Photography Paul Alexander

This week David Johnston stepped down as 28th Governor General of Canada, passing the baton to former astronaut Julie Payette. Here, we flashback to our 2013 interview with then  Gov. Gen. David Johnston et sa famille.

Thunderstorms were imminent on the cold, blustery day I arrived at the Citadelle to meet the Governor General of Canada, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, his wife, Sharon, four of their five daughters and a slew of grandchildren. My mission was to uncover the fitness secrets of this healthy, happy, active family. I had visions of Kennedy-esque football games in the sparkling sunshine. But the weather wasn't co-operating. It was foreboding. The sort of icy wind and dark sky that made me want to curl up on the sofa with a good book and a cup of tea. Then again, I'm not a Johnston. If I were, I would have seen a silver lining in those grey clouds and decided to, I don't know, go for a 10K run or even try my hand at zip lining.

You see, the Johnston clan isn't your average family. Then again, David Johnston is far from average. Most Canadians are familiar with his academic accolades – degrees from Queens, Cambridge and Harvard plus honorary doctorates from more than 20 other schools. He's the author of 24 books. And, yes, he's been awarded the Order of Canada, too.

But what is less well-known about our current Governor General is that he was a high performance athlete in hockey in college, where he was twice selected for the All-American team at Harvard and was named a member of its athletic hall of fame. He also dabbled, no doubt skillfully, in football and baseball. Even when he graduated and continued on his brainiac trajectory, athleticism and leading an active lifestyle remained paramount to him. It didn't hurt that his spouse has degrees in physical and occupational therapy and rides dressage. In other words, she's no slouch in the exercise department either. Is it impolite to mention brawn and brains when discussing a man of 72, who is also the Queen's representative in Canada?

"Physical activity has always been important to me all the way through my life, and when I ceased playing team sports at the end of my university days and we began to have a family, both of us adjusted our sports so they could be family sports and that continues today," he explains, sitting on a sofa inside a private living room in the Citadelle of Quebec City, a military fortress and one of the official residences of the Governor General. "I can recount the last three or four days, and they would be different activities but a fairly good level of intensity."

He isn't joking. The day we met, he had burned up about a thousand calories in the gym. But previous few days included a five-kilometre run on the Plains of Abraham with Sharon, as well as zip lining with the whole family and an 80-kilometre bike ride on the Trans Canada Trail in south Quebec City. I'm exhausted just listening.

"It's part of our life," he explains simply when I ask how he managed to get the whole clan on board the fast train to fit. "My wife and I have been active people from the time we were very young, and it's transmitted to our children and now to our grandchildren. We also believe an active life makes for good families and good communities, good society."

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