Born in Guelph in 1878, Edward Johnson became one of the world's leading operatic tenors with a career spanning the first three decades of the twentieth century. The Edward Johnson collection was donated to the University of Guelph in 1992 by his grandchildren, Lady Sandra Scholey of London, England, and Mr. Edward Drew of Toronto. The collection comprises over eight metres of material in various media, from textual records to photographs to sound recordings, dating from 1890 through 1959. There are many postcard views and photographs of Guelph as well as performance memorabilia from the turn of the twentieth century.
After his childhood years in Guelph, at the age of twenty Johnson embarked on a performance career that took him to Europe, Chicago and New York. He received many gifts from famous people he met, and the collection includes photographs from celebrities such as Anatole France, Arturo Toscanini and Giacomo Puccini. There is also the extensive correspondence between Johnson and his Portuguese wife, Viscountess Beatrice (Bebe) de Veiga (d. 1919), a linguist and musician in her own right. Photographs, diaries, postcards and other memorabilia further document his wide travels.
After his wife died in 1919, Johnson returned from Europe and joined the Chicago Opera as its lead tenor. In 1922 he moved to the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where he performed for thirteen years. The collection is particularly rich for the New York period, and includes several recordings of Johnson's most popular songs, including renditions of "O Canada!" and "The Maple Leaf Forever." In 1935 Johnson became the Met's General Manager after his devoted efforts in the Depression-era "Save the Met" fundraising campaign. There is a significant amount of memorabilia, gifts and awards received, along with drafts of the many speeches Johnson gave during these years.
Edward Johnson article in The Courier, 1908.
Edward Johnson returned to Guelph in 1950 where he remained an active supporter of music education and appreciation until his death in 1959. He was the first chairman of Toronto 's Royal Conservatory of Music and a founder of the Opera School. In 1957 Johnson established the Edward Johnson Music Foundation in Guelph to foster music education for youth and music appreciation in his hometown. Although he died before the Guelph Spring Festival was established, it was the eventual fulfilment of his own dream.
Some materials in Johnson's collection relate more directly to his daughter, Fiorenza Drew. She married George Drew, who became Premier of Ontario in the 1940s and later served as leader of the federal conservative party. Family scrapbooks, photo albums and diaries shed light on the life experience of the only child of a famous father. The library also holds incoming and outgoing correspondence between Johnson and his daughter in its Fiorenza Johnson Drew Collection. Another collection — the Ruby Mercer Collection — contains research materials on her book, The Tenor of his time: Edward Jonson of the Met.
All of Edward Johnson's materials may be browsed online through the library catalogue, where there are links to finding aids at the series level (Adobe Acrobat required).