Gravenhurst mourns dedicated firefighter, intrepid newsman
GRAVENHURST - Whether he was reporting the news or fighting fires, John Black always hit the ground running.
Black, a former deputy chief of the Gravenhurst Fire Department, passed away on April 17 at South Muskoka Memorial Hospital after a brief battle with cancer. Black had been a veteran of the Gravenhurst Fire Department for 24 years until 2009, when he left to become the fire chief of the North Huron Fire Department.
In the days following Black’s passing, the news has hit local firefighters particularly hard.
“He was not only a great firefighter and a great fire officer, he was also a terrific friend, and that’s probably the most important part,” said Gravenhurst fire chief Lorne McNeice.
Black’s interest in the fire service began during his former career as a newspaper reporter. Spurred by an editor who wanted compelling photos, Black got a scanner radio and began chasing emergency calls at all hours of the day.
It didn’t take long for the fire department to notice Black’s dedication and “get-up-and-go” attitude.
“I talked him into chasing us around and taking pictures so we could use them for critiquing training and things like that, but that didn’t last long,” said McNeice. “He got the bug, and in April 1985 he signed up as a firefighter, and in 1989 I promoted him to captain.”
Black would go on to become a platoon chief in 1998, and in 2004 the town made him deputy fire chief. Black also spent seven years as an associate teacher at the Ontario Fire College.
“Everybody doesn’t get those, only the best we’ve got,” McNeice said of his promotions.
“He was a highly intelligent man who could get things done. He was a great asset to the Gravenhurst Fire Department throughout the years. He was here no matter what rank he had.”
Though he left his newspaper job in 1986, Black is remembered in the local media community as a skilled writer and superb photographer who always had the time to train and mentor others, no matter how hectic the job got.
Metroland North Media production manager Dave Opavsky, who worked under Black’s tutelage at newspapers owned by the Muskoka Publications Group, credits Black with introducing him to the newspaper industry and the Gravenhurst community back in the mid-1980s.
“We’d have three papers going together in a flurry of activity over the day,” said Opavsky. “I had only been a reporter for six months, so John was invaluable in showing me the ropes of how to pull together a broadsheet newspaper, cut-and-paste style, from start to finish.”
When Black became the fire chief at the North Huron Fire Department in 2009, he oversaw the task of amalgamating the Wingham and Blyth fire departments. Even after taking up his new post there, Black could still be seen running out to watch his former colleagues in action when he returned to visit Gravenhurst.
Though he was a new face in North Huron at the time, he certainly wasn’t a stranger to the fire department there. A number of the firefighters in North Huron were his students when he taught for three years at the Emergency Services Training Centre in Blyth.
“John was a professional with a profound sense of community. We were very fortunate to have him as the fire chief in North Huron,” said North Huron Reeve Neil Vincent. “John was a member of our family and a friend to those he worked with. He will be truly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with John’s family at this time.”
Black is survived by his children, Rachel and Brandon, and his wife Catherine. He was 51 years old.
The family will receive friends at the Cavill-Turner Funeral Home at 215-1 Bay Street in Gravenhurst on April 24, from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. A service will be held at Trinity United Church at 390 Muskoka Rd. North in Gravenhurst the following day at 1 p.m., with visitation beginning at noon.
Black’s family is asking donations in his memory be made to the Canadian Cancer Society, the South Muskoka Hospital Foundation, or the Wingham and District Hospital Foundation.
Messages of condolence can be left at www.cavillfuneralhome.com.