Carol Johnston, founder of Canada’s 1st children’s museum, dies at 89 in London, Ont.

The London, Ont., woman who established Canada’s first children’s museum and never lost her ability to see the world through the eyes of a curious child has died. 

Carol Johnston died Saturday at age 89.

“The London Children’s Museum began as a trunk in our basement,” said her daughter, Nancy Carson.

“With the help of city staff members and forward-thinking educators, mom tested museum ideas in local parks, garages and classrooms.”

Johnston, shown painting the face of a child, was described by her family as having ‘a vision of creating hands-on learning experiences for children in London.’ (Supplied by London Children’s Museum)

For the first year, it was, in effect, a pop-up children’s museum, started in 1975 when Johnston was transitioning from being a mother of five to studying education at Western University. She was inspired by a family visit to the Boston Children’s Museum. 

“Carol had a vision of creating hands-on learning experiences for children in London,” the family said in a statement. 

Johnston ‘inspired so many’

She started the museum with the help of family and friends, especially her husband Bud Johnston, who would become the dean of what is now the Ivey School of Business. Johnston purchased the Riverview Public School building in 1980 with help from the community and the Ivey and Lawson foundations. 

The building on Wharncliffe Road has been home to the museum for the last 40 years. 

“She inspired so many people to get involved,” Carson said about her mother, who was inducted as a member of the Order of Canada in 1985. 

The passing of our founder is like losing a best friend.– Amanda Conlon, director of the London Children’s Museum, on Carol Johnston

“When my mother was growing up, museums were all about looking and reading, not touching. In her original way, mom wanted to create a space where children could come to learn about their community and the world, and give free rein to their curiosity and excitement.”  

A rendering shows Below and Beyond, the concept for an area of the new museum. (Gyroscope Inc/London Children’s Museum)

About 2.5 million children and families have played at the London Children’s Museum since its founding. It’s now moving to a new location, at 100 Kellogg Lane. 

“The passing of our founder is like losing a best friend,” said Amanda Conlon, director of the museum.

“The museum was Carol’s vision, and she has been its most dedicated supporter since we opened our doors almost 50 years ago. On a personal note, she has been a great mentor to me, even in recent years and months. She will be missed beyond measure.”

At Johnston’s request, a Celebration of Life will be held at the museum. Details will be released later.

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