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September 30, 2016 – Henderson: Essex County is Ontario’s best-kept secret


Four years ago Michael Prue was a big dog in the Ontario Legislature where, as NDP finance critic, he spent countless hours hounding then finance minister Dwight Duncan.

That life came to a screeching halt one morning in June, 2014 when he woke to discover he was no longer MPP for the Toronto riding of Beaches-East York. Overnight counting had turned a razor-thin election victory into a 431-vote defeat at the hands of the Kathleen Wynne Liberal bandwagon.

Prue, former mayor of the now defunct Toronto borough of East York, was out of a job. He was also without a pension from his four terms at Queen’s Park, with the once lucrative MPP pension plan having been blown up by Mike Harris and replaced with severance money.

Today, at age 68, Prue is living proof there’s life after politics, provided one is shrewd enough to cash out of high-priced Toronto and relocate to Essex County, the best darn place in this province to retire.

This week Prue electrified the Amherstburg council chamber with a speech urging councillors to reverse course and support spending $1.1 million to purchase the 200-year-old Belle Vue house, a key piece in the town’s drive to become one of Canada’s leading heritage destinations.

I interviewed Prue a few years ago when he was hammering the Dalton McGuinty regime for dragging its heels on Windsor’s border infrastructure file. So I was intrigued to know how this lifelong Torontonian, raised in the tough Regent Park public housing project, landed down here.

Fate, it turns out, played a prominent role. Prue and his wife, Shirley, had been scouting around Ontario for several years, looking for a summer home and a place to eventually retire from the chaos of Toronto. Keeping their T.O. house wasn’t an option. The money from its sale would bankroll their retirement.

They had their hearts set on a house in Goderich. But a dispute over knob-and-tube wiring soured them on the purchase and on the town. That turned out to be a lucky call, given that the house was subsequently destroyed by a tornado.

With Goderich off the table, the choice was between, “the two nicest towns in Ontario, Brockville and Amherstburg.” The latter, a home on Bob-Lo Island to be specific, won out because of the town’s charm and its remarkable history. Shirley, with multiple history degrees, had written papers on the War of 1812 and the Underground Railroad so Amherstburg seemed a natural fit.

Regrets? None. Amherstburg and Essex County have turned out to be everything Prue hoped they would be. He’s not just a fan. He’s a pitchman, a proselytizer, who spreads the good news — backed by a collection of house photos — whenever he meets friends in Toronto.

“Don’t be crazy. Buy down here for a quarter of the price,” he tells Torontonians contemplating cottage country properties. “You can buy something many times larger and nicer for the same price,” he advises. “I tell them they can pocket tons of money and they’re really intrigued.”

Prue has found everything he needs. No fan of winter, he relishes our early spring and extended fall. An avid fisherman, he likes the angling options. He brews his own beer in Windsor, patronizes area wineries and restaurants, loves the peace and quiet and absence of traffic congestion and, above all, has discovered “incredibly nice people.”

Prue concedes that sitting on Amherstburg’s committee of adjustment is a long way from “having a go at Dwight Duncan” in the Legislature but it’s his way of giving back. It’s also a heck of a good way to get to know the town and its residents.

Many Torontonians have moved here but he’s puzzled, given our obvious advantages and big potential, why even more haven’t discovered our region.

With drum-beating advocates like Prue, it’s only a matter of time before Ontario’s best-kept secret goes viral.


Gord Henderson, Windsor Star, September 30th, 2016