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Bezanson Athletes From The Past: Featuring Vivian Johnston

Vivian Johnston was born on March 17, 1926 at Burdett, Alberta. She was the 3rd youngest in a family of nine children born to Ole and Ellen Nelson. Once Vivian graduated from High School, she decided to move to Grande Prairie and stay with her sister so that she could attend St. Joe’s Business College. She graduated from College in 1946 and found employment with the Provincial Government’s Department of Lands and Forests. As Vivian was very athletic and enjoyed sports of all kinds but excelled at softball, she immediately sought out the availability of a local ball team. She quickly earned a prestigious position on the Grande Prairie Ladies Softball Team – a team that was coached by Pete Wright who became a baseball and hockey legend. He molded the team of talented young ladies into a winning combination that was very successful at league play.

Grande Prairie Ladies Softball Team Vivian Nelson front row 2nd from rt Back row Hockey & baseball legend – Coach Pete Wright

While at a dance in Grande Prairie, Vivian met a young serviceman by the name of Willis Johnston who had just returned home from WWII. They both loved music and loved to dance; therefore, it did not take long for the young couple to become serious and they subsequently married on November 20, 1947. They rented a small house on 105 avenue (current location of Dairy Queen) in Grande Prairie and settled into married life. When Willis returned from the war, he had purchased a ½ section of land from his father in the Bezanson area. He operated land-breaking equipment and opened up a lot of land for the farmers in the Bezanson District. A daughter, Wanda, was born in 1950. Shortly thereafter in 1952, a decision was made to move to Bezanson in order to farm fulltime. They began a cattle ranching operation, purchased more land and ran their cattle on a lease on the east side of the Smoky River. Willis worked in the oil patch in the wintertime and Vivian looked after the cattle. Summers were spent haying, picking and canning wild fruit, harvesting the garden and driving their daughter to her various sporting activities. As Vivian was such an accomplished pianist, their house was always the site of “house parties” – the main source of entertainment in those days. She often played the mouth organ the same time as she played the piano by means of some sort of contraption she wore around her neck. As well, Vivian played the accordion – upside down for some reason and was also quite an accomplished trumpet player. Once a curling rink was established in Bezanson, Vivian became an avid curler and thoroughly enjoyed the bonspiels. Vivian served on various community committees; some of which were in executive positions. Also she was the secretary of her daughter’s fastball team, the Bezanson Tigers.

Vivian passed away in 1974 after a battle with cancer. Willis sold the herd of cattle and his land except for the home quarter on which he remained until he passed away in 1995. Both were buried at the Glen Leslie Cemetery.


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Written by Wanda Zenner March 2020