Basil H. Johnston

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Basil Johnston
Born (1929-07-13)July 13, 1929
Parry Island Indian Reserve
Died September 8, 2015(2015-09-08) (aged 86)
Wiarton, Ontario
Notable awards Order of Ontario

Basil H. Johnston OOnt (13 July 1929 – 8 September 2015) was a Canadian writer, storyteller, language teacher and scholar.

Personal life[edit]

Johnston was born July 13, 1929 on the Parry Island Indian Reserve to Rufus and Mary (née Lafrenière) Johnston.[1] He was a member of the Cape Croker First Nation (Neyaashiinigmiing).

Johnston was educated in reserve schools in Cape Croker and in Spanish, Ontario; an account of his school years can be read in his biography Indian School Day (1988). He earned his B.A. with Honors from Loyola College in 1954. He taught high school at Earl Haig Secondary School in North York, Ontario, from 1962 to 1969, before taking a position in the Ethnology Department of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.[2] Part of Johnston's focus during his 25 years with the museum was the language and mythology of Anishinaabe heritage.[3]

While publishers recognized the authenticity of Johnston's writing, they questioned whether there was a market for it. His first book Ojibway Heritage was published in 1976 thanks to the support of Jack McClelland and Anna Porter of McClelland & Stewart. In 1978 Porter proved equally instrumental, fighting for the publication of Johnston's second book, Moose Meat and Wild Rice, after a McClelland & Stewart editor suggested the publisher pass on the title, in part, because stories of its kind were "currently passé."[4]

Johnston married Lucie Desroches in 1959, with whom he had three children - Miriam, Tibby and Geoffery.[4]

Johnston was a member of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation. He died in 2015 at Wiarton, Ontario.[5]


For his work in preserving Ojibwa language and culture, he received the Order of Ontario in 1989 and Honorary Doctorates from the University of Toronto and Laurentian University. Basil has also received the Aboriginal Achievement Award for Heritage and Spirituality.[5][6]


  • North American Indians: outline. Indian-Eskimo Association of Canada (Toronto: 1971).
  • Ojibway heritage. Columbia University Press (New York: 1976).
  • Canada: Discovering Our Heritage. Pearson Custom Publishing (Boston: 1977). By David Smith, Chris Andreae, Basil Johnston, E. Mitchner and Ann MacKenzie.
  • How the birds got their colours: Gah w'indinimowaut binaesheehnyuk w'idinauziwin-wauh. Kids Can Press (Toronto: 1978).
  • Moose meat and wild rice. McClelland and Stewart (Toronto: 1978).
  • Ojibway Language Course Outline for beginners. Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto: 1978).
  • Ojibway Language Lexicon for beginners. Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto: 1978).
  • Tales the elders told: Ojibway legends. Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto: 1981).
  • Brève histoire du Collège Saint-Alexandre. Collège Saint-Alexandre (Touraine: 1981).
  • Grosser Weisser Falke : der Lebenskreis eines Ojibwa. Eugen Diederichs Verlag (Köln: 1982).
  • Und Manitu erschuf die Welt : Mythen und Visionen der Ojibwa. Diederichs (München: 1984).
  • Nanabusch und Grosser Geist : Geschichten der Odschibwä Indianer (Kanada). Verlag St. Gabriel (Mödling-Wien: 1985). By Basil Johnston; Shirley Cheechoo; Käthe Recheis.
  • By Canoe & Moccasin: Some Native Place Names of the Great Lakes. Waapoone Publishing and Promotion (Lakefield: 1986). Illustrated by David Beyer.
  • Ojibway ceremonies. McClelland and Stewart (Toronto: 1987).
  • Indian school days. Key Porter Books (Toronto: 1988).
  • "One Generation from Extinction" in Native Writers and Canadian Literature. University of British Columbia Press (Vancouver: 1990).
  • Hudson Bay Watershed: a photographic memoir of the Ojibway, Cree, and Oji-Cree. Dundurn Press (Toronto: 1991). By John MacFie and Basil H. Johnston.
  • Hudson Bay portraits: native peoples of the Hudson Bay watershed. Dundurn Press (Toronto: 1992). By John Macfie and Basil Johnston.
  • Tales of the Anishinaubaek. Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto: 1993). By Basil H. Johnston and Maxine Noel.
  • The Manitous: the spiritual world of the Ojibway. HarperCollins Publishers (New York: 1995).
  • The bear-walker and other stories. Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto: 1995).
  • Readings: selections from HarperCollins Spring/Summer 1995 nonfiction list. HarperCollins Publishers (New York: 1995). By Annie Dillard; Basil Johnston; Ellis Cose; Philip Langdon; Emma Donoghue; Lawrence Graham; Paul Solotaroff; Eleanor Anne Lanahan; HarperCollins (Firm)
  • American film stories. P. Reclam (Stuttgart: 1996). By Reingard M. Nischik; Sam Shepard; Basil Johnston; Tom Clark; Richard Brautigan; Jayne Anne Phillips; T Coraghessan Boyle; Ray Bradbury; William Saroyan; Charles Johnson
  • The star man and other tales. Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto: 1997). By Basil H. Johnston and Ken Syrette.
  • Mermaids and Medicine Women. Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto: 1998).
  • The Art of Norval Morrisseau, The Writings of Basil H. Johnston. The Glenbow Museum (Calgary: 1999).
  • Crazy Dave. Key Porter Books (Toronto: 1999).[7]
  • The nature of plants: excerpted from Ojibway heritage by Basil Johnston. Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (Odanah, WI: 199X).
  • Honour Earth Mother: Mino-audjaudauh Mizzu-Kummik-Quae. University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln: 2003).
  • Anishinaubae Thesaurus. Michigan State University Press (East Lansing: 2007).
  • Think Indian: languages are beyond price. Kegedonce Press (Chippewas of Nawash First Nation, Ontario: 2011).
  • Living in Harmony: Mino-nawae-indawaewin. Kegedonce Press (Chippewas of Nawash First Nation, Ontario: 2012).


  • The Man, the Snake and the Fox. National Film Board of Canada (Montreal: 1978). Directed and produced by Tony Snowsill, written by Basil Johnston.
  • Native Indian folklore. National Film Board of Canada (Montreal: 1993). By Alanis Obomsawin; Wolf Koenig; Brian McLeod; Tony Westman; Tony Snowsill; Basil Johnston; Les Krizson; Francois Hartman; Eunice Macaulay; Tex Kong; National Film Board of Canada.


  1. ^ Stoffman, Judy (26 September 2015). "Writer Basil Johnston paved way for First Nations literature". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 8 March 2016. 
  2. ^ Fitzgerald, Judith (16 July 1983). "Johnston avoids Indian stereotypes: An Ojibway writes about his own". Toronto: The Globe & Mail. Retrieved 8 March 2016. 
  3. ^ "Anishinabek remember storyteller Basil Johnston". Anishinabek News. 10 September 2015. Retrieved 29 March 2016. 
  4. ^ a b Meilie, Dianne (2015). "Basil Johnston Editor wrote 'Indians are passe' on author's manuscript". Windspeaker. 33 (7): 26. Retrieved 8 March 2016. 
  5. ^ a b Langlois, Denis (10 September 2015). "Esteemed Anishinaabe author Basil Johnston dies". Wiarton Echo. Retrieved 8 March 2016. 
  6. ^ "Nineteen honored With Order of Ontario". Toronto: The Globe & Mail. 19 April 1989. Retrieved 8 March 2016. 
  7. ^ Review of Crazy Dave in Rambles, a cultural arts magazine

External links[edit]