Updates 3 Apr 2015: added Christiana & Ezekial Evans, 1871 census, credits to Kerry Johnston
James Irvine JOHNSTON was probably born in Cartwright Township, Durham County, Ontario in 1843. His father James Elden Johnston, born in County Fermanagh, Ireland, was enumerated in Cartwright Ontario as head of household in both the 1841 Canada West census and the 1848 Cartwright Township census. By 1851 when all name in the household were listed for the first time, , James Elden and his wife Elizabeth (nee DEVER) were living in Cartwright and already had 8 children. Their fifth child James Junior was said to be born in Canada, age 9 on his next birthday.
In 1854 the family moved to Wallace Township in “Canada West” (Ontario). Throughout these years, their extended family also owned property nearby, including James Jr’s grandparents Richard and Christian(a) JOHNSTON, and his father’s siblings Robert, John, Jane (who married a James ARMSTRONG) and Christiana (who married Ezekial EVANS). About 1856, and certainly by 1861, James Sr (merchant) and his family had moved to Maryborough Ontario. Nine children are itemized including 17-year-old James Jr who was already working as a carpenter.
"The 1879 City of Toronto Directory lists the firm of Johnston, Winters and Co., a mercantile agency at 22 Adelaide St. East, Toronto and also lists Benjamin B. Johnston, James E. Johnston and James "J" Johnston (probably James Irvine Johnston) of the firm Johnston, Winters and Co., all residing at 7 Maitland St., Toronto. James E. [father] and Benjamin B. [youngest brother] also appear in the 1880 Directory and although the firm of Johnston, Winters and Co. appears in the 1881 Directory, only James E. is listed as living at 7 Maitland.”
It’s amazing how many life changes can happen in just a few years. Nationally, it was certainly a time of rapid development. Canada had just become a new nation of four provinces in 1867 following confederation. Canada West was renamed as the new Province of Ontario. In 1870 Manitoba joined Canada as its fifth province, and British Columbia followed suit in 1873. The West was expanding and was rife with new opportunities and free land for homesteaders. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that James, having severed ties with Mr Winters and the family business in about 1880, decided to head west.
Probably in 1888 or 1889, after their fourth child Daisy Louise JOHNSTON was born, James and his family decided to move west again, this time to Vancouver on the Pacific coast. Deborah’s brother William John KERFOOT also decided to move. James’ fifth child Della was born in Vancouver in December 1889, which helps establish the date of their migration.
It seems likely that they traveled west by train. If so, they would have arrived in Vancouver at the CPR terminus and docks at the foot of Cordova Street. It was also on Cordova, only a few blocks away, where James and William decided to set up their own store.
Speaking of fast growing populations, this is a most enlightening excerpt from the 1887 directory for the "City of Vancouver - Terminus of the CPR" in their introduction:
“The population of the city at the present time is about 5,000, and train and steamer are adding their quota to it daily. In the same month last year the population was not over 300, giving an increase in twelve months of sixteen hundred per cent."
We do know that by 1890 James and his brother-in-law William had established "Johnston, Kerfoot, and Co.", a clothing store at 140 Cordova. Also in 1890, James Irvine Johnston is listed as a tailor living at 433 Hamilton with William John Kerfoot as his partner. Business must have been good because they already had 8 employees: 3 clerks (William Grover, James Osborne Johnstone and Charles Davis, 4 tailors (LA Peterson, George Alexander Mills, A W Milne, and Cathel Kier), and 1 tailoress (Miss Jennie Allen). Over the next several years the company is listed at various addresses on Cordova (140, 104, 114, 108, 104-106), sometimes showing conflicting addresses in the same year. So either they moved frequently, had multiple storefronts, the street numbers on the buildings changed, and/or there were typos in the directories!
James I Johnston - Vancouver Residence
Johnston, Kerfoot & Co - Vancouver Store Location
The Klondike gold rush of 1897 and 1898 was a golden opportunity for merchants to further diversify by supplying the hordes of prospectors heading to the Yukon to make their fortune. Johnson & Kerfoot was not to be left behind, and by 1898 they had opened a second location at 308 Cordova under the name of Johnston, Kerfoot & Cross, specializing as Klondike outfitters. It looks like they financed this expansion by going into partnership with a Mr A S Cross who in 1898 lived at 806 Hornby Street, Vancouver. I couldn't find either Mr Cross or this new business listed in other years, so it was probably a short term but hopefully profitable venture for them all.
Many other outfitters also climbed on the Klondike band wagon, and at least four were in their immediate vicinity: Club & Stewart at 408 Cordova, Klondike Outfitting & Trading Co. at 17 Cordova, RA Muskett at 326 Cordova, and Thomas Dunn Co at 8 Cordova who supplied a lot of the necessary hardware. This competition generated a flurry of marketing and publicity tactics to try and gain a bigger share of the market.
While the company was still riding high on this gold rush boom, James became ill with cancer. We don't know for how long he suffered, but tragically James died on 16 September 1900 at the age of 57, leaving his widow Deborah and 6 young children to mourn his passing: Howard, Russell, Morley, Daisy Louise, Della and Irene (ages 8 to 17). The luck of the Irish had run out for James.
His death also had an affect on the business. Although the Klondike Outfitters location had already closed, the company of Johnston & Kerfoot continued on for a number of years. In 1910, they were located at 125 and 127 West Hasting under the names of Mrs J I (Deborah) Johnston & Wm J Kerfoot. Deborah's son Oliver Morley Johnston was also working for them as a clerk. Deborah was living at 1419 Harwood along with sons Morley and Russell, and perhaps others. And they would have been a very busy getting ready for two family weddings. Deborah's daughter Daisy Louise was married in May 1910 to Harry BOORMAN, and then her son Morley married Gertrude COCKBURN in October.
Yet by the very next year there was no further trace of the Johnston & Kerfoot store. All the Cordova addresses had long been left behind and another company had already taken over their 127 West Hastings location. I don't know why 125 West Hastings wasn't even listed as a valid street address, but elsewhere Morley was still said to be working as a salesman at 125 West Hastings (his employer's name not mentioned). Interestingly a Johnson Clothing House business appeared at 131 West Hastings, sharing the premises with the Tavern Cafe and the Union Pool Rooms. Could this have been a related yet smaller liquidation site? Deborah's business partner and brother William John KERFOOT was also missing from the Vancouver directories, so perhaps he moved to the United States sooner than I thought? More research on this is needed for another story, I think!
It was an end of an era for the James Irvine JOHNSTON family, with new beginnings already in motion. The store had closed and the partnership dissolved after a good twenty year run, with James at the helm for half that time. And perhaps along the way they even found or earned their own pot of gold, as the Irish yearn to do!
References and Further Reading
BC Archives and Royal BC Museum - BMD database
History of Vancouver - Tourism Vancouver
History of Canadian Pacific and Port Metro Vancouver
Historical Maps and History of Canada - Canadian Geographic site
History of the Canadian Pacific Railway - CPR site
Klondike Gold Rush - Yukon Government site
Klondike Gold Rush - Canadian Encyclopedia
Vancouver Exposed: A History in Photographs
Changing Vancouver, Then and Now Images