April 1, 2023

Longtime Liberal Studies professor Geoff Johnstone is retiring next month after 48 and a half years of inspiring students in the classroom and on the field at Conestoga College.

“I’m an adrenaline junkie,” said Johnstone, when asked what he enjoys most about teaching. “I love being in front of a class. I loved being on the side of a soccer field, during a game or running a practice. To this day, I love getting in front of a class. It’s a performance. I like to perform while I’m doing it. I love the interaction with students. I’m going to miss that more than anything else.”

However, he made sure to add that he won’t miss marking.

 After speeding through his master’s degree in sociology at McMaster University in only 10 months, Johnstone applied for a job at Conestoga in 1970.

Geoff Johnstone poses next to an abstract painting he keeps in his office. Photo by Nathan Timmerman, Spoke News

“I went and got a haircut and shaved,” said Johnstone, remembering his preparation for the job interview. “I was interviewed by four guys with long hair and beards. I initially didn’t get the job. They hired a guy with long hair and a beard!”

Fortunately, his hairier competition turned down the job — and Johnstone was hired.

Johnstone, who came to Canada from Liverpool in 1969, has always connected well with students.

“I was brought up in municipal housing, y’know — in a tough place,” he said. “A lot of our students have had it rough, one way or another — family problems, money problems and so on and so forth. I think on that level I’ve been able to connect with them. Plus they keep me young.”

Johnstone was heavily involved with Conestoga’s soccer program during his time at the college. He was quick to dispel the rumour that he’d founded the men’s team. However, he did take over as coach during his second year at Conestoga and did, in fact, found the first women’s soccer team.

Johnstone and his colleague, Duane Shadd, being inducted into the Athletics and Recreation Hall of Fame in 2011.
Photo from conestoga.on.ca.

Recounting how the women’s soccer team came to be, Johnstone said: “In 1988, a group of young women came to me and said, ‘There’s an indoor soccer tournament. We want to play in it. Would you coach us?’ And I agreed. I had all the same expectations of them as the men’s team, and I think that’s why they were so successful.”

Johnstone was inducted into the OCAA Hall of Fame in 2011. He has collected 26 OCAA champion medals and was the longest serving coach in the organization’s history.

“For the first 15-16 years, it was pretty stagnant,” said Johnstone about how the college has grown. “We had A and B Wings here. We had a Waterloo campus that was derelict and a Guelph campus that was quite small. We had a small presence in downtown Cambridge.

“I’ve seen it grow, physically. We’re now up to F Wing here…. But I’ve also seen the educational opportunities for students increase. We just had two- or three-year diploma programs for most of that time. Then we started to develop post-diploma programs, and we developed degrees, and we developed liaisons with various universities — not just locally, but internationally, in the Netherlands and Australia and so on.”

He added that “they completely revolutionized the library and made it a 21st-century library. And, of course, the recreation centre has been completely redone.”

“I’d like to see a bridging program for some of our international students, instead of them going straight into a program,” Johnstone said, addressing changes he’d like to see at the college. “To make sure that they’re ready and that they can cope with the post-secondary level. Give them a semester doing a communications course, a strategies for student success course, a Canadian culture course, and these kinds of things.”

Johnstone could have retired on a full pension in 2004. However, he so thoroughly enjoys the atmosphere at Conestoga he has stuck around until this year, with plans to do some part-time work with the college in the future.

Johnstone has other plans too. He said he will pursue his passion for art through a course called Painting for the Petrified at the Dundas Valley School of Arts.

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