Father of Confederation in the family

Colin MacLean colin.maclean@tc.tc
Published on August 8, 2014

Suzanne Charlton, a descendant of Father of Confederation John Mercer Johnson holds a photo of her famous relative. Colin MacLean/Journal Pioneer 

SUMMERSIDE – It is a rare individual who can say their family helped found one of the world’s great democracies – but at least one Summerside woman can do so.

Suzanne Charlton is the great great great great granddaughter (on her mother’s side) of John Mercer Johnson, a New Brunswick politician, lawyer and one of the Fathers of Confederation.

Originally from Montreal, Charlton is a retired social worker and currently resides in Summerside.

She’s also something of a family historian for her far-flung clan.

“I’m just very proud of him,” she said of her notable ancestor.

She said her whole family grew up knowing about Johnson and hearing the stories of his involvement in the movement towards Confederation – as well as his penchant for drinking and other quirky tales.

She’s always loved those stories, considering it a real privilege to have grown up with them.

“I’m a passionate Canadian and I think we need to say ‘thank you, God,’ that we are living in a great country. Because as nutty as our politics are … at least we have the rule of law and a relatively safe lifestyle,” she said.

What Johnson and the other Fathers accomplished deserves all the attention it’s getting this year, she said, referring to the celebrations ongoing all this year on P.E.I. to celebrate the 1864 Charlottetown Conference.

But she does wonder if anyone is really learning anything about that moment in history, or just enjoying all the free concerts and activities.

“I think it’s great – but I just wonder: how does the public buy into it? I mean I buy into it because I have that connection. But what about the children? What do they think about it? But I mean it’s great they’re having a celebration,” she addded.

Regardless, she said, it’s nice to think that someone in your family is having a bit of a fuss made over them.

It’s a nice story to tell the kids, she added.

“We’re honoured that this guy right here,” she touches his picture, “stood up and said, ‘OK guys, let’s get it together.”

According to Library and Archives Canada, Johnson was born in Liverpool, England, in October of 1818 and moved to join his father in Chatham, New Brunswick, in 1821.

He became a full-fledged lawyer in 1838 and married Henrietta Shirref in 1845. They had 12 children, six of whom survived into adulthood. 

He was first elected to the New Brunswick legislature in 1850 and was a supporter of Confederation with the other British North American colonies.

He represented New Brunswick at the Charlottetown, Quebec City and London, England, meetings that led to the formation of Canada.

After Confederation, he was elected as an MP but died in 1868, about one year after taking office.