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Henderson: After 51 years, it’s time to hang up the Windsor Star crayons

Author of the article:

Gord Henderson

Publishing date:

Sep 12, 2020  •   •  4 minute read

WINDSOR, ON. MAY 12, 2015.  Former Windsor Star columnist Gord Henderson for 125th anniversary of the paper. (DAN JANISSE/The Windsor Star) (For story by Derek Spalding)
Windsor Star columnist Gord Henderson pictured for the 125th anniversary of the paper. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

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Little did I know, when I stepped off that Windsor railway platform into a late August afternoon drenched in the city’s notorious humidity and steeped in the tantalizing scent of fermented grain wafting from Hiram Walker, that I was embarking on a love affair with the city’s newspaper that would last more than half a century.

Today, after 51 years and 16 days of scribbling for The Windsor Star, I’m laying down my crayons for the last time. I’m moving on to become a full-time grandpa to four, soon to be five, precious kids. I can’t think of a retirement role, even in a pandemic, that beats watching, and sometimes helping, your offspring’s little ones take flight.

Many readers, I’m well aware, will be tickled pink (or red) to know I’m packing it in after all these years. About freaking time that dinosaur left, they’ll say, and have been saying ever since The Star announced my retirement as full-time columnist in 2009.

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To be candid, I couldn’t care less what the critics say, because I’ve always been my harshest critic. Pretty much every column I’ve written over the last 41 years has been followed by gut-chewing remorse that I didn’t do a better job, didn’t try a different tack or didn’t have space for more details. I’m still beating myself up over a Remembrance Day column last November that I don’t feel did justice to my dad’s war service.

WINDSOR, ON.: MAY 11, 2013 -- Veteran Stan Scislowski chats with Gord Henderson during an open house at the new Windsor Star building in Windsor on Saturday, May 11, 2013.                            (TYLER BROWNBRIDGE/The Windsor Star)
Veteran Stan Scislowski chats with Gord Henderson during an open house at the new Windsor Star building in Windsor on Saturday, May 11, 2013. Photo by Tyler Brownbridge /Windsor Star

In all honesty, I never wanted to be a columnist. I was press-ganged into it by late Star editor Carl Morgan a couple of weeks after I became the paper’s Parliament Hill correspondent and was still trying to find my way around that labyrinth. “I want you to write a weekly column,” Carl barked into the phone. “Um. OK. When do you want me to start?” I lamely responded. “Now. Write it now. I’ll be waiting here for it,” he demanded. In desperation, I plucked something out of thin air, my first ever column.

It’s a rare reporter who hasn’t made the case, not always tongue-in-cheek, that working in the media beats having a real job. Column writing is seen as the most coveted role in that not-quite-real environment. That’s not how I see it. To me, it’s the equivalent of having to write three essays a week for a teacher and having her share them, not just with the snickering class, but with an entire community. Year after year.

At times I wished I was back in my old job with the night sanitation crew at a giant Toronto bakery where I operated a deafening and sometimes downright scary steam hose to blast gobs of dried jelly and pastry off conveyor belts. Now that, even while wearing three pairs of gloves, was a satisfying job. Even at $1.75 an hour.

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In all seriousness, The Windsor Star, which was rolling in money in those days, was a heavenly dream for someone who had spent two years at the now defunct, penny-pinching Thomson-owned Oshawa Times.

There were more reporters than desks. There were entire platoons of editors. There were bureaus in multiple communities. There was a fleet of gleaming company trucks and even a guy who spent most of his time polishing the brass doors of the Ferry Street building. The paper had a hefty travel budget and would put a reporter on a flight at the first hint of a story. Folks in the newsroom considered having fun, involving liquid refreshments, an integral part of the job.

I know folks go on and on about how things were way better in the old days. But in this case, with newspapers now in such dire circumstances, it was actually true.

