DR. A. C. COOPER JOHNSTON
Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright 2021, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
Dr. A. C. Cooper Johnston was a pioneer medical physician and druggist associated with the early history of Lundbreck.
Ashley Cornell Cooper Johnston was born on May 9th, 1875 in Ontario. He was the eldest of six children, four sons and two daughters, born to William J. and Lucy J. Johnston. The family patriarch was born on December 31st, 1850, in what was pre-Confederation Ontario. The Johnston side of the lineage was Irish. Lucy Johnston was three years older than her husband William, her birth dating to September 24th, 1847. She too came from pre-Confederation Ontario, but her ancestry was German.
The Johnston children, in addition to A. C. Cooper, were Frederick W. who was born on October 23rd, 1878 and who by adulthood worked as a clerk in a drugstore. He and his older brother obviously shared similar professional interests. Cecil B. Johnston was born on April 14th, 1881 and according to Dominion Census records was listed as a student when he was twenty years of age in 1901. He may have been going in for some post-secondary education. The youngest of the Johnston sons was Harry J., who was born on February 16th, 1884. The two girls were the youngest in the family: Effie L. who birth took place on September 5th, 1886, and Eva Margaret who was born just over two years later, on December 16th, 1888. This youngest sibling usually went by her middle name.
Cooper Johnston was raised in Oxford County, which is immediately east of London, Ontario. It was an agricultural upbringing as his father William was listed as a farmer in the 1901 Census. Yet the family appears to have been quite successful financially as they employed a domestic servant during the early 1900s. She was Tracy Jeffries who was born in England on July 6th, 1879 but whose family had immigrated to Canada in 1890.
PHYSICIAN AND FIRST WORLD WAR CONTRIBUTIONS
The eldest Johnston son was fortunate in being able to access medical studies down east, becoming a physician and druggist. As early as 1907 he headed out to the far reaches of the Canadian Prairies and established a practice in the coal mining and ranching settlement of Lundbreck. It is said that he built a small hospital in the community and also ran a drugstore on site. The practice thrived, and Johnston remained in Lundbreck until the winter of 1914 – 1915.
The ever-caring Dr. Johnston was often frustrated with the limited amount of medical care he could supply in a rural setting where vast distances separated doctor and patient. In March 1909, a mother on an isolated ranch twenty-two miles north of Lundbreck passed away during childbirth, leaving her husband and eight young children to fend for themselves. Unable to reach the family in time, Johnston sought alternatives to avoid such lack of medical attention in the future. He worked closely with the Reverend Mowat on a Lundbreck committee to bring in extra nursing help, possibly through the Victorian Order of Nurses.
Some of his concerns were answered through the efforts of his family. While residing in Lundbreck A. C. Cooper was joined by his two sisters. Margaret, whose new surname was Pepper, worked as a nurse with her brother. Under the terminology of private work, coined in the 1911 Census, she earned 1200 dollars the previous year. Effie resided with them also, making it a trio of siblings. At this point she had one son Harry who was born in the United States in July 1905. The family was not without further connections on the Prairies. Their mother Lucy retired to High River and resided there as a senior during the 1910s. Folklore indicates that she was widowed at this time.
In 1911, A. C. Cooper also was the local agent for the Alberta Government Telephones which was in its infancy. He appears to have given up this secondary endeavour by 1914.
Dr. Johnston was active in the community’s political and social life. A strong Conservative, he was one of the party adherents to attend the October 2nd, 1907 Fort Macleod visit of Sir Robert Borden, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. Johnston served on the executive of the Lundbreck Musical and Literary League. He was great friends with the Reverend William Mowat and the Parkers who resided out at Lee Lake. Many a time he was sighted riding horseback through the rolling foothills.
With the outbreak of the First World War Johnston enlisted in the Allied Forces. He signed up as of February 5th, 1915, and achieved the rank of Major. According to his enlistment papers, he was five foot and five inches in height, had a fair complexion, and was noted for his brown eyes and light brown hair. He was just three months short of his fortieth birthday when he enlisted. Johnston served with the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force throughout the war.
The physician returned to Canada in 1919, settling in Calgary. In the meantime he had married a war bride and the two started a family. A son Alan F. was born to them in the 1920s. He too became a medical doctor, eventually retiring to British Columbia’s lower mainland.
Although little was previously known of this pioneering doctor, historical research has unearthed the chronologies presented here. A few of the unique sources utilized include the Dominion Censuses from 1901 and 1911, listings in the Henderson’s Directories prior to the First World War, Reverend Mowat’s memoirs, and Johnston’s enlistment papers for the Great War, now available online from the Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa.