Up in Doug Fisher country - Macleans.ca

Up in Doug Fisher country


Back in the 1972 federal election campaign, Robert Stanfield flew to Red Lake, Ont., to give a stump speech. With all due respect to the memory of the late Tory leader, he made absolutely no impression on me as an 11-year-old.

But after his rally at the Polish Hall, my parents let me go next door to a tiny, cluttered variety store to look through the stack of LPs for sale there. The store had a pay phone, and a giant of a man was using it to dictate a story about Stanfield’s speech in a commanding voice to some faraway news desk. And he most certainly was impressive.

I can’t be sure but I think that outsized journalist was Doug Fisher, who died today. I asked Doug about it once, and after so many decades reporting and columnizing on politics, his countless dispatches from the hustings had long since blurred. He agreed it was likely him, though. Maybe he could see that’s what I hoped he’d say.

That little anecdote aside, Doug knew Red Lake very well. In fact, he was born not so far away in another northwestern Ontario town, Sioux Lookout, on Sept. 19, 1919. The first time I met him, in the elevator of the National Press Building in Ottawa in 1989, I introduced myself, mentioning that we came from the same neck of the woods. He immediately asked if I knew the owner of a certain bush plane outfit. I did. That got him talking.

He seemed to enjoy just saying aloud the names of the waters you might fly over up there—Lac Seul, Little Vermilion, the English River—to somebody who knew them a bit. It felt good to be spoken to in that way by the old man. It was also grand to listen to him hold forth on war history, or literature, or, of course, politicians, past and present.

On his passing, others will claim bits of Douglas Fisher for the CCF and the NDP, for the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Press Gallery, for the old Toronto Telegram and the Toronto Sun, for the Canadian Army of World War II and, in particular, the 12th Manitoba Dragoons.

His links to all those institutions were deeply meaningful to him. But he was from a particular part of the country, and unabashedly nostalgic about it, so I think he would want that to be mentioned today, too.

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Up in Doug Fisher country

  1. Thanks for sharing your memories of the great Doug Fisher.

  2. My parents thought well of Doug Fisher, MP, and brought me up to be proud that our riding resisted the Diefenbaker sweep of 1958. (before I was born)

    People from the shield are a bit like Newfoundlanders because we leave the rock but it doesn't leave us. Here's the chorus for a song from someone else who left, can't remember his name, but Rodney Brown sings it in Thunder Bay:

    Back in North Ontario, where the trees are green and the waters flow
    and the roadtop curves like a woman when she's making love
    Well it must be a woman that I'm really thinking of!

  3. Funny, I used his name in a Potter post two days ago, thinking at that time that he had already passed. http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/09/16/crowdsourced-p

    He was a huge man, he loved his country and the institutions that govern it and cared about how QP for example was disintegrating over 20 years ago. He saw what was coming.

  4. Mr. Fisher was not so much a reporter as an institution. Without being overtly partisan he still managed to communicate his feelings about some of the silliness he witnessed. I wonder what he thought of journalism now that professional standards have declined to such a degree that some journalists feel no remorse at accepting partisan appointments to the public trough like any other party hacks?

  5. Met him at the Press Gallery years back when I was 18 and he was kindly moderating a three-party debate for my grade 12 politics class.

    It was the time of Cruise Missle testing, and at one point, I asked a question that got the poor tory backbencher they'd sent along so angry he yelled "Better dead than red!".

    Doug Fisher couldn't stop laughing. And that's one of the reasons I ended up being a reporter.

  6. Our father was very proud of being from northern Ontario. As brother Toby has put it, "You can take the boy out of the bush, but you can't take the bush out of the boy." I enjoyed this piece, Mr. Geddes, as I am sure Doug would have.

    D. John Fisher

    (Son number 4, and the D IS for Douglas.)

  7. John,
    Luke Fisher here. Your piece about your first meeting with Doug and his love of the north was wonderful. You and he could talk about the north of the province better than I could. It was a topic that was rarely away from his lips – and he had a lot of other things to say.
    You may have already seen it, but the Fishers have created a detailed website dedicated to the life and work of Doug. http://www.douglasfisher.ca. It provides a solid political background going back a half century.
    Again, your piece was heartwarming for the sons of the boy from the bush.