London Free Press Oct 10, 1936 pg 15
Perth Historian Spent Years in Gathering Data
William Johnston, native of Scotland, keenly interested in Pioneer Life
Many communities dealt with in books
by S. Garrett
The County of Perth has won a reputation as being one of the most prosperous and progressive areas in Western Ontario and is also noted for the many distinguished men and women it has produced, among them Senator Arthur Meighen, William Aberhart, of Social Credit fame, and Agnes Knox Black, nationally known elocutionist.
Those who are interested in studying its development during the past century are sure to come in contact with the name of William Johnston, author and historian, as it was through his efforts that a vast amount of information was gathered. During his life, Mr Jonston devoted much time and effort to aid in the advancement of the district and to record the details of its progress. Now that an Historical Society is being planned for St Marys, it is probable that a suitable memorial will be erected and dedicated in his honor.
William Johnston was a native of Ayrshire, Scotland, and spent his boyhood days on a farm near the picturesque village of Ayrde's Green, which is not far from the home of Robert Burns. About the middle of the last century there was a considerable emigration from the British Isles to the bush lands of Western Ontario and Mr. Johnston was one of those who determined to try his hand in the new country. At the age of 18 he came to Canada and eventually arrived in Perth, purchasing lot 18 on the west boundary of Blanshard Township. This property he developed into a fine homestead and on it many years of his life were spent. Farming successfully occupied the greater part of his time, but in spite of this he carried on extensive historical research work, in which he was much interested.
Undertakes Heavy Task
Being a great admirer of the county and the people who had settled it, Mr. Johnston determined to compile and publish historical books which would tell of the struggles and achievements of pioneers and record the development of the district from the earliest days of settlement. To this he devoted most of his spare time for a number of years, as it proved to be a big task, requiring a vast amount of painstaking effort. He carefully examined all documents, records and papers, pertaining to the county and traveled through every community talking with elderly people and checking the details. His searchings even took him to England where the records in the head offices of the Canada Land Company were examined.
In 1899 "The Pioneers of Blanshard" was published and this book Mr. Johnston devoted mainly to his home township. The story of it settlement, social conditions, municipal life, villages, schools, churches, etc., is told in detail. It also contains biographies of David Cathcart, Capt. John Campbell, James Dinsmore, W. F. Sanderson, Mathew Forsythe, William Gunning, David Brethour, Samuel Radcliff, Reuben Switzer, James Gunning, Johnston Armstrong and others. These men were outstanding pioneers of the township and many of their descendents still live within its borders. The book also contains several poems, one of which was complosed by Thomas Sparks, M. D., of St Marys.
In 1903 "The History of Perth County" was published, containing a vast amount of information on everything pertaining to the county between the years 1825 and 1902. In the beginning it gives a general description of pioneer life and of the work of the Canada Land Company. Progress in the political, judicial and educational life of the county is faithfully recorded and a chapter is devoted to each of the Townships of Downie, Fullarton, Blanshard, Hibbert, Ellice, North and South Easthope, Mornington, Logan, Elma and Wallace. Chapters are also devoted to the City of Stratford and to the towns of St Marys, Mitchell and Listowel. The agricultural evolution of the county is traced as well as developments [?] the religous life. Historical sketches of all the small villages and hte names and origin of post offices are given. The book had a large circulation and at the present time is to be found in nearly every public library in Western Ontario.
Mr. Johnston also gained much distinction as a public speaker and took a prominent part in the political campaigns of his day. About 40 years ago he bought a farm on the Thaems River road, near St. Marys, and resided there for a considerable time. Finally he purchased a home in the town and lived retired until his death in January, 1916, at the age of 78 years. Two members of his family are still living. Thomas Johnston, in the Canadian West, and Robert Johnston of Blanshard.
Meg Fuller Perth County Coordinator
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