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.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.