Mount Johnston (up Horsethief Creek), Johnston Road (south of Invermere)
For all that the name Jim Johnston is relatively well known in local historical circles, I was surprised by how little there is recorded about him in print.
This is the second post on the Johnston family, this one discussing the life of James Stewart (Jim) Johnston. For the first post, about Jim’s cousin Edmund T Johnston, see here.
James Stewart Johnston
Very little is known about Jim’s early years, aside from that he spent them in or around Moore County. He lived with his parents on their farm through the 1891 census, and in 1898 Jim and his cousin, Frank Stockdale, decided to go west to chase the Klondike Gold Rush. The two planned to take the route north through Edmonton and got as far as Athabasca Landing (modern day Athabasca) before they “found the going too hard” and gave it up.3
Early Years in Windermere Valley
Having decided to abandon he gold rush, the cousins did not return east, but instead made their way south to Golden from where they walked down into the Windermere Valley (they had missed that week’s steamer). They arrived at the Salmon Beds (Athalmer) on 7 May 1898,4 where they found Jim’s cousin, Edmund T Johnston, who had been living in the Windermere Valley since October 1882, “at home on his ranch.”5
By this time, Ed Johnston was living on the bench-lands of present-day Invermere, and in December 1898 Jim staked a ranch just west of his cousin’s property. Jim’s Ranch, also known as Terrace Ranch (Lot 5119), was along the south bank of Toby Creek close to where Toby Creek Bridge then crossed over (the location is also marked on the map at the top of the post).6
Jim and Frank Stockdale worked together for a time, selling horses7 and staking several mineral claims,8 as well as packing supplies for mines and helping to build mine trails.9 On the 1901 census, Jim was living just outside of Canterbury (likely on Terrace Ranch) with one lodger (Thomas E Fulton), and he lists his profession as a “miner”.10 A couple of years later, in 1903, Jim was employed at the Ptarmigan Mine (the former Red Line).11
Jim returned home to Courtwright, Ontario in December 1903,12 returning that spring with company. The newspaper reports his having married, but there is absolutely no evidence to support this.13 It is possible that Jim instead returned with his younger sister, Alice, who was living with her brother on his ranch in May 1908 when she passed away from pneumonia.14 She is buried in the Windermere Cemetery.
Meanwhile, also in 1903, Jim had been offered the nomination as the Conservative candidate in the provincial election. Conservatives hoped to persuade Jim, “a prominent ranch owner and business man,” to accept the nomination the following year.15 The local newspaper editor comments in this report that Jim, “is a popular young man and would command some votes, still it is not likely that he will care for the publicity given him at the present time.”16 The reason for Jim not wanting the publicity goes unexplained.
A New Ranch
In October 1905 Jim took steps to indeed become a prominent ranch owner by pre-empting property (Lot 9196) up what is now Abel Creek.17 This property became known as “Comfort Ranch” (elsewhere “Sunlight Ranch”18), and Johnston was issued a Crown Grant for the property in February 1910.19 According to resources at the Windermere Valley Museum, Jim paid Robert Lowerison to abandon his pre-emption so that he could re-stake it.20
As a rancher, Johnston became involved in the local Agricultural Association and Farmers’ Institute, and was the president of both bodies in 1913 when they merged to form the “Windermere District Agricultural Association and Farmers Institute.”21
He was also, in 1909, one of the vice presidents for the B.C. Fruit Growers Association,22 and in both 1914 and 1915 won a “special prize” at the Windermere Fall Fair for best collection of fruit.23 Johnston also carried off the honors for the “potato prize” at the fair in 1918, scoring 92.5 out of 100 points for his potatoes.24
Johnston made a significant life change in February 1916 when he, then age 47, married Dorothea Grace Heatherington-Bromilow (age 31) in Invermere.25 Dorothea had arrived in Canada in 1913, and the couple soon had three children: Ralph, Kathleen Joyce (1918-2019), and Doreen.26 In 1925, the family moved to Invermere so that their children could go to school,27 with Jim working for the British Columbia liquor store until 1937.28
Meanwhile, Johnston had sold his Comfort Ranch (in 1925) to “Mr Demetrof and others,” a group of Russian refugees from Manchuria in north-eastern China.29 The land later (in 1971) became part of the holdings of the Zehnder family.
Meanwhile, Johnston also returned to politics, and was the president of the local association of the “Provincial Party” in 1924.30 He was chosen as the party’s candidate later that year. At the time Jim is noted as “hold[ing] the respect and esteem of all who know him.”31
As mentioned in the post on Jim’s cousin, Frank Stockdale, Frank and Jim are reported in the Vancouver newspaper The Province as having, in the course of their lives, only spent Christmas Day apart twice in over 70 years.32
Jim was predeceased by Frank (in 1947) as well as his wife, Dorothea (2 November 1953).33 Jim himself passed away in Invermere just three days after his 88th birthday, in December 1955.34 He was survived by his daughter, Kathleen Joyce, better known as Joy, and who had by then married William Bond. Joy Bond passed away relatively recently (in October 2019).35
For all that the name Jim Johnston is relatively well known in local historical circles, I was surprised by how little there is recorded about him in print. Most mentions of Jim are in passing, with very little detail.
Still, it is thanks to James Stewart Johnston that we have a some further “Johnston” names in the valley (in addition to the creek named after Edmund T Johnston). Johnston Road, located south of Invermere along Westside Road, and leading up to his former Comfort Ranch, is named after Jim Johnston. As an interesting bit of trivia, Mount Taynton, located immediately west of Comfort Ranch, was also known for a time as Mount Johnston before that name was changed.36
There is still a Mt Johnston in the valley, however, this one located across Horsethief Creek from Mount Stockdale. I was unable to find an official date for when this Mt Johnston was named, although the name was allegedly chosen in recognition of Jim and Frank’s close relationship (I wasn’t able to find a print source to confirm this either).