Political Profile: Anne Johnston

By Wendy Campbell: 

Anne Johnston

It’s been interesting to see where occupational therapists appear –  applying the principles learned in their training and practice in a range of settings: Kate Henderson in health economics, Kevin Reel in medical ethics, Jane Koh in health promotion and Heather Macpherson as President and CEO of Women’s College Hospital.

And now, Anne Johnston, who died recently, and who will be remembered as a prominent figure at Toronto’s City Hall at an important time in our history. 

Anne was born and grew up in Wales and in the mid fifties came to Canada as a newly minted OT, interested in mental health and communities. Working on Queen Street West at what was then called The Toronto Asylum (that’s bad enough, but it opened in 1850 as the Provincial Lunatic Asylum!) Anne developed a taste for the activism that would mark her career as a politician.

Elected from a mid- town Toronto ward in 1972, Anne was part of a collection of left- leaning citizens running for office across the City who were committed to a sensitive and sensible approach to the City’s growth. Led by David Crombie, who became mayor, Anne joined John Sewell and a group of elected representatives who formed a reform caucus at City Hall, determined to hold development to a manageable level as Toronto was turning into a major city.  

Anne represented her Ward on Toronto City Council until 1995 (running unsuccessfully for mayor twice) when she took a three year hiatus to devote herself to her five children. During her tenure, she served on a number of committees, and, most notably chaired the Board of Health, where she advocated for accessibility of public spaces. She spent a week in a wheelchair to demonstrate how difficult it was to navigate City Hall and its surroundings and services. Although there’s a long way to go still, we have Anne to thank for many of the changes that make the city easier to get around for all of us. 

Returning to politics in 1998 at the time of amalgamation, Anne served her constituents until she was defeated in 2003. She moved on to serve as Chair of the Toronto Seniors Assembly from its inception, never losing sight of her background in occupational therapy, helping people recognize and reach their potential.

The Anne Johnston Health Centre near Yonge and Eglinton was named in her honour and now in her memory, carrying on her commitment to promoting health and independence in citizens of Toronto.