A musician by training, John arrived in Fort McMurray in April 1977. The very next day it snowed. He immediately regretted not picking Australia. “Canada was freezing cold,” he recalled. “But the people are the friendliest people I’ve ever known.”
John’s journey to Canada was anything but straightforward. Born in 1945, he grew up with his parents and two younger sisters in Saxonwold, a suburb of Johannesburg. After graduating high school and studying at the Wits University, he left for England in order to study music. It was there that he met his first wife, Jenny, who was born in Zimbabwe. The couple had two children: a son and a daughter. About a year after their second child was born, the couple decided to move to Australia. First though, they would stop in South Africa to visit with family. That visit, which was meant to last one month, ended up lasting a number of years.
While home in South Africa, John began having second thoughts about Australia. Back in London, he had met a Canadian musician who had encouraged him to move to Canada. When he returned to South Africa, he found an enormous parcel from Edmonton, Alberta that contained invitations from various towns and cities in Alberta encouraging him to come with his family and make a life there, even going as far as to promise housing. The offer being too good to pass up, the family made the move in 1977.
John initially worked as musician in residence at a college in Fort McMurray, a job he thoroughly enjoyed. It was during this time that his first marriage ended and he met his second wife, Sara, a Canadian who grew up on a farm in Alberta but was now teaching in Fort McMurray. The two moved to Edmonton where John worked for the provincial government for a time before being offered a job by the Canada Council. This job, in turn, took him to Ottawa. While in Ottawa, he and Sara had two children: another son and daughter.
John’s final job was with the Ontario Arts Council, of which he eventually became director. He retired several years ago, but continues to take pride in the accomplishment of Canadian artists and composers around the world.
Fort McMurray (Alta.)
Johannesburg (South Africa)
01:15 John discusses his parents. His father was Isadore and his mother was Doris. Doris was born in Manchester. His father was a radiologist. Two younger sisters: Linda and Angela.
02:00 John briefly outlines his history. He was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. At age twenty, he moved to London, England to study music. He remained there for ten years, where he married and had two children.
02:37 John discusses his neighbourhood, Saxonwold, and his education from elementary school to high school through university.
03:45 John moved to London to study with several music teachers.
04:45 John married in 1970 in London. He discusses his wife's early history. She was born in Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe) and later moved to Cape Town. Their two children were born in England.
05:50 John explains his reasons for deciding to move to Australia. He explains how a short visit stretched into three years.
06:54 John explains how his plans changed and how his first destination in Canada was Alberta.
08:59 John lived in Alberta for four-to-five years. He describes his work as musician-in-residence at the newly founded college in Fort McMurray.
12:17 John explains how, after his first marriage broke up, he moved to Edmonton with his second wife. He worked as cultural music officer for the Alberta government.
13:37 John describes the job he took with the Canada Council in Ottawa. He remained in Ottawa for five years.
15:10 John discusses the job he took with Jeunesse Musicale (Youth in Music), a position that brought him to Toronto.
16:29 John took a position with the Ontario Arts Council. He explains how he advanced from music officer to director of the Ontario Arts Council, where he remained until his retirement in 2013.
00:00 John discusses his first wife, Jennifer Strong, and their children, Matthew and Lauren. They divorced while living in Fort McMurray. He discusses his second wife, Sarah, and their two children, Nicholas and Anna.
03:09 John recounts how he has reconnected with childhood friends from South Africa.
05:31 John discusses the role of Judaism in his life. His father came to South Africa from Prague.
08:24 John discusses his view of politics in South Africa and its impact on his decision to leave to study in England. He recalls South African friends in England who were anti-apartheid.
11:30 John recalls how he briefly contemplated moving to Israel but reconsidered when he was advised that his non-Jewish wife would be required to convert in order to ensure that his children would have full Israeli status.
15:54 John shares his first impressions of Canada and Canadians.
18:06 John discusses his children's education.
19:25 John discusses his family's observance of Jewish holidays.
20:40 John discusses his views on Israel and his connection to Judaism.
00:00 John discusses his reaction to criticism from various interest groups (Jewish, Palestinian, Polish), who objected to certain arts decisions by the Arts Council of Canada.
03:20 John discusses his adjustment to England and Canada.
05:12 John notes some changes in the South African Jewish community that have occurred since he left.
06:56 John recalls experiences that have made him feel "Canadian."
00:00 John relates a meeting with an old South African friend living in Israel and shares some of his views about Israel.