High Spots

It is a miracle that Captain James Wilbur Johnston (1854-1945) lived into his 90s. He nearly drowned in a swimming hole in Great Village, Nova Scotia (his hometown), intimately witnessed murder, was nearly blown to bits while fumigating the forecastle of a ship he was crewing to guard against smallpox and was a close bystander to warfare between Chile and Peru during the War of the Pacific. These were just some of the treacherous events Johnston survived, all before the age of 30.

These escapades, along with the personal accounts of Johnston’s three-decade seafaring career, are found in High Spots: The Seagoing Memoirs of Captain James Wilbur Johnston. Dick Akerman and Bruce Graham of the Colchester Historical Society in Truro embarked on an adventure themselves to track down the manuscript of Johnston’s personal diaries and have them published through Pottersfield Press.

You may be thinking this is just another standard East Coast account of ships and gales, but for this Generation X/Y-er, with no real connection to the seagoing way of life, Johnston’s accounts were a thrill. Readers will be engulfed as they vicariously experience his travels around the world, hear first hand accounts as history unfolds and observe the social views of the time, which appear in some ways timeless or universal. Furthermore, Johnston’s sense of humour is pure delight as he describes events like being knocked out cold by an albatross (seabird) or longing after a missing pencil for decades.

When Johnston sat down to pen his memories at sea, he only thought that his children and grandchildren would read his words. His humility regarding his writing talent throughout is unwarranted as he is a master storyteller. “Now then, you who are to be my board of censors – heave ho,” Johnston starts his accounts. “If ye can pass this, me hearties, why ‘All’s well. Lights all burning bright, sir.’ Here goes. We’re shoving off.”

High Spots will be launched Saturday, November 17 (2pm) as part of a Days at Sale exhibition opening at the Colchester Historical Society Museum in Truro. All are welcome. ~ By Michelle Brunet

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