Some Oystercatcher readers will recognize the name of Ann Johnston. For others this article may serve as your introduction, although you’ve probably seen her smiling poster face at the Recycling Depot (but that’s another story for someone else to tell).
Ann and I were founding directors of the Friends of Mount Parke, which was established in 2003 and later became the Mayne Island Conservancy. I worked, played and laughed with Ann from 2003 until her death in 2017, just before her 90th birthday. She was a bright force to be reckoned with, an activist, and totally dedicated to whatever cause she was drawn to, whether it was politics, education, recycling, or conservation. For many years Ann was the Conservancy board’s secretary par excellence, keeping us organized, or at least as organized as possible. As our activities and programs expanded, Ann was there encouraging our growth.
I remember the first large grant we applied for: the Vancity Enviro Fund in 2008. Leanna Boyer, our first employee, had written most of the grant application before she went into labour and had to leave the island with only a couple of days to deadline. Ann and I worked furiously putting the final touches on the grant, but when Ann tried to submit it with only one hour to go, her computer would not comply! Of course Ann immediately got on the phone and persuaded the folks at Vancity to give us grace time, and the grant was sent the next day by Canada Post. In spite of that last minute panic, the grant was successful and allowed us to launch our shoreline activities.
Ann so wanted the Conservancy to have its own office and, if possible, a space where she could build a library. The Root Seller space turned Ann’s dream in to a reality and she did establish a library, mostly from donated books. Alas, technology did not work in her favour, as more and more people turned to the internet for their research. The library was little used and the books were redistributed when the Conservancy moved into our current smaller space in September 2022.
Did you ever encounter Ann at the Conservancy’s table at the market? Like a magnet, she drew in folks who were already members for a cheerful conversation, but she was also superb at recruiting new members, and literally chasing after existing members who had not renewed! There was no hesitation or shame in her friendly but determined approach, along with her outspoken views on the issues of the day.
One spring we received funding from BC Hydro to cover the transportation costs and lunch for educators and students from the Tsartlip nation to come to their Helen Point Reserve for a day with students from the Mayne School. Ann was there, of course, along with John Elliott, J’SINTEN, who captured everyone’s attention with stories of his people, these islands, and Helen Point. With J’SINTEN as our guide some of us went out to the Point, a place Ann never expected to get to again. It was a beautiful sight to see the two “elders” walking together. With Ann’s determination and J’SINTEN’s help navigating through a thick patch of salal, she made it to the water’s edge to everyone’s delight, especially hers. Several years later, as we were campaigning to protect St. John Point, it was decided to make a promotional video. Ann, of course, was there. The videographer was able to drive his vehicle almost to the back beach so Ann went with him, but once that far she was determined to see the Point itself. With our help over a couple of fallen logs and through some salal, the goal was achieved and her absolute delight can be seen in the video as well as in her recorded voice. The “stars” in the video ranged in age from young teens to Ann’s 89 years. With beautiful cinematography and brilliant choreography, this video was a persuasive tool and a key media factor in the successful achievement of our goal to protect St. John Point forever. I’m grateful that Ann knew the campaign had been successful before she died, but sad she wasn’t with us to celebrate.
I asked Rob Underhill, the Conservancy’s staff biologist for a memory of Ann:
“When I came to work with the Conservancy and live on Mayne Island in 2011, I had no previous experience living in a small community or working for a volunteer-led organization. One of the things that was new to me here was working and making friends with people of all ages, including those much older than myself. When you live in a big community or you’re busy being a student, you typically associate with a bunch of people like yourself in age. Ann Johnston did an efficient job of changing my opinion of ‘old people’. Didn’t they mostly sit around at home and keep to themselves? Certainly not Ann. She had enormous energy and passion for our community, and a keen eye for bullshit. As anyone who crossed paths with her at the market could tell you, she was not afraid to express her opinions, while also being a great listener and open to learning from others. She was a confident, outspoken leader of our community who was not easily dissuaded. One of my favorite memories of Ann was seeing how happy she was at the Conservancy’s 10th Anniversary dinner, sitting beside Elizabeth May, surrounded by friends, with wineglass in hand.”
Ann was outside the Root Seller intending to get ready for another Conservancy event when she had to be taken by ambulance to the health centre. From there she was taken to Victoria where she died the next day. Before she died, a nurse asked her if there was anything she would like. Ann responded, “Just champagne and chocolate!” So when we celebrated Ann’s extraordinary life with the Mayne Island community on March 24, 2018, there was champagne and chocolate for all. We were only sorry Ann couldn’t be there to enjoy it.
Ann Johnston: Feb. 27, 1928 – Nov. 5, 2017