Manitoba Historical Society
     Keeping history alive for over 144 years

To the Memory of John Leslie Johnston, LL.D., Provincial Librarian, 1937-1955

MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 10, 1953-54 season

This article was published originally in MHS Transactions by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

This online version was prepared using Optical Character Recognition software so that spelling and punctuation errors may have occurred inadvertently. If you find any such errors, please inform us, indicating the document name and error.

Please direct all inquiries to

Help us keep
history alive!

When the announcement of the passing of Dr. J. L. Johnston was flashed across the Dominion on February 1st, the friends of our genial associate, in all parts of Canada, received the news with a deep sense of personal loss. He was indeed a great Canadian.

No public servant ever endeared himself so completely in the hearts of his friends and fellow-workers as did Les Johnston. His abiding interest was Manitoba - its past, its present and its future. He delighted in his work and gave unstinted assistance to every seeker after information concerning the history of his beloved Province.

He was a wise and unassuming civil servant, working constantly to make the future of the people of Manitoba richer because that future can be built upon an understanding of the past. Les was possessed with a keen mind and a kind heart. He freely shared his wide knowledge of Manitoba with all who sought to avail of his marvellous store of pioneer lore.

The Manitoba Historical Society will forever be debtor to this devoted librarian. Much of the inspiration to rejuvenate the Society, a few years ago, came from him. His interest in the work and progress continued through his long illness.

We who enjoyed his intimate friendship can best describe that experience in the words of a great passage in literature, "did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way."

In token of our love and friendship this page is dedicated to the memory of Dr. John Leslie Johnston.


Biographical Sketch

John Leslie Johnston was born on March 26th, 1898 at Windsor, Ontario. He came to Winnipeg as a child, but soon after moved with his parents to Oak Bay, Victoria, where in 1913 he graduated from the Victoria Business Institute. Subsequently, he completed courses in accounting and stenography.

After several years of office work, he moved to Winnipeg, where he entered the Civil Service, serving in the following capacities: Secretary to the Minister of Education, 1920-28; Assistant Librarian of the Legislative Library, 1928-33; Clerk of the Executive Council, 1933-37; and Provincial Librarian, 1937-55.

Canada's war effort received his faithful support. Not only was he a member of the Reserve Army, but he also took a leading part in various service bodies: Greater Winnipeg Co-ordinating Board for War Services, Regional War Services Library Committee, and Educational Services Board.

His contributions in the field of library work have been significant. The expansion of the Legislative Library and archives is 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 C.L.A. 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.

Besides rendering invaluable assistance to researchers, Dr. Johnston was always active in promoting interest in and the study of the colorful history of Manitoba. He was greatly instrumental in getting the Historic Sites Act passed, and became Secretary of the Manitoba Section, Historic Sites Advisory Board. The revival of the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba in 1944 is due in great measure to his inspiration and wide influence in the government and the community. His leadership in the Executive of the Society resulted in the steady growth of the membership and the work of the Society; at the time of his death he was Honorary President.

His valuable service to the province was recognized by the University of Manitoba when in 1953 it conferred upon him the LL.D. degree (Honoris Causa).

He was always active in athletic sports, such as tennis, and in particular badminton. In 1947 and 1948 he won the Veterans' Men's Doubles. In the Canadian Badminton Association he held the posts of Secretary-Treasurer, President, and Honourary President for a number of years. He was also President and Secretary of the Manitoba Badminton Association.

He was married to Brenda McLean, a school teacher, and is also survived by a son.

Page revised: 22 May 2010

MHS YouTube Channel

Back to top of page

For queries on the above page, please contact the MHS Webmaster.

Home  |  Terms & Conditions  |  FAQ  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy  |  Donations

© 1998-2023 Manitoba Historical Society. All rights reserved.