John Mercer Johnson Remembered

John M. Johnson was a Chatham lawyer who went on to become a member of the Legislative Assembly, Cabinet Minister, Father of Confederation and a member of Canada's first Parliament. He died in 1868, at the age of 50.

His counterpart, Newcastle's Peter Mitchell, was to outlive him by more than thirty years.

July 1, 1927

When the 60th anniversary of Confederation was celebrated across Canada, Chatham remembered John M. Johnson. The ceremonies, arranged by the Boy Scouts were held at St. Paul's Churchyard, Lower Chatham Head, where Mr. Johnson is buried. Principal speaker was his youngest son, P. Campbell Johnson of Moncton, at the time 62 years of age. The wreath was laid by a great grandson, Edward Johnson Russell of Loggieville.

In the afternoon a patriotic ceremony was held at Elm Park. The speakers were Campbell Johnson, S. D. Heckbert MLA, William Anderson, County Warden C. P. Hickey, G. M. McDade, Rev. G. A. Christie, Rev. Father Keane and Rev. William Stewart. Maple trees were planted in the Park by the Canadian Legion of Chatham.

Store windows were decorated and a parade of floats was held. Later there were sports and games and in the evening square dancing and boxing contests.

To mark the 60th anniversary; the Earl of Chatham Chapter of the I.O.D.E. placed a memorial plaque in memory of Hon. J. M. Johnson in St. Paul's Church.

July 1, 1967

At 12 noon, simultaneously across Canada, commemorative ceremonies were carried out to mark the centennial of Confederation. Arrangements were sponsored jointly by the Canadian Centennial Commission and the Boy Scouts of Canada. The ceremonies were held once again at the Johnson monument in St. Paul's Churchyard. The great grandsons and great granddaughters present were Leonard Johnson, Roy Johnson and Mrs. Dorothy MacDonald of Chatham, Edward J. Russell of Loggieville and Mrs. Cora Prentice of Fredericton.

Also taking part were Deputy-mayor Bernard Flam of Chatham and Rev. L. M. Pepperdene, Rector of St. Paul's and St. Mary's Anglican churches.

A grandson, Reginald Johnson of Moncton was present, accompanied by his wife and two sons. Mr. Johnson's father, P. Campbell Johnson, who died in 1950 was the youngest son of Hon. J. M. Johnson. (Other grandchildren are Miss Ada Johnson of Sandy Cove, N. S. and Miss Yvonne Johnson of Ottawa.)

Among the great, great grandchildren present were Edward and Ian Russell of Loggieville and Heather, Clyde, Wayne and Stephanie Johnson of Chatham.

Another great, great granddaughter present was Mrs. Alice (MacDonald) Allison, who brought her son Evan, a great, great, great grandson of the Father of Confederation.

Cpl. Charles MacDonald, a great, great grandson, who was a member of the Black Watch stationed in Oromocto took part in the ceremony in full dress uniform. He had received instructions from Ottawa to attend and his mother wasn't aware that he was coming.

Johnson Artifacts

Edward J. Russell of Loggieville has in his possession the bronze Confederation medal given to John M. Johnson by Queen Victoria. The medallion is three inches in diameter and weighs 9 1/2 ounces. It would be interesting, if one had the time, to trace the other medals given to all 36 Fathers of Confederation.

Mr. Russell also has at least a dozen books from the Johnson library. A variety of poetry, history, Greek and Latin, many of them date back to the late 1700's. Among his artifacts is a pair of sterling silver mugs. A silver medal is now owned by the descendants of Campbell Johnson.

Of particular interest is the silver ink-well and pen, even though it is no longer on the Miramichi. Acquired by John M. Johnson from his cousin James Johnson, it was used by the Fathers of Confederation to sign one of the agreements. It was passed down through the Shirreff family (Mrs. John M. Johnson was a Shirreff) and became the property of Campbell Johnson in 1907. It is now owned by his son, Reginald Johnson. Mrs. Lawson MacDonald of Chatham remembers that the pen had a feather quill.

Another artifact of interest is a Beaver hat which belonged to John M. Johnson, Mrs. MacDonald wore it many years ago as part of her costume at a winter carnival. Somebody borrowed it at that time and although the hat is still in Chatham, Mrs. MacDonald has not as yet had it returned. She does have in her possession a crystal fruit dish and an initialled sugar shell which belonged to her great grandfather.

Besides the artifacts owned by the various descendants, all the Town of Chatham has, besides a picture, is a street named after him and a plaque on the federal building placed there by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. In the northern part of the county there is a hill (Mount Johnson) named in his honour.

From time to time we remember the great men of the Miramichi who lived in the last century. Not the least of these are our Two Fathers of Confederation--Peter Mitchell and John M. Johnson.

(Acknowledgments: Mrs. Edith MacAllister, H. L. Shephard, Mrs. Kay McKenna, Leonard Johnson, Edward Russell, Charles Whitty, Mrs. Lawson MacDonald, James Fraser, ''By Favourable Winds").

(Northumberland News, March 4, 1981)

John Mercer Johnson
(By Michael Whelan)

Our John M. Johnson's was the greatest nameAnd when our country's history shall be writ
In Miramichi, in bygone, boyish days, By some sane hand, which doubtless will be done,
The fathers were the foremost in his praise.This statesman, orator and brilliant wit
Tho' he and they are dead still lives his claim Shall have his own again, his victory won
To his high meed of honor and of fame. In that great of fifry years ago
For that broad brow the brighest wreath of bays,   That laid the ghost of old abuses low,
So gifted and so great in many ways Bequeathing freedom's gifts from sire to son.
A public man whose record bore no blame.   Renous River, N. B.

Copyright © Lois F. Martin, 1985. All rights reserved.