sources say” article on the front page of the rival Globe and Mail that claimed Honderich was leaving due to clashes with then-Torstar CEO Robert Prichard.

“After almost 10 years as publisher and 28 years on staff, I am announcing I will be leaving the Star. I do so with regret,” Honderich wrote in a subsequent statement.

“However, for some time there has been a corporate desire for change. As a result, I have worked hard to bring about an effective transition, and will continue to do so.”

Three days later, he was named a member of the Order of Canada. He was appointed a member of the Order of Ontario in 2006.

Honderich graduated from the University of Toronto with a B.A. in political science and economics in 1968 and earned a bachelor of laws degree in 1971.

He received honorary degrees from Victoria University, Ryerson University and the University of King’s College and was inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame in 2014.

He served on the boards of the Atkinson Foundation, the Michener Fellowship, the Martin Goodman Fellowship, the Mowat Centre, Seneca College and The Nature Conservancy.

He had two children, Robin and Emily, with his ex-wife Katherine Govier. 

Until 2020, the Honderich family was one of five that ran the Toronto Star following the death of its founder, Joseph E. Atkinson, in 1948. 

But two years ago, the families agreed to sell Torstar — which holds an investment in The Canadian Press — to NordStar Capital LP.

Though he occupied many senior executive offices at the newspaper and at the company that owned it, Honderich remained at heart a storyteller.

In 2017, while chairman of the board of Torstar Corp., he completed a mission coinciding with Canada’s 150th anniversary year to see all 45 national parks and write about the journey for Toronto Star readers.

“I’m feeling on top of the world!” he wrote from Canadian Forces Base Alert, Nunavut, in December 2017. “Quite literally, for I’m standing on the runway of the northernmost permanent settlement on Earth. Figuratively, for I have now successfully completed my 2017 odyssey.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2022.

Dan Healing, The Canadian Press

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