British Columbia

'He was a real gentleman': Ladner celebrates life of gentle giant 'Big John'

His birth certificate read John Bolhuis, but everyone around Ladner, B.C., knew him as Big John — and at 6'7 and 240 pounds it was an appropriate nickname.

'Big John' Bolhuis recently died of a heart attack. He was 65.

'Big John' Bolhuis celebrates his birthday with his sister, Shirley. (Submitted)

His real name was John Bolhuis, but around Ladner, B.C., everyone knew him as Big John.

It was an appropriate nickname — he stood 6' 7" and weighed about 240 pounds — for the man who loved nothing more than to stop and chat.

Big John died of a heart attack last month at the age of 65.

He lived his life with an intellectual disability, but his memory was remarkable.

"He remembered my dad and my dog and my brother," said his friend Angela Husvik.

"He always asked about everybody and he knew everybody by name and the make and model of their vehicle."

Big John loved cars, and Husvik puts up a display of model vehicles in the window of her store every year.

This year, the display includes his obituary and a news story about his life that was written in the local paper.

"I always gave him a hug," Husvik said. "He was a real gentleman, I would say."

'Big John' Bolhuis sits down for an ice cream and a chat with a friend. (Submitted)

Mr. Friendly

Big John lived his entire life in Ladner, but as a young man he was taken to Woodlands Institution in New Westminster, B.C.

His friends say those were dark times for him, but he never spoke a bad word about anyone.

Big John's sister, Shirley, started bringing him home on weekends and he eventually came to live with her.

After her death in 2004, Big John's longtime friends in the Blaney family took care of him.

"Around here I called him my shadow," said Les Blaney, who was his legal guardian.

"I saw him every day. If I started the lawnmower, in a minute John would show up with the bin. He wasn't particularly capable but a very willing worker."

Blaney's brother, Jim, became Big John's caregiver. His friends say the love and respect Jim treated him with made a real difference in his life.

"He really mellowed out in his old age," Husvik said.

"He used to run around and he was kind of loud and would say bad words and stuff. But I knew him in the last ten years and he was just really nice."

Hidden Talent

While it was well known that Big John was a sports fanatic, few people knew about Big John's skill on the basketball court.

"He was a bit of a savant when it came to basketball," said longtime friend Ted Andres.

"We had a basketball hoop in my front yard and we would play 21. He would take me to the cleaners. One time I counted eight in a row that he made from the three point line."

A celebration of life is being held October 14 at 11 a.m. at the Ladner Christian Reformed Church.


Jesse Johnston worked in private radio from 2004 to 2014 in Vancouver, Red Deer and Calgary. He spent the next five years based out of Surrey (his hometown) as CBC's South of the Fraser reporter until he joined the Impact Team in 2019. Jesse is a two-time recipient of the RTDNA Dave Rogers Award for Best Short Radio Feature. He loves radio, running and dogs. He also loves the Detroit Lions, but if you follow him on Twitter, you already knew that. @Jesse_Johnston