The machinist and ambassador
PRINCE RUPERT — When the largest cruise ship of the year arrived in the harbour mid-May, one of the information ambassadors volunteered his 87 years of knowledge of Prince Rupert to the tourists.
John Basso, still sharp as a tack and all class in his tweed jacket and crisp collared shirt, has a collection of memories that includes dairies, how the city accommodated soldiers in World War Two, working at the dry dock and running a machine shop.
“It was great in them days when I was growing up. We used to walk all the way to the end of 11th Avenue and there used to be dairies there, cows. They had about four dairies at one time,” Basso said.
He notes the up and downs over the years but seems to draw his cheerfulness from positive moments. Over the summer months, when the city with full of American and Canadian soldiers, he worked at the dry dock for the Canadian Fishing Company.
“Oh, and you should have seen it here. All around here there were buildings. American soldiers had built buildings all around here and up where the courthouse is there were barracks all around there and barracks down here (by the harbour),” he said.
With his friends, he would take the Americans across the bay to go fishing. The soldiers would carry their guns with them when they walked through the bush to the creek where there were tons of salmon.
“You should have seen them. They walked right into the water, in the creek there, trying to catch the salmon. It was so much fun. Goodness, we enjoyed ourselves when we were young.”
After Grade 11, Basso started working at the Standard Machine Shop on Cow Bay Road. For the next 17 years he took his apprenticeship, became a machinist repairing boats or anything that required engine work.
He met his wife, Evelyn, in 1952, when one of his friends was “going with” one of her friends. They met on 11th Avenue and he asked her out.
“She went out with me and the next thing I know I asked her to marry me,” he said with a chuckle. They’ve been married for 64 years and raised three boys.
In 1969, he started his own business — Johnny’s Machine Shop — which is still in operation today on Cow Bay Road. His oldest son has taken over the shop for the past 20 years, and Basso thinks he’s due for retirement soon. He’s not sure what he’ll do with the building.
His wife stayed at home with their boys, helped John with his business, and when the kids were grown she became one of the longest-serving members of City Hall in Prince Rupert.
Although Basso has spent his whole life in the city, the second-generation Canadian made several trips to Italy with Evelyn over the years. His own father came to Canada from Italy in 1929, and his mother and brother followed suit months later. His father started out in Nova Scotia where he heard other Italian immigrants were moving to Prince Rupert for opportunity. His father took the train to Edmonton, nearly froze to death, and then continued onto the North Coast where he built several homes and found work at the cannery.
Volunteering as an information ambassador for the cruise ships is just one of his commitments to bolster the community. Basso was an original member of Crime Stoppers, he is a part of the Garden Club and for many years he was a member of the Prince Rupert Rotary Club until it conflicted with his cribbage games at the Seniors Centre and he chose to spend his afternoons at the latter.
When tourists first step off the ship and they ask Basso for advice on where to see the eagles, he directs them to the trees by the Sunken Gardens.
“They step up on the mast over here. They’re usually up on top there. They seem to know when the ship comes in,” he said.
When he was in his booth in May, a couple passengers thanked him for his advice and were thrilled with spotting the eagles on their afternoon in the city.
Basso missed the last cruise ship on Sunday, May 29 to visit his son in Vancouver but he’s back for the next 10 ships scheduled to arrive this year. Tourists will get the pleasure of meeting a man who is still enthusiastic about this community after nearly 88 years of living here.