Long-time missionary writes memoirs of lifetime with Nuu-chah-nulth-aht

Denise Titian, June 11, 2018

Earl Johnson is currently touring the West Coast with his account of a lifetime of working with Nuu-chah-nulth-aht. (Sumitted photo)

Tahsis, BC — 

A local well-known octogenarian clergyman turned author is excited to announce the release of his new book.

Now out in bookstores, Looking Astern: Reminiscing a Lifetime on Vancouver Island’s Rugged and Historic West Coast is Earl Johnson’s look back on his life in the Pacific Northwest, and more notably, his life in the First Nations' communities up and down the coast.

Earl Johnson can often be seen at First Nations gatherings. Anyone that has ever been to Esperanza or to a village church service is likely to know the 89-year-old and his family. The kind-spirited man always greets people with a warm smile and a handshake or a hug. He is often included in community functions as a guest.

Earl was born in Saskatchewan in 1929. His family moved to Port Alberni in 1937 when he was only eight years old.

Gill Elementary School on Beaver Creek Road, now closed, hadn’t even been built yet. “There was a little one room school on the hill just before you get to the present-day Gill School; that’s where I went from Grades 3 to 4 before going to Alberni Elementary School,” he said.

Johnson went on to Alberni District High School before moving onto and graduating from Prairie Bible Institute, Northwest Baptist Theological College and Seattle Pacific College.

When he finished school he went on to work at the R.B.McLean sawmill, now a national historic site.

“In 1949 I was working at the R.B. McLean sawmill in my hometown. Skipper Harold Peters of the MV Messenger 111, a mission vessel, heard of me, located me and invited me to join him for the summer. Because I was earning money to return to college, I declined,” he recalled.

Two years later, Johnson took the skipper up on his offer and applied to work for him aboard the Messenger 111 and among the peoples of the west coast of Vancouver Island.

“Salt water soon filled my veins and the warm welcome of the First Nations communities was very addicting—a beautiful addiction that has brought inexpressible joy to my eight decades among them,” said Johnson. 

The young missionary began his work on the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1952.

“Through the acceptance and love of the First Nations I eventually found rather broad acceptance among them,” Johnson shared. “My chapter, ‘Tribute to the Tribes’, expresses my great gratitude to the many hundreds of you I am today privileged to call my friends.”

Making trips from Kyuquot in the north to Port Renfrew in the south, he recalled knowing Pacheedaht Chief Charlie Jones who lived to be 114 years old. He recalls how late Joshua Edgar taught him how to navigate the treacherous Nitinaht Bar at the west entrance of Nitinaht Lake. “The (Ditidaht) village of Wyac used to be there, now it’s grown over,” said Johnson, adding that he has a story about it in his book.

Johnson has many more stories in his book, which he describes as extraordinary, filled with colour photographs and weighing two pounds.

“Among my cherished memories are of our seniors in those early years. To name just a few there was Jack Benson, Joshua Jumbo, David Frank, John and Angus Campbell, Mark Atleo, Peter Webster, Noah Thomas, Jackson August, Noah Thomas, George Ignace and many more as well as the many from all the other villages!,” said Johnson.

Among his non-native friends was the colourful character Cougar Annie (Ada Annie Rae-Arthur, a homesteader that lived in Hesquiaht Harbour). “She was a special friend as were her sons Frank, George and Tommy,” he said. There was Ivan Clarke at Hot Springs and Manager Robertson at Estevan Light and Radio Station.

Johnson is on an extended book launch tour with dozens of stops on the island, the Lower Mainland and northwestern Washington State. He will be selling signed copies of his books but he says you don’t have to buy a book, it would also be nice if people just dropped by to say hello.


Johnson’s scheduled stops include:

June 13 Wednesday, Kyuquot First Nations Village Church 3-7pm

June 14 Thursday, Oclucje Band Office 1-2 pm

June 14 Thursday, Zeballos Library 3-4 pm

June 14 Thursday, Ehattesaht First Nations Band Office 5-7 pm

June 16 Saturday, Christian Fellowship Centre 825 Village Way, Qualicum Beach 2-4 pm

June 17 Sunday, Central Baptist Church, 833 Pandora Ave, Victoria 3-5 pm

June 22 Friday, Aboard MV Messenger 111 at the Ladysmith Historical Society Dock 1-8 pm
(On Hwy #1 about the centre of Ladysmith turn onto Transfer Beach Boulevard toward the water, take the first left, Oyster Bay Drive (not marked). Signs will direct you to the marina.)

June 23 Saturday, Duncan’s New Life Baptist Church, 1839 Tzouhalem Rd., 2-4 pm

June 24 Sunday, Arrowsmith Baptist Church 4283 Glenside, Port Alberni 2-4 pm

June 24 Sunday, Tofino Legion 331 Main St. 7-9 pm

June 25 Monday, Ahousaht First Nation’s Lighthouse 10am-1pm

June 25, Monday, Port Alberni Friendship Centre 3555 4th Ave., 5-8 pm

June 26 Tuesday, Yu-cluth-aht First Nation, Gathering Room at the Six Plex 4-7 pm

June 29 Sunday, Nanaimo First Baptist Church, 1650 Waddington Rd. 2-4 pm

June 30 Saturday, Shoreline Free Methodist Church 510 NE 175 St. Shoreline, WA. 9:30 - 11:30 am July 1 Sunday, Hillcrest Chapel 1414 Larrabee, Bellingham, WA. 2-4 pm

July 2 Monday, Garden Park Towers 2825 Clearbrook Road, Abbotsford, B.C. 6-8 pm