TORONTO - A veteran Queen's Park journalist described by Premier Dalton McGuinty as a "fixture" at the Ontario legislature has passed away after battling cancer.

Eric Dowd died Christmas Day at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto surrounded by his family.

He was 79.

"Eric has been a fixture at Queen's Park for decades, and every single day he showed an incredible dedication to his craft and a genuine passion for journalism," McGuinty said in a statement Tuesday after word of Dowd's passing was made public.

"I was sad to learn of Eric's passing. He will be missed by his readers and by all of us who had the pleasure of knowing him."

Dowd was born in Birkenhead, England, on Jan. 15, 1931.

He had been reporting from the Ontario legislature since the 1960s, and was still seen daily at Queen's Park, often until after eleven p.m., even during his cancer treatments.

Despite his age, Dowd still put in longer hours most days than other journalists and the Ontario politicians he covered as a newspaper reporter and columnist -- originally for the Toronto Telegram.

In his final years, Dowd was a freelance columnist whose writings were picked up by newspapers across the province, known for his sometimes blistering attacks on the government of the day.

In earlier years, "Eric was a journalistic giant at Queen's Park," said Ian Urquhart, editorial page editor at the Toronto Star, who called Dowd a mentor.

"He knew everyone in government and opposition, and they all opened up to him about what was happening behind the scenes," said Urquhart.

"In his later years, his column provided a wonderful historical perspective on issues and personalities. He had forgotten more about Queen's Park than most of us ever knew."

Scott White, Editor in Chief of The Canadian Press, called Dowd a legend at Queen's Park.

"While he didn't write for big city publications, he was the voice of Ontario politics for many readers throughout the province," said White.

"Away from the keyboard, he was a kind, gentle and generous man who never failed to offer a hand or an instant history lesson to younger journalists."

Wendy McCann, Ontario bureau chief for The Canadian Press, also remembered Dowd's willingness to help younger reporters.

"He really helped the next generation put politics into context, and without that context we wouldn't have been doing our jobs," said McCann.

Dowd's small office on the top floor of the legislature is jammed with boxes of meticulous files complied over decades that he hoped would become part of the collection in the Queen's Park library.

Speaking in his office on Dec. 23, Dowd said he had just spent the previous five nights in hospital but was looking forward to spending Christmas with his family.

Dowd also expressed great pleasure at knowing some of his recent columns were picked up by a newspaper in Winnipeg, saying it was one of the great Canadian cities known by people in England.

Dowd defined the words "institutional memory" in an age where there are fewer and fewer reporters covering provincial politics, and none for as long as he did.

In his final months, a visibly weakened Down often left his hospital bed to visit the legislature to watch the daily question period and do a little work before returning for more treatment.

Dowd is survived by his wife Georgina, daughters Katherin, Elizabeth and Charlotte and sons Thomas and Dominic, and by six grandchildren.

A remembrance service will be held in the Trull North Toronto Funeral Home, (2704 Yonge St.) Tuesday, Jan. 4, at 11:00 o'clock.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Canadian Cancer Society.