Surrey History Banner

The Johnston Family
of the Johnston Settlement, Surrey, BC

Source: An article on the Johnston Family compiled by Margie Lou Johnston.

Johnston Road (152nd Street) was named after one of Surrey's earliest pioneers. James Johnston was born in County Cork, Ireland in 1818. The tide of immigration to North America was beginning to swell and more than one million Irishmen would leave their homeland during the next few decades. James Johnston was one of these emigrants. He settled in Marlborough, Ontario, married Amelia Sinclair and settled into a new life. James and Amelia had five sons and two daughters.

James Johnson and his wife Ameila

James Johnston preempted land and settled north of Mahood Creek on what became Johnston Road. He and his wife raised four sons who joined them in the settlement. The homestead extended from Panorama Ridge (Hwy.10), north to what is now 80th Ave., east to the line of 160th Avenue, and west to the vicinity of 148th Street.

In 1866, one year before the Confederation of Canada, James Johnston, wanted to expand his holdings to accommodate his five sons, but found that the cost of land in Ontario was high. He heard that in British Columbia a man could own good land for next to nothing. At that time he was raising a family, but the decision was made to leave the bulk of the family in Ontario while the 48 year old James and his two sons, Isaac and William, came on ahead to establish a homestead. In the 1860s there was no railway connection with BC so the trio came by ship around the Horn, and up the west coast of the Americas and finally arrived in Victoria. From there they crossed to New Westminster. New Westminster, the capital of British Columbia, was a small town that serviced the interior gold fields and a small resident population. Access on the south shore of the Fraser was limited to trails, but to the Johnston family that meant getting the choice of virgin lands. The trio found some heavily wooded land bordered by meadows with small streams running through it on what is now 152nd Street, south of what is now 80th Avenue.

James Johnston preempted six quarter-sections of land; one quarter for himself, and one for each of his five sons. In total the Johnston family had 960 acres of forest and meadow lands. In time this area became known locally as the Johnston Settlement. Like many preemptors the Johnston's were amazed with the abundance of fish in the local rivers, the extensive game in the forests of the south shore of the Fraser, and the available tall timber to build their homestead. Some of the land was open meadow where deer and elk would browse and would be easier to clear. The Serpentine River and its small tributaries (Bear Creek and Mahood Creek) would give them both fish and fresh water.

Map of Johnston Settlement

By the end of 1867, the three Johnstons' had much to show for one years hard work. They had cleared a portion of their land, had built a log cabin, and were ready to send for the rest of the family. The family consisted of: James and his wife Amelia Johnston; the five boys - Isaac, William, Robert, James, and John; the two Johnston girls: Jane and Amelia.

At the end of the next year, 1868, the first American transcontinental railway was complete and Mrs. Johnston, along with Jane, Amelia, John and James, (Robert remained in Ontario) arrived by rail in San Francisco, then by steamer to Victoria and New Westminster. Here they were met by Isaac, William and James and they all traveled to their new homestead in Surrey.

The Johston Family

This group photo is the Johnston family with William, Isaac and John and their wives and children.

Initially the homestead extended from Panorama Ridge (Hwy.10), north to what is now 80th Ave., and east to the line of 160th Avenue, and west to the vicinity of 148th Street. Near the turn of the century, the parcel south of Bose Road (64th Ave.) was sold to the Sullivan Brothers. The Johnston homes were situated on 152nd Street just north of Sullivan Station. The family went to work in earnest and within three years each son, after clearing their land and building a home, lived on his own homestead.

The meadow lands were good; rich and most. These were easy to clear and break with a deep plow. The uplands were another matter. They were heavily treed with tall green timber that reached up to 200 feet in height. In order to clear the land the Johnston's had to cut the trees down with axes or by burning. Burning proved to be extremely dangerous. If a timber fell the wrong way, it would have spelled disaster for any of the men.

