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Memorable Manitobans: Francis Godschall Johnson (1817-1894)

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Francis Godschall Johnson
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Recorder and Governor of Assiniboia (Red River Settlement) (1855-1859).

Born at Oakley House, Bedfordshire, England on 1 January 1819, the son of Godschall Johnson of the 10th Royal Hussars, and Lucy Bisshopp, he was educated in France and Belgium before coming to Canada. He was called to the bar of Lower Canada on 22 November 1839, and he subsequently served on the commission in charge of revising the statutes of Lower Canada. He opposed the Rebellion Losses Bill (which cost him his QC for a few years) and in October 1849 signed an Annexation Manifesto that called for union with the United States.

On 3 February 1854 he was appointed recorder of Rupert’s Land by the Hudson's Bay Company, chiefly because of his fluent bilingualism. He also became assessor and legal adviser to the governor of Assiniboia and to the HBC. On 29 July 1855 he was named assistant governor of Assiniboia, and on 26 November 1855 he was appointed governor. He held that post until 1858. While recorder, his major action was to release Andrew G. B. Bannatyne, who had been arrested by chief factor George Barnston in 1857 for defiance of HBC trade regulations. In 1858 he returned to his law practice in Lower Canada. He appeared for the Crown in the case against Confederate soldiers who had raided St. Albans, Vermont, from Canada. In 1865 he was appointed a Judge of the Superior Court of Montreal.

He was married twice: in 1840 to Mary Gates Jones of Montreal, who died in 1853, and in1857 to Mary Mills of Somersetshire, England. He had three children by each wife.

Following the establishment of the province of Manitoba in 1870, Johnson agreed to resume as recorder for one year, and held his first sitting of the court on 17 November 1870, when it heard cases against three Fenian supporters arrested at the border. Johnson also chaired the commission that considered and awarded compensation for Red River Rebellion losses, hearing the claims in 1871 and completing the awards in 1872. He was appointed lieutenant-governor of Manitoba to succeed Adams Archibald, but his appointment was revoked before he arrived, and he agreed to act as judge of the General Quarterly Court for one term. He was appointed chief justice of the Superior Court of the Province of Quebec in 1889 and was awarded a knighthood shortly thereafter.

He died on 27 May 1894, and is commemorated by Johnson Avenue in Winnipeg.

See also:

Four Recorders of Rupert’s Land by Roy St. George Stubbs (1967).

Francis Godschall Johnson, Dictionary of Canadian Biography XII, 476-78.


Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 10 October 2016

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

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