Born in Suriname, South America, John came to Port Alberni in 1974 with his parents and two younger brothers, Martin and Ronald. Of Dutch ancestry, they arrived just before the country’s independence from Holland to meet John’s grandfather’s brother, who had moved to Port Alberni 25 years earlier.
“I enjoyed growing up in Port Alberni,” John said. “I was very involved in sports and played soccer for the Jack’s Tire team. I also kept busy hunting and fishing.”
When they arrived, John’s father got a job in the wood room of the pulp mill, while his mother worked as a caretaker of Hansen Hall for many years. They were hardworking to make ends meet, so after graduating from ADSS, John too, jumped into the workforce.
“I worked at the pulp mill for two years and saved to pay for school,” he said.
From there, he moved to Vancouver to work in the travel industry before opening his own travel agency. At the same time, he attended night school to attain his economics degree from UBC.
“It was a juggling act, sometimes with three jobs,” John said.
Being business and finance savvy helped, though, and his travel agency was one of the largest in Vancouver at the time.
“It was during Expo ‘86 and we had 10 per cent of [Expo’s] visitors come through our doors,” he said.
The year before, he went to South America with his parent’s for their 25th wedding anniversary. While there, he met a local woman who was teaching. The two hit it off and returned to Canada to get married. They were together until the early 2000s while John continued to work in the field of finance.
After leaving the travel agency, John had an investment banking firm in Vancouver and had an offshore investment bank before selling it to ING. He then did consulting and portfolio management working for wealthy individuals in over 90 countries.
“I did business in 67 of those countries which gave me a good understanding of the third world and what made the investment shakers tick,” John said.
Then in 1998, he made another move down south. He bought a large ranch in Suriname to honour his forefathers from Holland who were there in 1845.
“I felt like I was betraying them by not doing anything there but was successful all over the world,” he said.
It was a project he worked on over the winter, but his wife did not enjoy the lifestyle and they divorced in 2000. In 2005, he remarried a woman from Guyana there and the couple had two children. After their second child was born, the couple wanted to move to Canada, but red tape prevented it for a number of years.
“Since 9-11, the country wanted the DNA of my child to prove her citizenship,” John said. “She was born in Suriname, but they didn’t recognize her citizenship. They saw her as Canadian because I am. It is an absurd system and I took the Canadian government to court.”
After requiring a test from a Canadian clinic, an embassy representative needed to fly there with it and a lot of money spent, John eventually won the case. By the beginning of last year, they were able to get a passport for their daughter.
While he was unable to leave the country, John spent his time managing a hotel and doing consulting work with the government of Suriname.
Just over a year ago, John’s life took a turn and he has had to overcome challenges. Last October, his wife was diagnosed with a brain tumour and within two days had passed away.
“It was a big shock,” he said. “She was half my age and wanted kids,” he said.
John returned to Port Alberni to be closer to family, raise his children and get some projects off the ground.
As a single father of two girls, aged four and seven, another setback struck when John fell off scaffolding and broke his knee last summer.
He decided to use the time to write. What started out as a 12session seminar on international investment banking turned into a book on the topic. He said it is a good guide for those who have someone managing their retirement portfolio or stocks.
“It is good to understand how those companies actually work,” he said.
Halfway through his next book on offshore investing, John also has two projects he wants to pursue to help boost the local economy. He is in talks with both Mike Surrell of the Lady Rose and an architect who is in the preliminary stages of sketches for a 100-room apartment complex at Harbour Quay. He said the partnership would be a good fit for Port Alberni and if it goes through, hopes the construction would be complete within a year.
Another joint venture involves a factory in China that assembles electronic vehicles and scooters for the North American market. He said Port Alberni’s deep water port could be a destination for ships to carry the Asian containers and a local workforce would easily be trained for assembly jobs.
“My limited mobility is the only thing stopping me from moving too quickly on it,” John said.
Currently half-way through his next book and raising his two girls, he said the one thing he has learned over the past year is patience.
“Now I am doing things I haven’t had to do before,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for stay-at-home moms. How they keep it all together, I don’t know.”
John is also a member of the local Mormon Church and recently joined the Alberni Valley Lions Club. He intends to donate some proceeds of both the printed and electronic versions of his book to the Lions.
“I want to be able to give back to the place I grew up in and now where I am raising my kids,” he said.