Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthJune 1, 1887
Place of BirthCharleston, Fifeshire
Marital StatusMarried
Next of KinCatherine Johnston, Wife, Keewatin, Ontario
Trade / CallingFlour Packer
Service Details
Regimental Number820693
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion52nd Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Address at EnlistmentKeewatin, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentMay 1, 1916
Age at Enlistment28
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathAugust 18, 1943
Age at Death56
Buried AtLake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario

Johnston, Alexander Brown

Date and Location of birth: Alexander Brown Johnston was born June 1, 1887, Charlestown, Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland. He was the second of seven sons born to David and Agnes Johnston. David (born 1863, Death Fife, Scotland) and Agnes Keir Brown (born 1863, Dunfermline) were married in Dunfermline, June, 1883. All their children were born in Dunfermline: Ebenezer Wilkie (born 1884); John Brown (born 1891); Thomas Low (born 1893); Andrew Brown (born 1896); James Low (born 1899); and, George Edward (born 1901). David and Agnes followed a well-known Scottish tradition naming their children after relatives. Although they may have had nicknames, only Alexander’s is known. He was called Sandy.

Early life before war: Alexander was educated in Scotland before he came with his family to Keewatin, Ontario in 1906 at the age of 19. Shortly after the family’s arrival, David died leaving Agnes to create a new life in this new country and to continue raising their  7 children on her own.  Sadly, John died suddenly  in 1908.

In the 1911 Canadian census, the family was still residing in Keewatin, north of the CPR line. The three oldest boys were all working to support the family.   Alexander was a carpenter.   The youngest boys appear to have still been in school as they were not working.   Unfortunately, tragedy struck again, this  time  in 1915 with the death of Thomas.

While in his early 20’s, Alexander and his future brother-in-law, John (Jack) McKellar, travelled by CPR across Western Canada and then into the northeastern United States, Utah and Colorado. They each purchased penny mining stocks that were later deemed of no value. Alexander worked in Winnipeg for a brief period of time then returned to Keewatin where he began working with the Lake of the Woods Milling Company. On December 24, 1914, Alexander married Catherine Jane Hector McKellar (born January 25, 1891, Govan, Lanarkshire, Scotland) at the Keewatin home of Catherine’s parents, Peter and Grace (Gibson) McKellar. They had one son, Thomas,, born seven months before Alexander enlisted in 1916.

War experience: Alexander was one of many young men from the Kenora and Keewatin area who enlisted with the 141st Battalion. The Kenora Daily Miner and News reported frequently on the enlistments and preparations of the battalion as it prepared to go to Port Arthur, and then to Europe. Alexander was later transferred to the 62nd Battalion and embarked to France June 22, 1917. He received shell concussion and was buried in the trenches. He was hospitalized for 2 weeks in France. In April of 1918, he received a gun shot  wound in his left thigh and was sent to England for treatment and convalescence.  Upon his discharge at the completion of the war, he returned to  Canada on the  Olympic, arriving at the port of Halifax.

Alexander’s younger brother, Andrew Brown Johnston, also served in the final months of the great war. Upon their return to Keewatin, both Alexander and his brother, along with all other men who enlisted from Keewatin to go overseas, were honoured at a ceremony on August 4th, 1919. Each received commemorative medals and badges from the mayor.

Life after the war: Following the war, Alexander resumed employment with the Lake of the Woods Milling Company, completing 37 years at the time of his death. Alexander also became very active in community service. He had a strong interest in the welfare of veterans and, in 1920, became the first president of the Keewatin Great War Veterans Association. In this role, he represented veterans and participated in the opening of the Memorial Building in Keewatin.

When the Mother’s Allowance Board was set up for the Kenora district, Alexander was selected to represent Keewatin. He held this position until his death. Also, for several years, he sat on the Keewatin Board of Education and was also elected first president of the Keewatin Branch of the Canadian Flour Millers Union. Alexander was a long-time member of St. Andrew’s United Church in Keewatin and acted as a steward for many years. He was also a Past Master of the Keewatin Masonic Lodge and one of the pioneers of the Keewatin Lodge of the Independent Order of Foresters.

Children who served in war: All three children of Alexander and Catherine served in World War II: (1) Sergeant Thomas Johnston, former editor of the Kenora Miner and News was serving in M.D. 10 in Public Relations in Winnipeg. Tom later went on to work with the National Film Board of Canada. (2) Lance Corporal Hector Johnston, Royal Canadian Ordinance Corp in Ottawa, later went on to become a manager with the Toronto Dominion Bank, and, (3) LAC Andrew, Royal Canadian Airforce, Chatham, New Brunswick, later went on to be a navigator with Air Canada.

Date of death and burial: Alexander died after a lengthy illness on August 18, 1943, in Kenora. He is buried in the Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Angel Crest Section. Wife, Catharine (died 1985) is buried next to him. Alexander was predeceased by both parents (David died 1906, Agnes died 1922) and two brothers (John died 1908, Thomas died 1915). All four are buried under the Johnston headstone on Hush Incline, Lake of the Woods Cemetery. Four brothers remained: George and Andrew in Toronto; James in Regina; and, Ebenezer, who was Mayor of Keewatin, at the time.

By Susan (Hillman) Brazeau (Alexander’s grand niece) in support of the Kenora Great War Project – honouring all who served, remembering those who died.

Johnston-Alexander-90 141st-1916-05-13 141st-1916-07-12 141st-1916-08-02 141st-1917-04-21 Johnston-Alexander-91 baj-1919-08-06 Johnston-Alexander-97 Johnston-Alexander-93 Johnston-Alexander-94 baj-mill-plaque-image

1891 Scottish Census
1901 Scottish Census
1911 Census of Canada
1921 Census of Canada
Library and Archives of Canada: First World War Data Base
Veteran’s Death Card
Kenora Miner and News -1916, 1919, 1943
Lake of the Woods Cemetery Records
Northern Ontario Gravemarker Gallery
Family oral history (Niece, Jessie Wright [McKellar] Hillman, 1995)


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