Day 132 - John

Day 132 - John (2nd person I approached)
May 12, 2014 - John had just had dinner and was reading a magazine when I approached him. He asked me how long I would need to chat, and I told him at least five minutes, but that it depended on what he wanted to talk about. For the next 45 minutes, we shared stories and a few laughs. 


John was born in the village of Dunlop, on the west coast of Scotland. The village of Dunlop dates back to 1260.

“The name in part comes from ‘Dun’ meaning hill (or castle) and ‘Lop’ (luib in Gaelic) meaning dip or bend. Sure enough there is a hill with a large dip near the bottom. There also was a family that took the name of the village. One of their sons went to Ireland, where he developed the first pneumatic tire, and the Dunlop tire was created. It’s name is related to the village I was born in,” said John. He is the oldest of four children, all boys.


John went to elementary school in Dunlop.

“There wasn’t a secondary (high) school in Dunlop so I took a train about three miles to the nearest secondary school. I completed my schooling at Kilmarnock Academy,” he said. After school, John went to university.

“I went for a number of different reasons. One because I had done well enough in school to attend university. Another being because my parents wanted me to. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I started, nor when I finished. My degree was in Mathematics. I was very much an outdoor person, and I drifted towards actuarial sciences. University and particularly studying for an arts degree in mathematics was a six-days-a-week endeavour. On the seventh day I would hike or ride my bicycle. It was a good way to unwind and I often went alone. I did a lot of cycling,” John said.

“When I was finishing my degree, I tried to go for another degree in science. At the time, if you already had one degree, you weren’t permitted to go for a second degree without serving to the military first. I got drafted and spent two years in the military.”


During his time in the military, John spent 18 months stationed in Germany.

“This was ten years after the war. That time in Germany really changed things for me. The town I was in was near Hamburg, which had literally been destroyed by the Allies toward the end of the war. There was a grid of streets that remained and no buildings. They had all been destroyed by bombs,” said John.

“What amazed me was in the 18 months that I was there, they rebuilt everything. The workers were industrious and focussed and everyone laboured very hard. It was incredible to see their determination.”


Upon his return to Scotland, John felt he had been changed from his experience.

“Back in Britain, there was strife and poverty and apathy. People striking for breaks at work. People weren’t working. It was just such a different approach compared to what the people were doing to rebuild their lives after the war in Germany,” he said. John went back to university and became a teacher.

“I met my future wife while in teacher training. If you were dating someone on a regular basis, people would start to say ‘that’s John’s girlfriend.' That meant much more than it does nowadays. After going steady for about eight or nine months we lived together. It wasn’t as shocking as you might think, because it was assumed that that would be the person you would spend the rest of your life with.” 


They both completed university as qualified teachers and attempted to immigrate to New Zealand.

“We never made it. I had several conversations with immigration and they never said not to go. But they did tell us that as teachers, they had more than enough in New Zealand and that work might be difficult to find,” said John. One day, he ran into the father of someone who had also gone to the same school for teacher training.

“My friend's father suggested that we contact her in Canada. She wrote telling us that there were many teacher jobs going in Canada. She said that we could decide where we wanted to work, and that we’d recoup the travel expenses within the first year.” Some time later, John and his wife took a ship to the east coast of Canada, and then boarded a train heading west. “We got off the train in Edmonton but we knew that we didn’t want to stay there. I’ve not been back there since either.”


They continued on to British Columbia.

“We got off the train in Kamloops. We knew our friend was teaching somewhere near there,” John told me. They met with a Superintendent of Schools, who asked them where they wanted to teach. That first year they taught in the village of Lytton, where the Thompson and Fraser Rivers meet in the Fraser Canyon.

“We moved around a bit trying different areas for a year at a time. We lived in Bamfield (Vancouver Island) for a year. We also taught in Cumberland, in the Comox Valley (Vancouver Island). That was the toughest year I ever had as a teacher. It was an old mining town. There was a lot of violence, both from the students and in their home life as well. There was a lot of aggression and it was very stressful as a teacher trying to keep the classroom under control. We had our first daughter by then and you could tell she was picking up on the tension from me when I got home. We left after the year was over,” said John.


There was a brief time later in John’s working life that he left teaching.

“I was training to become a land surveyor. I think I would have been good at it. It was outdoors, it used my mathematics skills and eventually I would have become my own boss. However, at the time that I was completing my training, we had our third child by then, and there wasn’t going to be much work coming forward. Land surveyors were getting laid-off, so I went back to teaching. It’s too bad. I know I would have liked to have become a surveyor,” he said. 


John remained a teacher for the rest of his career.

“We ended up living and teaching in West Vancouver. That’s where I retired from. Two of our four daughters were very involved in dance. My wife got a job at a music academy here in Vancouver, so out of convenience we moved to the west side of Vancouver,” he said. They have eight grandchildren, or as John put it “four times two.” I asked John if he minded telling me how long he and his wife had been married. He hesitated, lifting his hat and scratching his head a bit.

“Well,” he says “We’re sort of divorced. I say sort of because we are divorced, but we’re still very good friends. If you don’t mind, I’d rather not talk much about that. We get along very well. I was just on the phone with her an hour ago. We just don’t live together.” 


He then tells me about a plan that he overheard his granddaughter talking about with one of his daughters.

“They were talking about possibly having a celebration to mark our 60th anniversary. Funny thing is, they couldn’t figure what they’d call it. I imagine later this year I’ll find out what they came up with!” #notastranger