In later years Jimmy Johnston Jr. recalled: The timber was so thick that the only way you could see was up. Some of the smaller trees could be felled by axes in the usual way but the larger ones were a good deal more difficult. You had to bore a hole in the trunk about half way through and fill it with either sulphur or saltpeter and set fire to it. You also had to drill another hole on a slant above the first which would make a chimney. This gave sufficient draught to keep it smoldering. It often took months to burn down a large tree. There was danger in this method because no one knew which way the tree would fall. The only answer was to choose a tree far enough away from the house so that it made little difference which way it fell.
Jimmy Johnston also recalled:The undergrowth was so dense that Mother would tie a cow bell around our necks so that she would know where we were. There were beavers we would trap and sell to a buyer who would come round at regular intervals. There were also bears and cougars and wolves. Jimmy recounted: Dad had a small flock of sheep and a bear killed some of them. On his next trip to New Westminster, where we went for supplies and sold any surplus produce we might have, Dad got a large bear trap and sure enough, it caught a large bear. You could hear the bear hollering from a long way away. The bear was so mad that father had to shoot him from a distance.

Since there was no school the children had to be taught at home until schools were built. Jimmy was 10 years old before he went to school. The first public school in the Johnston settlement was built, in 1906, by the local fathers with lumber supplied by the Government. It was located on the west side of Johnston Road north of Burquhart Road (152nd and 68th Avenue). The land was donated by John Lewis and the areas cleared with oxen owned by Mr. Johnston. This school was initially a one room school but was replaced with a two room school in 1912.

The Johnston's were active in community affairs. James Johnston Sr. was a Warden or Commissioner appointed by the government of the day before Surrey was incorporated as a municipality. The family was active in the building of the first church in Surrey, Christ Church Anglican at Surrey Centre, and in the development of the first schools. James Johnston Sr. died in 1913, just days short of 100 years of age.

Isaac Johnston

Isaac Johnston was born in 1851.

Isaac and Fanny Johnston Isaac and Fanny Johnston

Isaac Johnston married Fanny Oliver, a cousin of John Oliver, Premier of BC, 1918–1927. Isaac farmed his homestead in the Johnston Settlement. Isaac was one of the early councilors in Surrey. Elected in 1883, he served for many years. He and Fanny had a family of eight; Mildred (Mrs. Ben Stevenson), Lilly, Elvie, Oliver, Robert, Molly, Edith and Sophie.

The Johnston girlls

Isaac Johnston and the Johnston girls

Isaac died in 1940. Fanny Johnston died in 1934.

William Johnston

William Johnston was born in 1853.

William and Susan Johnston

William Johnston married Susan Flower. They farmed the homestead lands in the Johnston Settlement. They had a family of three sons; James, William and Albert. These Johnston boys became well known in British Columbia as the founders of Johnston Motors in Vancouver.

James Johnston Jr.

James Johnston Jr. James Johnston Jr. and Family

On the left, James Johnston Jr. and on the right the Johnston Family

James Johnston Jr., born in Ontario, married Florence Stevens. They had a family of five; Eileen, Bessie, Bryce, Robert and Thomas. James (Jimmy) was active in the community and served on Surrey Council for years.

James Johnston James haying

James Johnston in front of his home with a horse. On the right James Johnston haying

James Johnston and his car Three generations

On the left, James Johnston Jr and his car. On the right Three Generations: from the left, "Grandmother (Eileen(Johnston)Monkman), her mother (Florence(Stevens)Johnston, and my mother Florence Goodlet" Carol Ann Drope

John Johnston

John Johnston

John Johnston never married. He farmed the homestead on Johnston Road until he retired to live in New Westminster.

Jane Johnston

Jane Johnston

Jane Johnston was born in 1854. She married Joe Burr and had a family of six, Alice, Edna, Bessie, Martha, William and James.

Amelia Johnston

Amelia Johnston

Amelia Johnston was born in 1858. She married Isaac Lawrence. They had two sons, James and Robert. She died in 1947.

Next Page: The James Kennedy Family

Return to Surrey's History INDEX

View My Stats