WINDSOR, ONT. November 28, 2014 -- Author Craig Pearson, left, and columnist Gord Henderson have some fun during book signing of FROM THE VAULT, A Photo History of Windsor in the newsroom of The Windsor Star, November 28, 2014. (NICK BRANCACCIO/The Windsor Star)
Author Craig Pearson, left, and columnist Gord Henderson have some fun during the book signing of FROM THE VAULT, A Photo History of Windsor, in the newsroom of The Windsor Star, Nov. 28, 2014. Photo by Nick Brancaccio /Windsor Star

My work for The Star is over but I’m still hooked on Windsor. This is a frustrating city at times, especially in its self-loathing and “won’t work here” resistance to change. But it’s easily Ontario’s friendliest city and a remarkable survivor. I’ve seen countless plants close and yet Windsor always bounces back.

I’m leaving, and it’s my choice, in part because COVID-19 has reminded me that time is running out, in part because I look in the mirror and see some old geezer I don’t recognize. Who the hell is that?

It’s also time to move on because my views are out of touch with the times. I’m a Canadian patriot whose heroes include Sir Winston Churchill and Sir John A., both now vilified as monsters by the dominant radical left. Now people like Darwin and Beethoven are being added to the lists of those whose legacies must be expunged. What a slippery slope this is.

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I deeply resent hearing people like my ancestors, who came here from Scotland a couple of centuries ago to carve farms out of the white pine forests of the Ottawa Valley, being dismissed as entitled “settlers” by millennials who’ve never broken a real sweat or been tormented by clouds of blackflies.

I love this country but fear for its future under our drama teacher prime minister who sees uncontrolled spending as a virtue. Mr. Trust Fund will eventually walk away, mighty pleased with himself, and leave a stinking mess for our grandchildren to clean up. God help them.

WINDSOR, ON.: MAY 31, 2012 -- Windsor Star columnist Gord Henderson and Mayor Eddie Francis (right) present Sandra Pupatello with quiche at a party honourin Pupatello for her years of service as an MPP at the Fogolar Furan Club on Thursday, May 31, 2012.            (TYLER BROWNBRIDGE / The Windsor Star)  #00015152A
Windsor Star columnist Gord Henderson and Mayor Eddie Francis (right) present Sandra Pupatello with quiche at a party honouring Pupatello for her years of service as an MPP at the Fogolar Furan Club on May 31, 2012. Photo by Tyler Brownbridge /Windsor Star

One last thing. I wish I could thank everyone who has helped me over the years, from the late Gene Whelan, the most quotable politician our region has produced, to Eddie Francis, the best Windsor mayor of the last half-century.

I am forever indebted to the many war veterans, most of them departed, who allowed me to tell their remarkable stories. That was easily the most rewarding part of this job.

Thank you all.

g_henderson61@yahoo.ca

WINDSOR, ONT.: JANUARY 30, 2009. -- Windsor Star columnist Gord Henderson is photographed in his office on Friday, January 30, 2009.        (Tyler Brownbridge / The Windsor Star)
Windsor Star columnist Gord Henderson is photographed in his office on Friday, Jan. 30, 2009. Photo by Tyler Brownbridge /Windsor Star
WINDSOR, ON. AUGUST 8, 2008. - Windsor Star columnist Gord Henderson jumps from the mock tower at CFB Petawawa during an ExecuTrek tour at the base on Thursday, August 8, 2008. The tours bring company executives and human resources personnel to the base in order to show them what reservist do and why they can be and asset to companies.     (Windsor Star - Tyler Brownbridge)
Windsor Star columnist Gord Henderson jumps from the mock tower at CFB Petawawa during an ExecuTrek tour at the base on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2008. Photo by Tyler Brownbridge /Windsor Star
Windsor, ON. Sept.29/2005 - Even before sunrise, Raise a Reader volunteers Marilyn Molyneux and Gord Henderson look for donations from auto workers at DaimlerChrysler's Windsor Assembly Plant Thursday morning.  The Windsor Star - Nick Brancaccio
Even before sunrise, Raise-a-Reader volunteers Marilyn Molyneux and Gord Henderson look for donations from auto workers at DaimlerChrysler’s Windsor Assembly Plant on Sept. 29, 2005. Photo by Nick Brancaccio /Windsor Star

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