By Jake Kivanc
Sitting down with a wide but relaxed smile while on his lunch break, just a mere few hours from the end of his shift at the Pitman Hall Cafeteria, John Snodgrass was ready to retire.
On Friday, after 16 years of working at the Ryerson campus, he did just that.
Snodgrass, 65, rocks a grey beard that rings with the wisdom of his age: born in Saint John as one of 10 siblings, his family lived a simple life out in the New Brunswick countryside.
Growing up when the world was slowly adapting to the industrial boom from the Second World War, Snodgrass went to school in a single-room, single-teacher school that had no running water or electricity.
In Grade 4, he dropped out and joined the workforce.
Since the age of eight, Snodgrass has been familiar with the idea of hard work: as a child, he would work at the bakery where he would earn no money but was paid in loafs of bread and pastries to take back to his family, and at 15 he got a job working in a cookhouse at the construction site of the Mactaquac Dam near Fredericton.
“I would work that place from about five o’clock in the morning to eight o’clock at night,” he said. “We served about 5,000 people a day. I did that for three years. Taught me a lot.”
Snodgrass spent much of his adult life working numerous jobs over the years. Whether it be hotel kitchens, catering services or bartending, he was always working in service. Always working with people.
In his late-twenties, Snodgrass moved to Toronto, although he wouldn’t end up joining the Ryerson Eats team until two decades later.
Snodgrass was most recognizable in his role as Pitman’s morning and afternoon cashier, a role that he said allowed him to meet a lot of students who quickly became regulars.
“Some people are really shy,” he said, laughing, demonstrating how students will sometimes talk to him with their head hung. “If you just keep saying ‘hi’ everyday and giving them a smile, they open up.”
When asked why he stayed with Ryerson for so long, Snodgrass said that the people he worked with on a daily basis had become a “family” to him.
“I’ve been with them here for a long time,” he said. “If you ask them in the kitchen, they’ll tell you all kinds of crazy stories about me. We’ve had good times.”
Outside of work, Snodgrass notes that he loves to explore the city, often times walking for up to five or six hours a day, both by himself and with friends.
Looking toward his retirement, Snodgrass said he hopes to continue adding to his extensive travelogue, which have included places like Greece, Thailand and Los Angeles, starting with his revisit to Cuba this week.
“I’m going for the week, no plans after that,” he said. “I’ll just take it as a it goes. I’ll probably end up working again, you never know.”