Don Johnson was born in St. Catharines and has lived in the southwest Ontario region almost his entire life. He moved to Toronto at a young age and worked for a while at the Bank of Commerce there. After some time he moved back to the Niagara area and found work at Foster Wheeler as an accountant. While living in the Falls he stayed at the YMCA on Queen Street. One Saturday Night, he remembers fondly, he heard a ruckus downstairs and went to ask the front desk what all the noise was about.
After being told it was a dance, he got all dressed up and headed down to mingle. While there, he walked up to a lady and asked her to dance, and, he glowingly states “we danced for 50 years.” He married that lady (Katherine Gagliardi Johnson) and alongside her raised seven wonderful kids here in the Falls, who now have children of their own. He and his wife loved to dance, mostly the Viennese Waltz.
In the community Mr. Johnson has become well known for his hard-work, his pleasant demeanor, his ballpark, and most notably, his banjo. Describing his love for the instrument, he laughed and explained that he “can pick on the banjo, it don’t get mad.” He has played the banjo for an incredible number of people and venues, but seemed most pleased to describe the time he played with Gordie Tapp at the Parliament buildings when he was given the Senior of the Year Award in Ottawa. He has spent over 40 years taking his banjo to hospitals, home visits, and other charitable endeavours, which has left him with numerous accolades including the Civic Pride Award, being named a Paul Harris Fellow, and in just the past year being given a Lifetime of Community Service Award from Mayor Diodati.
Don Johnson currently lives in a house overlooking the ballpark that bears his name. He speaks proudly of the time when he donated a large tract of land to the city in order to build a ballpark (in 1976, on Beaverdams Road), and since its relocation of all the funding he has provided to the new location for its upkeep and expansion. Mr. Johnson is a humble pillar of this community; the kind of citizen who makes life better for his fellow Niagara Falls residents and embodies the Canada Spirit of toughness, kindness, and charity. Whether through his banjo playing, his years of disciplined, hard work in the community, or his continued support of Don W. Johnson Field, Niagara Falls is lucky to have a citizen like Don Johnson.
What is your favourite memory of Canada?
Well, at 90, any memory is a good memory! I loved being the parade marshal in the Canada Day Parade, driving in a Cadillac up Morrison Street and celebrating Canada.
What are you most proud of?
My children. We have a massive family and yet we are still a very tight-knit group.
When did your family first come to Canada?
Way back! My ancestors on my dad’s side were empire loyalists. Sir William Johnson came in a Conestoga wagon and was granted land in St. Catharines because of his loyalty to the Crown. On my mom’s side (the Boyle family), they were originally from County Cork, Ireland but came to St. Catharines as well and lived on Duke Street. As a member of the British Empire they fought in the Boer War before returning to Canada and settling here, where we have been ever since!