Harvey F. Johnston

Harvey F. Johnston (June 14, 1888-1971) was the first publisher of the Tillsonburg News, named to the position in January 1920. It was a post later held by his son-in-law, J.C.R. (Chuck) McKnight, and still later by his grandson, Cameron R.H. McKnight.

Johnston began his newspaper career as a printer’s devil. At nine, he worked under the guidance of his brother-in-law, Joseph S. Gadd, who was the editor and publisher of the Elmvale Chronicle.

Eight years later, Johnston became the youngest newspaper editor in Canada, when at 17, he took over the editorial reins of his hometown paper, the Oil Springs Chronicle. During that time he and his brother penned a book on the oil industry of the area.

From Oil Springs, Johnston moved to a larger newspaper, the Sarnia Post, then the Kincardine News.

In his late 20s he ended up in Tillsonburg where he was hired as manager of the Tillsonburg Liberal. At age 29, he married a local gal, the former Ruby May Williams of Ostrander.

By 1919, competing newspapers in Tillsonburg, The Liberal and The Observer, concluded the town was too small to support two newspapers. The result was the birth of the Tillsonburg News. The newspaper’s three founding members were Johnston, F.E. Aldrich and John Law.

With his business in order, Johnston and his wife welcomed a daughter into their family, Ruby Louise.

Like many in the community newspaper business, Johnston played an active role in the Town of Tillsonburg and in the community newspaper industry.

Johnston served on town council, on the Tillsonburg Public School Board and was chair of the Tillsonburg High School Board for many years. He was president of the town’s Chamber of Commerce, president of the Tillsonburg Fair Board, plus a long-time member of the Lions Club and the Shriners Mocha Temple of the Mystic Shrine. Johnston served as a trustee at St Paul’s United Church, was a member of the 32 Degree Scottish Rite Masons, a master of King Hiram Lodge 78, secretary of the Wilson District and Ashland Lodge, a member of the Eastern Star MacDonald Chapter 167, and the Otter Lodge. He was also a member of the Lisgar Encampment Court Foresters and a member of the Orange Lodge. He and his wife were active members of Tillsonburg Little Theatre and Tillsonburg Golf Club.

Johnston was one of the early supporters of newspaper associations, where fellow small town publishers met annually and together, tried to grow the industry. He served as president of the Ontario Newspaper Association.

With him at the helm and his son-in-law, Chuck McKnight as general manager, and William J. (Bill) Pratt as editor, The News expanded to a twice weekly publication in 1960. Eight years later, it grew again, this time publishing every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

During this time, Johnston began selling his shares in the company to McKnight and Pratt.

Johnston worked regularly until his death in 1971 at the age of 83, ending a 51-year job as publisher of the Tillsonburg News and a 74-year career in the newspaper business.

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