David Johnston was born in Copper Cliff, near Sudbury, Ontario on June 28, 1941, the son of Dorothy Stonehouse and Lloyd Johnston, the retail manager of a local hardware store.
Following the family’s move to Sault Ste. Marie, he attended Sault Collegiate Institute and played under-17 hockey with future hockey hall of famers Phil and Tony Esposito. Mr. Johnston went on to attend Harvard University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1963, twice being selected to the All-American hockey team on his way to being named to Harvard’s athletic hall of fame. He later obtained Bachelor of Laws degrees from the University of Cambridge and Queen’s University. In 1964, he married his high school sweetheart, Sharon Johnston, with whom he has five daughters. They are grandparents to 14 grandchildren.
Mr. Johnston’s professional career began in 1966 as assistant professor in the Queen’s University law faculty. He moved on to the University of Toronto’s law faculty in 1968, and became dean of Western University’s law faculty in 1974. He was named principal and vice-chancellor of McGill University in 1979, serving for fifteen years before returning to teaching as a full-time professor in the McGill Faculty of Law. In June 1999, he became the fifth president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo, serving until 2010 when he was asked to serve as Canada’s 28th governor general. Throughout his career, Mr. Johnston has served on numerous provincial and federal task forces and committees, as well as on the boards of a number of public companies. He was president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (now Universities Canada) and of the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec. He was also the founding chair of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, and he chaired the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, the federal government’s Information Highway Advisory Council and was the first non-American to chair Harvard’s Board of Overseers. Mr. Johnston is the author or co-author of more than 25 books, including new editions, and he holds honorary doctorates from more than 25 universities and learning institutions in Canada, China and India. He was invested as an officer of the Order of Canada in 1988 and promoted to companion, the Order’s highest level, in 1997. On October 1, 2010, Mr. Johnston was sworn in as the 28th governor general since Confederation. His motto, CONTEMPLARE MELIORA, meaning “To envisage a better world,” refers to his belief in the abilities of all Canadians to imagine and create a smarter, more caring nation and contribute to a fairer, more just world. The motto appears on his coat of arms along with a crest, arms and supporters reflecting the priorities of his mandate. In the Mr. Johnstons’s view, a smart nation is one that learns from the past, embraces the future and looks to the world with confidence and respect, while a caring nation recognizes that the measure of any society’s success lies in its ability to help others, particularly the vulnerable and marginalized among us. Together with Sharon Johnston, he focused his mandate on strengthening the pillars of learning and innovation, philanthropy and volunteerism and families and children. Mr. Johnston has inspired and launched a number of major new programs and initiatives, including My Giving Moment and the Governor General’s Innovation Awards. He revitalized the Caring Canadian Award program which recognizes individuals who volunteer their time to help others and, with Her Majesty The Queen’s approval, he supported the creation of the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, an official Crown honour which incorporates and replaces the Caring Canadian Award. Mr. Johnston also supported the introduction of the Polar Medal, a program that replaces the Northern Medal, to celebrate Canada’s northern heritage and recognize achievement in the polar regions and in Canada’s North. Additionally, he established the Rideau Hall Foundation as a means of strengthening the institution’s ability to serve Canadians through a range of initiatives linked to leadership, education, innovation and giving. In keeping with his role and responsibilities as governor general, Mr. Johnston has visited hundreds of cities and small towns from coast to coast to coast during his mandate. He has represented Canada on more than 40 missions abroad. In March 2015, Mr. Johnston accepted a prime ministerial request to extend his mandate by two years, until September 2017.