Memorable Manitobans: John Leslie Johnston (1898-1955)
Civil servant, librarian.
Born at Windsor, Ontario on 26 March 1898, he came to Winnipeg in 1902 but soon after moved with his parents to Victoria, British Columbia where he graduated in 1913 from the Victoria Business Institute, with a background in accounting and stenography. After several years of accountancy work with the Canadian Pacific Railway and an automobile dealership, he returned to Winnipeg where he served as Secretary to the Minister of Education (1920-1928), Assistant Librarian of the Legislative Library (1928-1933), Clerk of the Executive Council (1933-1937), and Provincial Librarian (1937-1955), succeeding William James Healy. After his death, he was succeeded as Provincial Librarian by Marjorie Morley.
The expansion of the Legislative Library and Archives of Manitoba was his greatest contribution. Through his efforts the Legislative Libraries Section of the Canadian Library Association was established and he was its first Chairman. He was also a Vice-President of the CLA. He was always active in committee work of the Manitoba Library Association, of which he had been President. In 1948, he was appointed Secretary of the Public Library Advisory Board, set up by the Manitoba government.
He was instrumental in the passage of the Historic Sites Act in 1946, he served on the Historic Sites Advisory Board of Manitoba, and he was Secretary of the Manitoba Section of the Historic Sites Advisory Board of Canada. He was involved in the revival of the Manitoba Historical Society in 1944 and he served on its Executive; at the time of his death he was Honorary President. In 1953, his contributions were recognized by an honorary doctorate from the University of Manitoba.
On 27 December 1926, he married school teacher Brenda Maclean (?-?) and they had one son. Johnston was active in athletics, especially tennis and badminton. In 1947 and 1948 he won the Veterans’ Men’s Doubles. He held the posts of Secretary-Treasurer, President, and Honourary President in the Canadian Badminton Association for a number of years. He was also President and Secretary of the Manitoba Badminton Association.
He died at the Winnipeg General Hospital on 1 February 1955 and was buried in the Chapel Lawn Memorial Gardens.
His articles for the Manitoba Historical Society:
Marriage registration, Manitoba Vital Statistics.
“Provincial librarian dies at 57,” Winnipeg Free Press, 1 February 1955, page 4.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 2 February 1955, page 30.
In Memorium: Dr. John Leslie Johnston, MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 10, 1953-1954 season
We thank Christopher Kotecki for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 11 June 2020