The original McNish family came to Prince Rupert in 1958, with John and Grace who raised six boys and generations to come of Rotarians, thespians and volunteers.
John, a spry 84-year-old who smiles with his eyes when he spins yarns about times with his boys and his wife and high school sweetheart.
Married in their early twenties, the couple moved around the province to wherever John was transferred for work until they landed in Rupert.
Right away, John dug himself into the Rotary Club.
“Rotary was really quite a dynamic organization in Prince Rupert then. Those were the days when many people belonged to service clubs,” he said. “It was a way of life at that time, it was a way that people provided community service.”
When asked what Rotary achievements he’s been proud of he describes in detail about building a nurses residence in the 1920s to attract nurses to work at the hospital, and sending fish to England at the tail end of World War Two. Despite not being present for either of those achievements it becomes apparent that history is more than just a hobby for grandfather McNish.
For a few years he was the president of the board that runs the Prince Rupert City and Regional Archives. Still a member, last May he was interviewed by a Seattle news station about the port city that dubbed him as a “town historian.”
When he speaks on the history of the city and his own story, his enthusiasm is contagious.
One of his former occupations was with the collection business. He served documents for lawyers and once he was asked by a lady in Massett, in jest, if he broke people’s legs.
McNish laughs at the memory and said he didn’t break any legs but once he was jostling with his younger sister and she slipped and broke her clavicle.
“I still feel guilty about it 70 years later,” he said, adding that he thought about that moment just the other day.
Then, as he straightens in his seat and leans in, he mentions that he did do some boxing in his youth. It taught him to look after himself, and the sport was big at the time, he said.
Storytelling, his grandson James McNish said, is part of John’s character.
“He loves to tell people stories. Growing up with him he always has a fantastic memory about people and how they’re linked with other people in Prince Rupert,” James said.
His grandfather’s constant engagement in the community has helped him see these linkages. John was also president of the Rotary Club, and in the 1980s he was president of the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce. Recently, the chamber made John a lifetime member.
He was a part of the chamber when they lobbied the federal government to turn the port into a corporation for more local control.
As secretary of the chamber, he prepared a brief to support the idea.
“I feel that I had a small part in it,” he said. “In those days we used to send resolutions to the governments to tell them how to do things, and sometimes they would listen to us.”
His stories of the city continue to grow with each tourist he meets as a volunteer ambassador on cruise ship days.
In June, when the luxury cruise ship Seabourn Sojourn sailed into the harbour, John manned the informationbooth with his longtime friend, John Basso.
In his red and white shirt, with Prince Rupert written in the centre of a maple leaf, John said it has been two years since he was asked to take the ambassador role.
One misty day – he said as he sets the scene for a recent memory — a cruise ship came in with people from the southern states.
“Sometimes people apologize for the rain, and one lady said ‘listen, we’re from Florida. The reason we took this coastal cruise was to get away from the heat,’” John said with a shake of his head.
Despite welcoming thousands of cruise passengers throughout the season, he hasn’t been on a cruise ship himself. Before Grace passed away in 2011 they thought about it, but now he wishes they had gone for it.
Instead, he’ll collect stories from others along their travels as he welcomes them from inside his booth.
“I appreciate life and I’ll continue to be as active in the community as I can be. I enjoy my grandchildren and I have two sons here and three grandchildren who are here most of the time,” he said, then describes what each of them are doing, and how the McNish name has continued to grow.