A Tribute to Our Dear Friend John Honderich
A Message from Executive Director Hadley Archer
On behalf of Nature United’s team and Board of Directors, I would like to express our sadness at the passing of our dear friend John Honderich. A legendary Canadian, champion for journalism, and committed father and grandfather, John was a true ally in our mission to advance solutions for nature and people.
John was a lover of nature. Whenever he had the chance, he spent time at his cottage in Georgian Bay, Ontario. But the true testament of his love was the journey John set out on in 2017. To mark Canada’s 150th, John visited all 45 of Canada’s national parks, writing about the importance of protecting our natural places and the people who call them home.
John also believed in and cared about people, and he supported many causes in Toronto and across Canada. In the context of our work, he was an ardent believer in the power of supporting Indigenous leadership and stewardship. Together, John and I visited the Great Bear Rainforest, in British Columbia, in 2016, following a trip he had taken years before where he realized that this was no place for a pipeline. John was so inspired by meeting with leaders and youth from the Heiltsuk First Nation, in Bella Bella, that he wrote an op-ed about his experience. From that moment on, John was our strongest champion for our Emerging Leaders program.
Sadly, the one national park that John didn’t get a chance to visit was Thaidene Nëné in the Northwest Territories. I promised to take John there just before the Covid-19 pandemic and travel restrictions hit, and alas, we never made it. But I know how impressed John was at the reconciliatory nature of the park, the partnership between all three levels of government—Indigenous, federal and territorial—and how this was a new model of co-governance developed in Canada’s North.
As John would say, this was reimagining conservation—a term that he helped us coin that described how an organization such as ours could support Indigenous leadership to advance conservation. He believed in our approach and in our team. He was constantly pushing us to be bold, to be clear about who we are, and to tell our story. And he was instrumental in helping us find our new name, Nature United, that embodies how we do our work.
Over the past eight years, John was one of our most loyal donors. He joined our Board of Directors in 2016, and since then, he had a near perfect attendance at meetings. John hosted our Toronto meetings at 1 Yonge Street, in the Toronto Star headquarters, which provided the perfect setting for our discussions. With stunning Inuit art on the walls, the room overlooked Lake Ontario and downtown Toronto, a jarring juxtaposition of the beauty of nature and human development. He was a gracious host, and many of us received a personalized tour of the iconic newsroom and a chance to see how the Star brought critical stories and perspectives to the forefront, and embodied the values of civic engagement and democracy.
John was a strong voice on our Board of Directors. He often said what others were thinking and what needed to be heard, but always with a supportive hand. As our Board Chair, Sasha Jacobs, reflected, “John’s brilliance and dedication will be missed and we will be forever grateful for his guidance.”
John took on the additional role of Chair of the Finance and Audit Committee two years ago. True to his journalistic roots, in reviewing our proposed annual plan and budget, John would look for the headlines. He would coach us to never bury the lead! As Board Director Alexandra Conliffe said so perfectly, “John provoked, asked questions and pushed because he believed deeply in Nature United, its mission, and its people.”
On a personal note, my friendship with John dates back to my time at World Wildlife Fund Canada. I’ll never forget our first meeting on a snowy day in December at his Toronto Star office. I was there to ask him to become a donor, and John saw me coming. After some pleasantries, he asked me about my views on Arctic sovereignty. I cobbled together an answer and tried to weave in a conservation narrative. I later realized John had written a book on the topic, and he was sussing out who I was and if I could think on my feet. Needless to say, he already had a cheque written in his blazer pocket. That was the last time I ever had to ask John for his annual donation.
From that day on, John has been a friend, mentor and advocate. He took a personal interest in supporting my leadership, and he encouraged me to be my best and know what I stand for. He had an incredible sense of humour and never took himself too seriously. I am so grateful for his counsel and his friendship.
John, we will miss you dearly. You were an incredible person, a champion for our cause, and a dear friend. May you rest in peace.
Reflections from Nature United's Board and Staff
"I am deeply saddened by John's passing. He was an incredible advocate for our environment and Canada‘s responsibility in preserving it. His brilliance and dedication will be missed, and we will be forever grateful for his guidance."
— Sasha Jacob, Chair, Board of Directors
"John was certainly one-of-a-kind and by that I mean someone who is dedicated to so much more than himself. We knew him as a great Board Member and philanthropist but he was also a city-builder—someone who cared deeply about the social well-being of his city of Toronto and his country, parts he had seen and parts he hadn’t visited yet. I’ve know John since my days at United Way, more than 15 years ago. He was always ready to help and would show up to our offices with his bow-ties and signature mischievous grin. He was so busy with all the many hats he wore, but he never forgot the cause. Over the years, he helped secure millions of dollars for the city’s most vulnerable. Our world needs more Johns and we will miss his efforts dearly."
— Heidi Burgess
"I'm deeply saddened by John's passing. What a legacy he leaves! I'll remember his warmth, his humour, his joie de vivre, his tremendous love of Canada and, of course, his huge laugh. He will be sorely missed by a multitude of Canadians in the many, varied and influential circles he travelled in."
— Florence Eastwood, Board Director
Nature United was founded as a Canadian charity in 2014, building on decades of conservation in Canada. Headquartered in Toronto, the organization has field staff located across the country. Nature United supports Indigenous leadership, sustainable economic development, and science and large-scale conservation, primarily in the Great Bear Rainforest, Clayoquot Sound, the Northwest Territories, and northern Manitoba. Our organization is also working to accelerate Natural Climate Solutions at national and regional scales. To learn more, visit natureunited.ca or follow @natureunited_ca on Twitter.
We are the Canadian affiliate of The Nature Conservancy, a global conservation organization with more than a million members and a diverse team that includes more than 400 scientists. Our global organization works in 76 countries—either directly or through partnerships—to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.