John Nalon – Gananoque’s “Mr. History”

By: Paul Scott

Volume 16, Issue 4, April 2021

If there was a “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” category for the person who has continuously gotten “fan mail” for over 36 years, that person would be John Nalon, president of the Gananoque Historical Society.  Now, John may not be your typical rock star, but he is certainly appreciated by the 857 members of this history-lover’s organization.

John Nalon, Gananoque's "Mr. History." [Photo by Lorraine Payette]

And when the membership dues start rolling in, it is hard to keep up with the words of encouragement:

"Here's a little extra with my membership to help with expenses."
"Keep up the good work, John, really enjoy the newsletters."
"When the newsletter arrives, everything stops! Thanks John."

With a keen memory for facts, figures, and faces, he can surely recall some little tid-bit of information about most members.  And although time consuming, he enjoys replying to them in writing.

February 2021 issue of the Gananoque Historical Society Newsletter by John Nalon. The first issue was published in 1984 

Forty years at the helm of the Historical Society – four to six meetings, and two newsletters per year.  That’s 180 meetings, and 145 guest speakers (one meeting is the annual Christmas dinner).  Currently, he is working on the 75th newsletter, for a total of 2023 pages to date.  And get this, he writes all the stories in long hand – corrections are made with white-out – and then he types them onto a word processor.  Then his wife Barbara re-types everything onto her computer and the disk is then given to the graphic artist for layout and printing.  When in jest, it is pointed out that there are now computers, his response is, “I know, I know, but I’m not going to change now, Paul!”

“Some folks feel that I run it as a one man show.  But I do appreciate the many folks who give their time and others who stand by ready to assist, whether it’s delivering newsletters by hand, making home cooked goodies, or items for door prizes.”  Barbara looks after the registration table and handles kitchen duties while John conducts the meetings.  Seventy-five is the average attendance.

John does like working on projects on his own and at his own pace.  “ I am definitely not a committee person,” he admits.

Where did this insatiable appetite for Gananoque history come from?  He remembers it well; Grade 7, Mrs. Abeles class at St. Joseph’s school.  “One of our major assignments that year was the history of Gananoque and I was blown away by the stories and the town history that were presented.  I was hooked, but I didn’t realize just how much, at the time!”

John organizes one of the most popular winter events. [Photo by Lorraine Payette] 

As a young boy, John had a fascination for postage stamps and became a passionate collector.  He had three complete albums of first issue stamps from 1851 to 1912, all meticulously presented on custom printed pages, and assembled with the care and attention that was typical of him.  John is a perfectionist.

After high school graduation, he trained and worked at Thomson Rivets as a machinist and tool maker for 10 years. Then, the unthinkable happened.  In 1975 Canada Post was setting up letter carrier delivery in Gananoque.  He kept being reminded by a friend to go and try the test.  They should both apply.  Finally, John relented and put in his application only to find out later that his friend never quite got around to it!  He wrote the test and had mixed feelings about becoming a letter carrier.

John delivered mail to homes in Gananoque for 30 years, and that leads us into the next chapter of  his life.  Always one to enjoy talking to people, John didn’t just deliver letters, he also engaged with the people he met, and that led to his renewed interest in local history.  Folks would meet him at the door, “I’ve been cleaning out the attic and came across these old pictures, would you be interested in them?” The answer was never, NO.  Word got around town!

About the same time, he discovered old post cards and became an avid collector, something that he still enjoys.

By the late 1970s, the current society members led the charge in the complete restoration of the Town Hall. They were tired and decided to take a break and see if others could re-ignite the flame. An advertisement was run in The Reporter and the first meeting in the early 1980’s had 19 attend.  That was the catalyst.  John Nalon agreed to design a newsletter that landed on the street and in homes in September 1984.  The interest was phenomenal.

How could this happen?  It came down to goals, challenges, and passion. Remember, John Nalon was a letter carrier.  He met folks on the street every day. Everyone was a potential member of the Historical Society.  At first, the idea was to try to get 100 members.  That goal attained, he decided to go for 200, then 500! And when there were 500 members, he eyed the 1,000 mark.  When the society grew to over 1100 members, he got phone calls from the president of the Kingston society asking what the actual membership was – an obvious typo they thought!

So why does he keep doing this?  He grew up in a family that was always willing to help out, to give back to the community.  His father Bill served in World War II for six years, and after the war returned to his position at Parmenter and Bulloch in Gananoque.  He was active in The Royal Canadian Legion, Fire Department, the South Street Armories, Knights of Columbus, and was mayor of Gananoque for 12 years.  When there was anything going on in these organizations’ Ladies Auxiliaries, his mother Mary was there, with her sleeves rolled up.

“I have met so many good people and have so many good friends as a result.  There is no better place to live than Gananoque.  This is my way of giving back to a community that has given me so much,” he said.

What about those old photos that are the basis for his newsletters?  A few years ago, the Arthur Child Heritage Centre/1000 Islands History Museum, provided space and the Historical Society paid for the renovation with a Town sponsored grant.  The photos now are catalogued, organized by street, and safely stored in the Gananoque Historical Society room.

“My hope is that some day the Historical Society room will be open to the public, and that all the photos can be digitized and preserved electronically.  The thing is, I’m not looking for more work,” he concludes.   John had open-heart surgery about 20 years ago, and although he enjoys good health, he finds that he does have to pace himself.  And he notes that organizing meetings, and producing the newsletter, are things that he can do from home.

John and Barb have been married for 50 years, have a son Chris, a daughter Pam, and three granddaughters.

John Nalon has a life-long love of local history and from that, we continue to benefit.  Thank you John, for all you do to preserve and share Gananoque’s rich history.

By the way, although John recently sold the majority of his stamp collection at auction, he still collects postal history items and post cards related to Gananoque’s past. If you have any items like this, I’m sure that he’d be glad to hear from you!

By Paul Scott

Paul Scott is the retired publisher of The Ganaoque Reporter and a reluctant re-enactor who was very involved in bringing the annual Heritage Days to Gananoque in the 1990’s and was recycled for the Commemoration events of the War of 1812 in 2012.He is a member of the Gananoque Lions Club and has been secretary for 40 years as well as a 60 year member of Grace United Church choir.  Paul lives in Gananoque with wife Carolyn; enjoys time with his three grown children, their partners and five grandchildren.  He is an avid downhill skier and cyclist, and from time to time writes the odd article when pressed!

Editor's note: Versions of this article were first printed in Gananoque's Thousand Islands History Museum's Fall newsletter.  It was also printed in the Gananoque Historical Society's February 2021 Newsletter. This editor knows John Nalon and knows how much his research is appreciated. We want to introduce him to our readers in the United States in the hopes that his passion will be replicated in other communities.

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Posted in: Volume 16, Issue 4, April 2021, People, Places

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