Igniting Curiosity Through the Power of Play

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Carol Johnston
Jun 21, 2021

London Children’s Museum loses best friend and founder, Carol Johnston, at 89 years young

Founder of Canada’s first children’s museum, Carol Johnston, died peacefully on Saturday June 19, leaving a legacy of learning through play in the community and beyond.

The London Children’s Museum was established in 1975, as Carol was transitioning from being a mother of five to studying at Western University’s London Teacher’s College.  Inspired by a family visit to the Boston Children’s Museum, Carol had a vision of creating hands-on learning experiences for children in London. With the help of friends and family, especially her husband Bud Johnston who would become Dean of Western Business School (now, Ivey School of Business), she brought her vision to life.

“The London Children’s Museum began as a trunk in our basement,” recalled her daughter, Nancy Carson. “With the help of city staff members and forward-thinking educators, Mom tested museum ideas in local parks, garages and classrooms.” For the first year, it was, in effect, a pop-up children’s museum.

Through the generosity of the Ivey and Lawson Foundations and with tremendous support from the London community, Carol realized her vision with the purchase of the Riverview Public School building in 1980. This building, located at 21 Wharncliffe Road South, would serve as the London Children’s Museum’s home for the next forty years. “She inspired so many people to get involved. Mom has credited Shelly Siskind and Ann Gordon as her greatest champions and counsel, especially in those early years,” said Nancy. 

Carol’s dedication to her community was recognized when she was inducted as Member of the Order of Canada in 1985. A natural communicator and teacher, Carol often quoted the Confucian saying: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”  As Nancy put it, “When my mother was growing up, museums were all about looking and reading, not touching. In her original way, Mom wanted to create a space where children could come to learn about their community and the world, and give free rein to their curiosity and excitement.”

Carol’s belief in the power of play-based learning has been enthusiastically validated by the 2.5 million children and families who have played at the London Children’s Museum. Over the decades, Carol’s passion for education did not wane. An active Board Member, Carol continued to make meaningful contributions and shape the vision for the new London Children’s Museum under construction at 100 Kellogg Lane.

“The passing of our founder is like losing a best friend,” says Amanda Conlon, Director of the London Children’s Museum. “The museum was Carol’s vision, and she has been its most dedicated supporter since we opened our doors almost 50 years ago. On a personal note, she has been a great mentor to me, even in recent years and months. She will be missed beyond measure.”

Above all, Carol never lost her ability to see the world through the eyes of a curious child. The London Children’s Museum mourns the passing of a visionary leader and celebrates her decades-long dedication to the spirit of learning and discovery.

At Carol’s request, a Celebration of Life will be held in her honour at the London Children’s Museum. Details will be released at a future date.

Read Carol’s message to our community and the world, in her own words.

About London Children’s Museum

The London Children’s Museum provides children and their grown-ups with extraordinary hands-on learning experiences in a distinctly child-centred environment. Part of the community for nearly 50 years, the London Children’s Museum is where more than 88,000 children and their families visit each year to dream and play, and gather to learn and grow.

The new London Children’s Museum, under construction at 100 Kellogg Lane, will allow children to explore science, art, technology, nature, history, and culture in a space designed to support their wonder and curiosity. This state-of-the-art educational and cultural destination, located in the historic Kellogg’s cereal factory, will feature eight immersive and interactive exhibits. With over 35,000 square feet of open-concept space, it will provide more interactive play, innovative exhibits, and shared spaces where children and families can learn and grow.


Johnston Family
Jonathan Carson

London Children’s Museum
Mira Noordermeer, Marketing & Sales Manager
519-434-5726 ex. 230