Windsor Says Farewell to a Local Legend
Story By Matthew St. Amand
Photography by Michael Evans
He walked the streets of Windsor like an Old Testament prophet. His iconic cowboy hat, festooned with feathers, was visible from blocks away and was instantly recognizable. He was known by everyone as “Feather Hat Guy.” Brand Dead T-shirt Co. created a “Feather Hat Man” action figure (sharing funds from sales with the man himself) and Craft Heads Brewing brews Feather Hat Guy-PA beer in his honour. Artist Daniel “Denial” Bombardier painted a wall-sized mural of him off Maiden Lane.
Local legend, Feather Hat Guy, passed away on August 5th.
His name was Ron LaDouceur and he was born in Windsor seventy-five years ago. Not only was he known for his unique hat and endless walking, but Ron was universally regarded as a kindly soul, a wandering gentleman, an enigma who shared scattered fragments of his personal history with anyone who cared to ask.
Rumours about Feather Hat Guy abounded. A few were shared with this writer on Facebook:
One person wrote: “I do believe he and his parents were once wealthy people and once owned a jewelry store.” Untrue.
Another wrote: “I’m not sure if it’s urban legend that the reason he wore the feather in his hat was because he conquered abuse of either drugs or alcohol or both…” Undetermined.
Someone else offered: “Ron grew up in East Windsor in the Central Ave area. Believe he went to Herman Highschool. Worked at Hiram Walker in his younger days.” The Herman High School and Hiram Walker details are correct.
One person who knew Ron was Windsor filmmaker, Mike Evans, creator of the “It Happened In Windsor” YouTube channel.
“I was bartending at the Honest Lawyer on Ouellette in 2000 and saw him walk by all the time,” Mike recalls. “We didn’t know anything about him. I was a huge documentary film fan—especially the work of Michael Moore—so when I caught a glimpse of Rockin’ Ronnie ‘Feather Hat Guy’ in Bowling For Columbine I knew I had to meet him.” It was during an interview between Michael Moore and a Detroit resident at Windsor’s Freedom Festival that Ron and his distinctive hat passed by in the background.
That sighting inspired Mike to make the first of two documentaries about Ron LaDouceur. The first is less than six minutes long.
When asked if other people told him they saw him in Bowling For Columbine, Ron said: “Hundreds of people.”
Mike asked if Ron had any kids. “No… no, I got no kids,” Ron said, “but I got blamed a couple times when I was really young.”
When Mike asked: “What’s your favourite thing about this city?” Ron answered: “I like the people with their open-mindedness.”
Contrary to what many people believed, Ron was not homeless. He resided for years in various rooming houses near the downtown core. His final home was Bruce Villa Manor.
“Ron had odd jobs over the years, working for a time for Hiram Walker,” Mike continues. “He handed out flyers for people because they would see him walking all over the place.”
His main source of income, however, was panhandling. He didn’t hold up a sign or hassle random people on the street, but whenever someone stopped to talk with him—which was all the time—Ron ended each encounter with: “Eh, you gotta couple of bucks for a coffee?” Some people didn’t. Most people did. Ron didn’t care either way.
Ron was always amenable for a chat, but he had places to go. After a few minutes’ conversation, Mike remembers that he would say: “Yeah, I gotta go…” and walk away.
When people tried buying Ron a pack of cigarettes, he refused, but would accept a single smoke if it was offered.
Later in the first documentary, Ron accepted Mike’s offer of a Whopper at Burger King. As Mike filmed in the restaurant, two of Ron’s friends from the street appeared. When they saw Mike’s video camera, they regaled him with stories of life on the street. When they eventually left, Ron turned to Mike and said: “You made me feel important in front of my friends.” Mike was surprised—that was just how he felt about Ron taking time to sit down and talk with him.
A few years later, Mike made a twenty-minute documentary about Ron titled Finding Feather Hat Guy. He found Ron still traversing the city, meeting people, doing his thing. One small detailed that struck this writer: in all of the footage of Ron, he was always clean shaven and his eyeglasses were in good shape. The man knew how to take care of himself.
Finding Feather Hat Guy premiered at the Windsor International Film Festival in 2019. During the Q&A, Mike was asked by an audience member: “What do you hope happens from making this documentary?”
Mike replied: “I don’t know, I just want something good to happen for Ron.”
“And at that moment,” Mike remembers, “Vincent Georgie, who was standing next to me said: ‘Why don’t we make something good happen for Ron, folks?’ and a popcorn bucket was passed around. People filled it with cash.”
The audience contributed $800 that evening. The money was transferred to Mike who gave Ron $100 a week for the next eight weeks.
After Ron passed away, Mike spoke with an administrator at Bruce Villa. The administrator said: “I have Ron’s hat here and I don’t know what to do with it.”
“I know what to do with it,” Mike said. “Contact Matt Pritchard at Chimczuk Museum and get it in there as part of their collection.”
Mike connected the administrator with Matt and as of this writing, arrangements were being made to transfer Ron’s hat to the museum’s collection. Along with the hat, Ron’s action figure will be added to the exhibit along with a can of Feather Hat Guy-PA beer.
Windsor lost someone special on August 5th. Ron LaDouceur is fondly remembered by the many people who knew him.