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Hugh Johnston is professor emeritus of history at Simon Fraser University, where he taught for 37 years. His book Radical Campus: Making Simon Fraser University was published to coincide with the university's 40th anniversary (2005). He joined SFU as a faculty member in 1968 and witnessed firsthand SFU's tumultuous beginnings. At various times in his career, Johnston led the History Department as chair.
Johnston grew up in south-western Ontario. He received a B.A. from the University of Toronto and attended the Ontario College of Education. Johnston went on to receive an M.A. from the University of Western Ontario and his PhD. from King's College at the University of London.
His teaching and research interests have centered on British and South Asian migration and settlement, eighteenth century exploration of the Pacific Northwest, the history of British Columbia, and higher education in Canada. Johnston is well known as an expert in Sikhism, Sikhs in Canada, and India-China relations. From 1992 to 2001 he also served on the board of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, a bi-national organization promoting scholarly exchange, and in 1995–1996 he was resident director of the institute's office in Delhi. In 2001 he was the institute's president.
During his career, Johnston wrote numerous scholarly articles and books. In 1995, with Tara Singh Bains he co-wrote The Four Quarters of the Night: The Life Journey of an Emmigrant Sikh. Other books include The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh Challenge to Canada's Colour Bar; British Immigration Policy, 1815-1830: "Shovelling out Paupers"; and the History of Perth County to 1967 (co-authored with W. Stafford Johnston).