Longtime Revelstoke lawyer and former city councillor retires

In 2003, Chris Johnston was one of the councillors that purchased Revelstoke's courthouse

Christ Johnston, a lawyer and former Revelstoke City Councillor, is retiring. (Submitted)

Christ Johnston, a lawyer and former Revelstoke City Councillor, is retiring. (Submitted)

Tim Palmer

Special to the Review

On Jan. 4, Chris Johnston retired from his law practice in Revelstoke, leaving a community legacy as a lawyer and former city councillor.

This article will reveal two of Chris Johnston’s secrets —one regarding law and the other political.

But first, consider Johnston’s courthouse connection: it is also both legal and political.

Built in 1912, Revelstoke’s iconic “neoclassical revival style” courthouse brings character and charm to the community and epitomizes Johnston’s respect for community history and justice.

In this courthouse “Chris upheld the highest standards as a lawyer in the difficult areas of family and criminal law. He was always amicable and patient,” said Edmond de Walle, former Provincial Court Judge.

“He would often speak with individuals who showed up at Court with no lawyer and no understanding of the process,” said De Walle. “He was a strong advocate for his clients in both family and criminal cases. He was also eager to work out settlements in difficult and emotional family cases through the mediation conferences that are available in Family Court.”

READ MORE: Sunny sky blesses Revelstoke Courthouse cornerstone centennial ceremony

Johnston is one of the few lawyers “that has continually accepted legal aid referrals in his 36 years of practicing law.” explained Johnston’s associate, Melissa Klages. “Sometimes those who need it the most can’t get a lawyer, they plead guilty, or they give up on their family law matter. It’s sad and talks about accessibility.”

She continued Johnston “really wanted to serve Revelstoke, the community and the people because he cared about the client.”

In 2003 during a time of the provincial government’s aggressive disposal of assets, Johnston, as a municipal councillor along with the rest city council, made the visionary $350,000 purchase of the courthouse. That decision protected this vital asset and court services for the community.

Johnston’s commitment to heritage goes beyond the courthouse. His business card features a photograph of a historical “Art Deco” style service station that now houses the offices for the firm. The firm’s website features several historic Revelstoke scenes. His office also conveys that same ambiance with the wood doors, furnishings, and trim.

After completing his law degree in 1981 in Saskatoon, Johnston commenced employment with a Prince George law firm that shared his core values of work-life balance.

“When I started, I made the decision the job was not going to rule my life,” he said. “My life was going to rule the job.”

Reflecting on difficult cases of family law, criminal law and contested estates, Johnston says, “the law is a pretty blunt instrument.”

“Often in these situations,” Johnston continued, “it’s about social interactions with people and relationships; the law doesn’t provide any solution or remedy.”

Johnston explained his secret to addressing conflict: “I try to get people to think, not for the short term but put themselves down the road in five years, what difference is it really going to make?”

“Sometimes that works, and people say, yeah, you’re right.”

Johnston likes to focus on solutions and says, “when the focus is on the problem, not to get rid of it, it makes the problem worse.”

In 2011, Chris received an award in the “Residential Renovation” category for extensive reconstruction to his 102 3rd Street home.

“It’s a fun thing to do,” Johnston said of the renovation project. “It was just a matter of putting things back the way it was 100 years ago. It was a pleasure doing it.”

READ MORE: Revelstoke heritage commission presents 2011 home awards

Johnston served four terms, from 2002 to 2014, as a Revelstoke city councillor. Initially, he had no plans for running when a prominent business person came to his office and said, “Chris Johnston, you are going to run for Council, we need some good people in there.”

When asked what advice Johnston would give councillors, he did not provide any legal opinions. Instead, he offered a political secret: “you have very limited power to make any kind of change, and staff, for the most part, is driving the bus. I think that staff have huge power and often don’t listen to council. So, if you want to be listened to, make sure you are following up.”

Johnston formally retires from the historical law practice, whose origins go back to historic Rufus Hugh Mackenzie, on Jan. 4—Johnston’s 66th birthday.

After serving since 1986, he will be handing the reins to Melissa Klages under a new banner Arrow Law Corporation. Johnston will continue practicing family “non-conflict law” on a part-time basis in Nakusp.


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