John Gallant in conversation with Mina Wong
John has been a residential building custodian for many years on my street. There is something special about John: he is always curious about fixing problems. For John, he would simply say, “It’s all about learning”.
I recently asked to talk with him about his love of learning.
MW: From what I know about you, you came to Toronto from New Brunswick, and then worked as a custodian. How did you decide to do that?
JG: I was the runt in a family of three brothers and four sisters. When I was in high school, my folks were retired, my brothers and sisters all married with their own kids. I could’ve stayed in Moncton cleaning the art gallery, but Mom said I should see the world, and so I came to Toronto with some friends.
My buddy, David got a job as carpenter for an apartment building and I just tagged along. I was seventeen, not good enough to be an apprentice, but I liked helping David, and did the cleaning part of the deal. Ha, they called me “custodian”, a big shoe to fill, but it was great.
MW: That’s the building right here, on our street, right?
JG: Now I am custodian for the whole building. David has a better job now, but I am still here, cleaning the building and helping people with problems in their apartments.
MW: I think you really like what you are doing. So, how long has it been that you are custodian here?
JG: I came here twenty years ago with David. Lots of people and things have changed in the building.
In this time, I have learned to be a real custodian by figuring out how things work, and also by learning new things when helping people with problems in their apartments. The managers appreciate how I like to learn and solve problems.
It’s all about learning. That’s how a person becomes better. You need to learn new things every day and be happy about it.
MW: It’s great that you love learning. You must have a lot of stories to tell.
JG: When I was seventeen, I was just a kid. By working with David, I learned carpentry – how to fix walls, doors, floors, closets, cupboards, cabinets, and all the rest. I painted them and the first time was lousy. But I got serious and really liked doing a good job.
David took courses to be an electrician, and he taught me a thing or two about electrical panels. One time during a power out, we made sure all the emergency lights were on. Most of the time, I would help with electrical maintenance in the building.
I don’t think I will be an electrician, but I have learned enough about electricity to look after the building. If an apartment has a problem with wiring, I will learn to fix it, too.
Nothing is impossible if I want to learn it.
MW: Have you always loved to learn about all sorts of things?
JG: To be frank, I am not smart like people who have lots of education and make lots of money.
But I like to find out how things work. If there’s a problem, I will spend days learning to fix it.
My folks couldn’t send me to college, but bless their souls, they said I should just go and make something of myself. They were happy I was cleaning an art gallery, and they are happy I am a professional custodian with lots of responsibilities.
My folks, they never finished high school, but they always say, “If you love learning, you will never be poor.”
MW: In these twenty years, you have gained a successful career through continuous learning. What else has happened since you were seventeen?
JG: Lots have changed. As a kid, I hung out with people in Toronto and learned many things about friendship. I found out some people just wanted to take advantage of kids, like con them into trouble with the law.
One girl wanted to marry me. But she liked me only because I had a stable income and a nice apartment.
After breaking up with her, I didn’t have a girl for a long time. I learned that many people want a secure lifestyle but not the responsibilities of a real relationship. It took me several years to meet Ida, and a long time to make sure she’s the girl to spend my life with.
Ida has a kind heart, and she is proud of me. She’s studying interior design and loves carpentry, too. We’re happy.
Well, thanks for writing my story for Learning Curves.
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