Dr. Ari ‘Edward’
Guðmundur Johnson

Avi Johnson

Dr. Ari Edward and
Eleanor (nee Emes) Johnson

Eleanor Johnson




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Taken from the Icelandic Appeal website, circa 2000.
Johnson, Dr. Ari ‘Edward’ Guðmundur

By Cynthia (nee Johnson) Webster

Ari ‘Edward’ Guðmundur Johnson, born January 15, 1902 in East Kildonan, the eighth of eleven children born to Guðmundur Jónsson (Johnson) and Katrín Arngrímsdóttir. He received his BSc from the University of Manitoba then went on to complete his degree in medicine from the Manitoba Medical College, University of Manitoba in 1928. He joined the staff of the Selkirk Mental Hospital, and, in 1931, found time to marry Eleanor Cadwell Emes, his grade eight sweetheart. In 1935 he undertook two years of post-graduate studies in Psychiatry, first at Harvard Medical School McLean Hospital, Boston, then at Henry Phipps Clinic of John Hopkins, Baltimore. He arrived home in 1936 in time for the birth of his first child Arlene Meredith.

Dr. Johnson became superintendent of the mental Hospital in 1943 and served in that position until 1959. He pioneered the open-ward policy in mental hospitals and the active participation of the community in mental health problems. In 1953 the Selkirk Hospital received the first award of the American Psychiatric Association of the advancement in care and treatment of patients in mental hospitals in the United States and Canada. Early in life he showed signs of the direction his life would take. His older sister Martha is said to have complained bitterly about her brother removing the heads from her dolls “to see what was inside.” Edward Johnson spent some 40 years in the practice of psychiatry in Manitoba.

Dr. Johnson was appointed a lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine. He was promoted to assistant professor in 1960, retiring in 1967. Not one to ever entirely retire from anything, he held post-retirement positions with the faculty until 1971. He left the Selkirk Mental Hospital to accept the position of director of Psychiatric Services for the province of Manitoba in 1960, and in addition was named Superintendent of the Psychiatric Institute, Health Sciences Centre.

He strongly believed that anyone is able to achieve any goal they set for themselves, and his long-term goal was to become director of Psychiatric Services for the province. During those years, he pursued his belief of community involvement in mental health problems, and was instrumental in the development of the Eden Mental Health Centre in Winkler, Manitoba. This was the first community sponsored and community directed comprehensive mental health facility in Canada. While in this position, he established Psychiatric Forensic Services for the province, and was involved in the development of the St. Amant Centre for mentally handicapped children.

During his stay in Selkirk he was an active Rotarian, he bowled, took figure skating lessons and along with Eleanor was a member of the square dance club.


In 1940 his second daughter Cynthia was born, and in 1942 came a son, Garth.

Dr. Johnson was an avid gardener. Every year the family was treated to corn, peas strawberries, and huge beef-stake tomatoes. As he claimed to have been raised on frozen turnips, this is likely the reason for their exclusion from his garden. In addition he carefully planned and tended a large flower garden. His passion, however, was the study of the development of fruit trees that would survive and bear fruit in the Manitoba climate. He took great pride in the large orchard he developed in collaboration with the Morden Experimental Farms.

Later he became an enthusiastic photographer. Slide shows of family members and trips were often shown following Sunday dinners. As the family grew, many pictures of his beloved grandchildren were included.

Always drawn to water, he and his family spent many summers at the much-loved cottage at Sandy Hook. There, for seventeen years he enjoyed many hours on the golf course and was able to devote uninterrupted time with his family. During those seventeen years in Selkirk many hours were spent on the highway between Selkirk, Winnipeg, Portage la Prairie and Brandon. It is said he developed more than a nodding acquaintance with the RCMP highway patrol.

He was always actively interested in medical government. His involvement included twenty years of service on the Council of Physicians and Surgeons and ten years on the board of the Manitoba Medical Association with one year of service as the President of each. His years of service were recognized in 1969 when he was awarded Honorary Life Fellowship of the American Psychiatric Association for Meritorious Contributions to Psychiatry, and in 1970 awarded Senior Membership in the Canadian Medical Association. Following his formal retirement from the Manitoba Government, he continued in private practice in Winnipeg.

Over the years, his droll sense of humour served him well. At the age of ninety-two he was admitted to the hospital with a suspected hip fracture. Eleanor, his wife of sixty years sat at his bedside while the students assessed his “mental acuity.” He answered all their questions, then, aware that his wife was without her hearing aid, responded “I never saw her before in my life,” to the final question as to his knowledge of who she was.

Dr. Ari Edward Guðmundur Johnson died in his 92nd year on October 16, 1994 in Winnipeg leaving his wife Eleanor, daughter Cynthia Webster of Gimli, son Garth of Ottawa, and five grandchildren. His daughter Arlene predeceased him in 1968.