Dave and Isobel Johnston.
By Craig Baird
It was back in 1907 when Sam and Agnes Johnston started the well-known business of Johnston’s Dairy. Located on the southwest corner of town, roughly 66 acres of the original farm is now within the limits of Gull Lake.
In 1907, when Gull Lake was just a small municipality, the very first customer of the company was the Clarendon Hotel. The hotel made an arrangement with the Johnston family to lease 10 acres from them to grow vegetables for their own use. This 10 acres was along highway 37 and had a well on it to help with irrigation.
Sam and Agnes did not plan on having a dairy when they came out from Ontario, though they had brought some cows with them. With their close proximity to town coupled with the growing demand for milk, they decided to help out. As the years went on, the herd grew and were often shown off by Sam at fairs in Regina, Swift Current, and, of course, Gull Lake. Many of the cows were ribbon winners, and two were even chosen as the top milk producing Holstein’s in the entire province.
Timers were tough for everyone when The Great Depression hit. Several cattle were sent off to Toronto on the CPR. Unfortunately, the price the cattle were selling for, which was $15, barely covered the cost of shipping them. Due to a shortage of feed or pasture, newborn calves were either given away or destroyed.
Things only became worse in 1935 when Sam was severely mauled by a bull after it charged. If it had not been for his dog jumping on the bull’s neck, Sam may have been killed. Spending quite a bit of time in the hospital, Sam was a bit slower after that.
On April 1, 1946, Dave Johnston, Sam and Agnes’ son, began renting some cattle and part of the farm from his parents. He had no plans on farming when he returned home from the Second World War, but with his parents retiring he decided to take over the operation. At the same time, he took over the herd of Wilbur Hall.
At first, with no money, they were given 36 cows from Wilbur, and they paid for the cows and equipment when they could. With those 36 cows, they would milk the cows, bottle the milk and deliver the milk to town. They were the only dairy in town and milk was selling at 12 quarts for one dollar.
After a few years, they started to make chocolate milk and putting it in half-pint bottles. These were sold at local cafes and at Kelly’s Pool Hall, as well as in Tompkins at Henry’s Store.
It was a lot of work to handle the dairy, but they had plenty of help, including Doug Kerr who worked for them for 13 years, and Oscar Brown for 20 years.
In 1957, the Government of Saskatchewan brought in a law that made pasteurization compulsory for any town with a population of 500 or more. During that time, the dairy was putting the milk in eight-gallon cans, taking it to the creamery in Swift Current, and then bringing it back.
They continued doing this until 1972 when the business was officially closed.