Monday, April 5, 2010

Our Nearest Neighbours : The Johnstons

The Johnstons were much more than just neighbours to me in my early years..... they were more like kin since I called him Uncle Stan and her Aunt Agnes. There were constant comings and goings between both households..... the two fathers built both homes piecemeal almost simultaneously .... helping each other as they went along .... surely with Uncle Stan's initial design in mind because the two houses are architecturally twins except for a few minor inside divisions....... each time my Dad rushed my Mom to the hospital for childbirth he nabbed Aunt Agnes on the way by since Mom always needed a blood transfusion on such occasions and Agnes was the only blood type match we knew. In the top picture Uncle Stan , dressed in black , my Mom in her Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and Dad , dapper as usual on church day, so it must have been Sunday morning after Mass at Saint Peter's because he's clutching a rolled-up New Freeman in his left hand. Maybe Stanley Frederick had given them a lift home in his station wagon with the wooden doors. This photo was probably snapped during the years after the war ...... 1946-1948 ..... and maybe my Mom's hat tells all !!

The bottom snapshot shows Charlotte who was about 14 months older than I , myself in all my cuteness and Catherine ( Katie ) , six years older with Aunt Agnes on her knees in the background. In later life Katie would marry Frank Doyle of Lancaster and build a home in between the Johnston homestead and ours. Charlotte went off to the States where she became a nun , then left and came back to Saint John where she taught school until her untimely death in 1993 at age 58. A son , Paul , would come later as well as Sylvia who unfortunately died prematurely. Then came another daughter whom they named likewise Sylvia ..... now living in Nova Scotia I believe. I never really got to know Paul or Sylvia very well as they were much younger that I was .... and secondly because I left here when I was 14 years of age with the Redemptorist Fathers for studies in Ontario.

A few facts about the Johnstons.
1) Uncle Stan was born on the 6th of June , 1897 and baptized Frederick Stanley Johnston. I remember three of his brothers , Art , Harvey and Earl.... and one sister known around Pokiok as Annie but christened Anna Bella May. She was married to Vaughn Fownes and lived almost diagonally across the road from the Johnstons next to Cecil Estey. Uncle Stan rubbed elbows with Saint John's finest and ugliest as he was head turnkey at the jail up town !!..... and one hell of a carpenter and ... as the story went back then .... a great baseball player in his youth. And maybe a wee  bit of information for any geneologists reading this blog ..... Stan's father was Frederick Hamilton Johnston , his mother Sarah McGrath.... both of North End.
2) I know very little about Aunt Agnes's background except that she was of Acadian extraction , christened Agnes Devau , spoke French as her mother tongue and hailed from Nova Scotia. In fact , she spent the last years of her long and fruitful life in that province. She was an energetic woman , very sociable and generous ,  an excellent storyteller with exceptional English diction .... a rather matter-of-fact approach to talking about things , events , etc , an expert quiltmaker ( I still have one .... a patchwork quilt.... she gave me a long time ago) , topnotch gardener ...... and a tender , loving mother. I would often chat a wee bit with her in French when I was home from Qu├ębec visiting my folks  and she would answer me in French but soon change back to English as it was tiring for her after so many years in an English-speaking world.

Have you read the above link ? About Pokiok


  1. hi gerry,

    I am reading and rereading the many pieces re your "life & times in pokiok" ... a lot of your work reflects my life too: saint peter's boys, saint mary's college, the old north end, and our close family ties (never to be forgotten).

    'so glad you're back, my son, and using your special talents to tell and share your many-faceted history.

    your keen recollections, heartfelt comments, and incredibly detailed anecdotes are "true spiritual readings" for your personal and long-time family friends.

    the photographs alone are a treasure!



  2. Love your site, it brings back so many memories of Saint John.

    Charlotte Johnston taught me Grade 7 at St. Rose. She is fondly remembered as my favourite teacher. I recall visiting her house with her and driving around in her VW van. :)

    Thank you!