Before a career in city planning, Johanna Burns (d. 2010) worked as a commercial artist for ten years and then as a social worker in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. She earned her first degree, B.A. (Psychology), from the University of Manitoba in 1966 and later returned to the school to study city planning. Burns was awarded a fellowship from the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation that helped fund her graduate studies. After graduating, Burns worked as a planner for the City of Winnipeg for many years and held the position of President of the Manitoba Association of the Canadian Institute of Planners in the 1980s.