McDOUGALL, JOHN LORN, fur trader, farmer, businessman, office holder, and politician; b. 1800 on the Isle of Mull, Scotland, son of Samuel McDougall and — MacLean, a daughter of the chief of the MacLean clan; m. 1 Sept. 1835 Catharine Cameron in Pointe-au-Chêne, Lower Canada, and they had five sons and four daughters; d. 17 May 1860 in Renfrew, Upper Canada.
Orphaned at an early age, John Lorn McDougall was raised by his MacLean aunts. On 8 Aug. 1820, at Inverness, Scotland, he joined the Hudson’s Bay Company as a clerk and that year came to Lower Canada with John McLean*. After a brief stay in Montreal, McDougall was sent to the post at Lac des Deux Montagnes, where he was reputedly initiated into the hardships of the trail by such veteran fur traders as Gabriel Franchère* and Dominique Ducharme. From about 1825 to 1836 McDougall served at posts in the company’s Ottawa River and Timiskaming districts. During that period, Governor George Simpson wrote in 1832, he proved to be a “very hardy rough active persevering Man” who was “exceedingly useful” in the HBC’s vigorous competition with petty or free traders on the Ottawa River. Between 1836 and 1840 his account was with the post at Bonne Chere, one of the Ottawa valley posts superintended by Chief Factor James Keith.
In 1837 and 1839 McDougall had purchased farms in the vicinity of the hamlet of Renfrew, on the Bonnechere River. He retired from the HBC in 1840, a major factor in this decision being, according to tradition, a long and rapid trek between Montreal and Lake Superior for reasons that remain unclear and for which he was not adequately thanked. He settled in Renfrew, opened its first general store, and later accumulated some 4,000 acres of additional land in the area. In 1855 he bought from Francis Hincks* a mill-seat in Renfrew at the “Second Chute” and built the community’s first grist-mill, which was to become a museum in 1969.
McDougall was active in political affairs throughout the 20 years he lived in Renfrew. He sat on the Bathurst District Council in the 1840s and, between 1850 and 1857, served six terms on township council, frequently as reeve. Renfrew was incorporated as a village in 1858; though nominated for village council that year, McDougall was not elected until February 1860. As well he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for the riding of Renfrew in 1858 but resigned his seat almost immediately at the request of John A. Macdonald* to make a place for a defeated cabinet minister, William Cayley*. He subsequently became coroner for the United Counties of Lanark and Renfrew.
McDougall was described in a local history in 1919 as “shrewd, energetic, masterful, the most considerable man in the community.” He sat in 1852 on a committee to set up a library and a mechanics’ institute, and was a prominent member of the Sons of Temperance. A moving force behind the establishment of the Renfrew County agricultural society, he became in 1853 its first president, a post he held for several years. He kept around him a band of retainers and conducted his affairs in the autocratic fashion of a highland chief. While this style of life did not endear him to other members of the largely Scottish community, his hospitality was renowned. His last house, possessing what must have been the only ballroom in the area, was a centre for social activity in Renfrew. Catharine McDougall, who apparently exercised a moderating influence on her husband, was known to be “a model wife and mother.”
McDougall died in Renfrew on 17 May 1860 “after a protracted illness,” according to the Perth Courier. Of the surviving members of his family, his eldest son, John Lorn*, became Canada’s auditor general in 1878.
ANQ-M, État civil, Presbytériens, Church of Scotland (Grenville), 1 sept. 1835. AO, RG 22, ser.164, reg.B: 88. PAC, RG 31, A1, 1851, Horton Township, including agricultural census; RG 68, General index, 1841–67: 53. PAM, HBCA, A.32/40: f.285; 13.110/c/1: f.15d; B.134/c/9–41, especially B.134/c/31: f.242; B.134/c/41: ff.163–63d; B.134/g/2: ff.10d–11; B.134/g/3: ff.11d–12; 13.134/g/4: ff.9d–10; B.134/g/5: ff.11d–12; B.134/g/6: f.8; B.134/g/7: f.13; B.134/g/8–15. J. A. Macdonald, The letters of Sir John A. Macdonald, ed. J. K. Johnson and C. B. Stelmack (2v., Ottawa, 1967–69), 1: 21, 335. John McLean, John McLean’s notes of a twenty-five year’s service in the Hudson’s Bay territory, ed. W. S. Wallace (Toronto, 1932). Simpson, “Character book,” HBRS, 30 (Williams), 223. Perth Courier (Perth, [Ont.]), 25 May 1860. The John Rochester family in Canada . . . , comp. L. B. Rochester (4th ed., Ottawa, 1976), 13–14, 22. W. E. Smallfield and Robert Campbell, The story of Renfrew, from the coming of the first settlers about 1820 (Renfrew, Ont., 1919). H. J. Walker, Renfrew and its fair: through 100 years (Renfrew, 1953).