About the Author: William Denis Hertel Johnson
During a lengthy career in journalism that began in Toronto at the Globe and Mail in May 1967, William Johnson has been a prominent witness to five decades of history, reporting while based successively in Toronto, Montreal, the Parliament in Ottawa, the National Assembly in Quebec, the White House in Washington D.C., with a return to the Parliament of Canada, where he was elected a life member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 2006. Throughout his career, he has been preoccupied with understanding and explaining the sense of alienation from Canada that is the inheritance of so many Québécois. He has published books on the subject, in French and English, and is now preparing an historical analysis to propose how that alienation can be overcome.
William Johnson was born in 1931 of an Irish-origin father from Quebec’s Eastern Townships and a Franco-Ontarian mother. He grew up speaking English and French and was schooled mostly in French, including seven years (1940-47) spent as a pensionnaire or demi-pensionnaire at Montreal’s Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf.
After graduating with a B.A. from Montreal’s Loyola College (1949), William entered the Jesuit order, where he spent 10 years preparing for the priesthood. During this period, he acquired a licentiate degree (Ph.L.) in philosophy from Toronto’s Regis College (1956) and an M.A. in French literature from the University of Montreal (1958). He also taught French for two years at the Jesuits’ secondary school and junior college in Regina, Saskatchewan, Campion College (1957-59).
Deciding to abandon the pursuit of the priesthood in 1959, William sought to understand the contemporary secular world by enrolling in sociology at the University of Toronto (1959-60).
He spent the summer of 1960 living in a tent in the Inuit and Cree community of Great Whale River on Hudson’s Bay, carrying out a sociological study for the Northern Co-Ordination and Research Centre of the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources. His community study, titled “An Exploratory Study of Ethnic Relations at Great While River”, was published in 1962.
In the fall of 1960, he enrolled for graduate studies in sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, but the following year he interrupted his studies to lecture in sociology for a year at the University of Manitoba (1961-62). He then returned to Berkeley for two more years (1962-64) but left without completing a degree and spent three years as a lecturer in sociology at the University of Toronto (1964-67). During this period, he spent two summers doing a community study of Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, for the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. His report was not published.
In 1967, William abandoned teaching for a career in journalism, beginning as a reporter in Toronto with the Globe and Mail (1967-70). When the October Crisis struck Quebec in 1970, William was transferred to the Montreal bureau of the Globe and Mail, where he spent two years (1970-72). In 1973, he was transferred to the Globe’s bureau in Ottawa as a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. In 1976, he was assigned to cover full-time the Quebec elections that carried René Lévesque’s Parti Québécois to power on November 15. Immediately after that event, he was transferred to the Globe’s bureau in the press gallery of Quebec’s National Assembly, where he served as bureau chief until a year after the Quebec referendum on sovereignty-association of May 20, 1980. In 1979, his status changed from reporter to columnist.
William then moved back to Toronto, where he divided his time between writing features and writing columns (1982-83). In 1983, he was transferred to Washington D.C., accredited to the White House, covering American politics, with occasional reporting trips to Haiti, the Soviet Union and Iceland (1983-87). In 1985, he was elected financial secretary of Washington’s National Press Club.
In 1987, after 20 years with the Globe and Mail, William chose to move to Ottawa as national affairs columnist for the Montreal Gazette and, again, as a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. During his nine years employed by the Gazette (1987-96), he won the National Newspaper Award for columns written in 1987 and twice more was a finalist for the award (“Certificate of Merit,” for his columns of 1988 and 1990). He also won the $10,000 prize offered by the President of Southam News (for columns in 1987).
When the magazine Cité libre, originally founded by Gérard Pelletier and Pierre Trudeau in 1950, was relaunched after a long absence in 1996, William served for two years on the board of directors.
In 1996, his post of national affairs columnist was terminated by Gazette editor Joan Fraser. William became a freelancer, published regularly in the Gazette, the Financial Post, the Toronto Sun, the Ottawa Sun (1996-98). From 1998 to 2000, he was a freelance columnist with Southam News.
In 1998, disturbed by the close results of Quebec’s 1995 referendum on unilateral secession and by the constant and flagrant repudiation of the constitutional order by the political parties and the intelligentsia, William ran for and won the presidency of the English-language lobby group Alliance Quebec. His program included the assertion that the rule of law that must govern any attempted secession and the acknowledgement that Quebec has two official languages, English as well as French, contrary to the generalized belief that French is the – meaning only – official language of Quebec.
In 2000, after leaving the presidency of Alliance Quebec, William was a weekly columnist with the Globe and Mail until 2003. Beginning in 2004, he was a weekly columnist on CPAC – the Cable Public Affairs Channel; he resigned from that network in 2013.
Books: William co-wrote the memoirs of Carole Devault, who had served as a police informant within the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) during and after the October crisis of 1970. Published in 1981 by Éditions internationales Alain Stanké, it was titled Toute ma vérité. Les confessions de l’agent S.A.T. 945-171. He translated it and it was published in 1982 under the title, The Informer. Confessions of an Ex-Terrorist (Toronto: Fleet Publishers).
In 1991, Éditions Alain Stanké published William’s critical review of the figure of the Anglo in French Canadian literature, titled Anglophobie made in Québec. In 1994, he published a more political follow-up, A Canadian Myth, Quebec Between Canada and the Illusion of Utopia (Montréal: Robert Davies Publishing). That book, with a new chapter, was translated by novelist Jacques Renaud and published under the title, Le mirage. Le Québec entre le Canada et l’utopie (Montréal, Éditions RD, 1995).
Ten years later, in 1995, just a few months before Stephen Harper won the Canadian federal elections of January 23, 2006, William published a biography, Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada (Toronto, McClelland & Stewart). A paperback edition, including new chapters, was published in 2006.
Also in 2006, William did research and contributed passages for the first volume of the biography of Pierre Trudeau by Max and Monique Nemni and translated it. The English edition was titled, Young Trudeau. Son of Quebec, Father of Canada. 1919-1944, published by McClelland & Stewart. He shared with the Nemnis the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize ($15,000) for 2006. Other recognitions: In 1982, William was named a member of the Order of Canada. In 1997, he was granted a Ph.D. honoris causa by Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. In 2005, he was named a member of the Order of Gatineau. In 2006 he was elected as a life member of Canada’s Parliamentary Press Gallery.
William is currently working on his final book, a history of Quebec separatism since the Quiet Revolution. He lives in Gatineau with his beloved wife, Carol Dutcher Bream.