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(Updated 4:30 p.m., Feb. 12)
Maverick entrepreneur left his mark on the community

By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Bearbrook Game Meat owner and 50-year resident of Cumberland, Walter Henn, passed away on Feb. 5 at the age of 77. File photo

Self-made man, one of a kind, maverick entrpreneur, devoted family man -- all would describe Walter Henn, who passed away last Friday at the age of 76.

On Wednesday, more than 400 people jammed the Maple Leaf Almrausch Club in Carlsbad Springs to pay their last respects and share their favourite memories of a man who lived life on his own terms and epitomized the Frank Sinatra classsic "My Way".

It's not so much that he was a rule-breaker, he just wasn't much of a rule follower. He blazed his own trail.

Walter was a dear friend and a huge supporter of OrleansOnline.ca. He was also one of the few people that got away with calling me Freddie.

I first met Walter in 2005 at the Orléans Oktoberfest celebration. I fell in love with his wife Inge's sauerkraut and potato salad, which is still the best I've ever had, and I somehow talked him into bringing the Bearbrook Game Meat food truck and trailer to the Greater Orléans Canada Celebration on Petrie Island as the main food concession.

He was a little leery about coming at first, but by the end of the night he was over the moon. He couldn't believe the crowds and he couldn't believe how much work went into staging the all-volunteer event.

Walter was born in Germany in 1939 in the North Sea village of Cuxhaven, which sits at the mouth of the Elbe River near Hamburg.

He immigrated to Canada at the age of 18 with a couple of suitcases and $50 to his name. He spoke very little English and worked at a series of menial jobs, including picking worms which he sold to weekend fishermen just to get by.

He returned to Germany in 1961 to marry Inge and together they came back to Canada and settled down in Toronto.

For the first few years Walter earned a living as a traveling salesman, pawning his wares in rural communities and along the backroads of southern and central Ontario.

He eventually journeyed to the eastern part of the province and was immediately taken by the tranquil landscape. One day while driving down 5th Line Road, which is Dunning Road today, Walter saw a man on a tractor and pulled over to inquire if there were any farms for sale in the area.

The farmer was Leslie Armstrong and he directed Walter to a dairy farm on Magladry Road which he and Inge ended up buying with money they borrowed from her parents.

They eventually sold the dairy farm n 1972 and purchased a prroperty on Russell Road iwhere they started out raising hogs and poultry.

When Walter began questioning the need for a middle man to slaughter the hogs and get them to market, he opened his own slaughterhouse and meat store.

When he needed additional refrigeration for the meat, he got into the refridgeration and walk-in cooler business which grew into a major enterprise with sales in 20 different countries.

Walter's international success led to a reception with Pierre Trudeau in 1973, and an audience with the Queen. In 1989, he was invited to join a trade mission to Russia with then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Over time, the Henns opened a Red & White grocery store and a modest bed and breakfast. They added a large banquet hall, cabins, an indoor swimming pool and a petting zoo/game farm to attract European tourists.

At its busiest, the Bearbrook Farm Resort welcomed 200 buses a season and employed close to 80 peoplem but busuness dropped off sharply after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade centre in 2001, leaving them having to rely on Handful of weddings every year and sales from their elk and buffalo farm.

The final blow came in 2008 when the property was assessed at $1.3 million, more than tripling their municipal tax bill.

After he unsuccessfully tried to appeal the assessment, Walter boarded up the business, and he and Inge moved to another property fhey owned on Dunning Road where he started a meat processing operation; raised buffalo, deer and peacocks, and opened an exotic game meat store that sells everything from rattlesnake to emu.

Outside the business, Walter was deeply involved with the local German community and twice served as president of the Maple Leaf – Almrausch Club.

A survivor of a heart attack in 1992 and colon cancer surgery in 1998, Walter began having heart issues about six months ago and this condition steadily deteriorated. Despite his condition he never stopped working.

The night before he passed away he was putting the finishing touches on a new menu which he had promised the owners of his favourite Italian restaurant. He also spent the better part of three days putting pen to paper to write down the recipies for his sausages, pepperettes and other items, which up until now, only existed in his head.

Inge plans to continue to operate Bearbrook Game Meat with Sharen Armstrong, and for that their customers are tremendously greatful.

Walter Henn was a one off. He was generous with his time, talent and money, but shied away from taking any credit. He often came to the aid of friends and neighbours alike. When he found out the ladies at Bearbrook Anglican Church didn't have a fridge to store their fruit to make pies, he bought them one, and he often provided food for community events and fundraising activities at the Club.

His passing has left a void in the community and among his family and friends that can only be filled by the memories he's left in his tremendous wake.

Walter Henn is survived by his wife Inge, daughter Heidi, son Herbert, mother Frieda and his grandchildren Josh and Shayanna.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

 

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Posted Jan. 12



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