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Johnston Family

'We remember, some of us, our fathers who crossed the sea, long years ago. We remember their faith, their courage, and their perseverance. We remember their love for the old country—a love that never really left—and that new love that came afterwards, a love that built new homes in a new land and that made of those homes a nation.'

Brendon Johnson, Comox Valley Record, 30 June 2015

The Johnstons, who are MacDonalds of the Clan Iain of Ardnamurchan, lived in the island of Coll in the Inner Hebrides from about 1600. They came from Coll to British North America between 1819 and the 1850s, and the last of the family in Coll died in 1921.

The August 1819 emigration from Coll to Pictou County, Nova Scotia, numbered fifteen or twenty family members: brothers Donald (Arinagour) and Duncan (Grishipoll) Johnston, Donald's children Mary (wife of Sweeney MacKenzie or Matheson) and Hector (piper to Maclean of Coll), Duncan's children Lachlan and Rory, and Mary's and Lachlan's families.

Donald and the MacKenzies went to Cape Breton (a great-grandson was the Hon Daniel D. MacKenzie, PC, KC), while Hector and Rory established the family in Prince Edward Island.

Lachlan and his wife, Sarah or Marion MacKinnon, stayed in Pictou County, where, presumably because of a clerical error, they became Johnsons. Many of their family remain along the North Shore to this day. Others moved across the province: a grandson, Jacob A., was called 'the maker of modern Halifax' in the early 1900s. Another grandson, John, was ancestor of the New Brunswick branch of the family. Other Johnsons went further west, to Alberta and British Columbia, even Vancouver Island.

Murdoch Johnston, a nephew of Donald and Duncan, went to Canada in 1847. He has left the only known first-person immigration account from the family, a story of tragedy overcome by faith. He and two of his brothers (another Duncan and Donald) are ancestors of the Ontario Johnstons.

Yet another of Murdoch's brothers, John, stayed in Coll. His son, also John, was the only Johnston on the island by the end of the nineteenth century and is commemorated by a cairn overlooking Arinagour.

Brendon Johnson, of one of the Vancouver Island families, is studying the two centuries of the family's life in Canada. He welcomes material of any historical value as well as genealogical enquiries. He may be contacted at