Community Memories from Tim Johnson Re: Dr. Blain and Joan Johnson

Dr. Blain Johnston has been recognized as Thompson's first doctor.  His youngest son, Tim, who still resides in Thompson, tells the story of his father's life in the north.  When Dr. Johnson was going to medical school, he worked for the CNR in Wabowden in order to help pay his tuition.  Following his graduation, he interned in The Pas, then went to Snow Lake and worked there for a time.  In the 50s, when the agreement to build the community of Thompson was signed, he was retained by INCO to fly into Thompson on a weekly basis.  He really ended up in northern Manitoba because of a fondness of the people and of the area.  Joan was in Snow Lake with Tim’s brother and sisters, and as soon as housing was available, they came too.  Originally, the hospital was in the INCO camp, then in the Juniper area, and then the present hospital was completed in 61.  Blain and Joan built a house on Hillside in '61 and that home is still in the family.

Wages were not terribly important to Blain.  He was on contract at first, but he quickly went into private practice and opened his own clinic in downtown Thompson.  Tim recalls times when people who were unable to pay for their medical services would come to their door with some fish.

It was a very busy time in industry, and with the conditions, weather-wise, during the construction phase, there were a lot of instances where the requirements went way beyond what a normal medical practice would be today.  They had a station wagon that often served as an ambulance.  Dr. Johnson was a G.P.   He did surgery and delivered a tremendous number of babies. Even today, many people tell Tim they were delivered by his father. It was difficult to move a patient out of Thompson at that time, so Blain dealt with whatever came up.

As for disadvantages, Blain considered isolation, travel, and the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables to be some of the main problems. He put in very long hours—12 - 16 hours a day.  Tim would sometimes accompany his father at work and wait while he did his rounds or made house calls.

Tim's mother, Joan, was a nurse and completely understood the arduous days.  Her job was to take care of her family, but she was also involved in the business end of the clinic, so they were in very much a partnership.  Dr. Johnston was very involved in the community and served on the first town council and successive councils until his death.  With Carl Nesbitt as administrator, attempts were made to encourage young professionals and individuals who were prepared to bring their families and build a community.

Blain loved fishing and gardening, planting trees and shrubs that still remain on the property.

Tim's family attended the United Church where Tim also attended kindergarten with Doreen Lindquist as his teacher.  Tim describes the growth and progress of the town and some of his experiences and his feelings about growing up here.  "It was a tremendous community to grow up in, lots of sports to participate in, and community events with everyone being very active.”

Most kids loved going to the airport to watch the planes take off, but Tim didn't enjoy going across the Bailey Bridge.  "You had to go down a big hill, and you had to cross in a single line of traffic, and you could see the water down below.

Some exciting times in the community were the opening of City Centre Mall, and the building of the Gordon Beard Arena, the Norplex Pool and the Library.  Tim remembers when the family bought a cabin at Paint Lake.  He recalls it was a gift from his father to his mother.  He doesn’t think she was overly keen at first, but she got a fur coat that year too, so Tim thinks the coat was meant to make up for it, as the cabin was really a gift for the whole family.

Some of Tim's comments on the early days in Thompson reflect his pride in the community.  Tim admires the work that many of the pioneers of Thompson put into this town.  In his words, “It's nice to see the museum giving the town a sense of its history too.  It's a history to be proud of.

Tim believes that one of the most fundamental changes has been the building of the roads to surrounding communities, and that has shifted the opportunity of potential for Thompson.  "You move from a strictly mining town to a diversified service centre.

Tim has always been exposed to Municipal politics during his growing up years. Upon returning to Thompson after university, he worked here, and true to his family's community spirit, has always believed that if you live in a community, you should contribute.  He serves on the local City Council and takes his responsibility very seriously. He considers his tasks on council as a unique opportunity and his life in our city as a very positive experience.

 Note: Tim Johnson was elected Mayor of Thompson October 25, 2006.

>Read more about Dr. Blain Johnston - Thompson Citizen: Thompson General Hospital turns 50

>Wikipedia: "Manitoba Liberal Party candidates in the 1973 Manitoba provincial election"

>More Community Memories