CAMERON, JOHN DUGALD, fur trader; b. c. 1777 in the province of Quebec; d. 30 March 1857 in Grafton, Upper Canada.
John Dugald Cameron was probably born in the loyalist town of Sorel, Quebec, where his family settled while his father fought for the British during the American revolution. Little is known of his upbringing, except that his education was minimal. In January 1794 he followed in the footsteps of his brother Ranald and entered the fur trade, signing on with David and Peter Grant, and by the following year he was a clerk for the North West Company. He served for more than a decade in the Nipigon country (Ont.), during which time he married à la façon du pays an Ojibwa woman, who was later baptized Mary. Cameron undoubtedly owed much of his fluency in Ojibwa and his outstanding skill as an “Indian Trader” to the aid and influence of his wife.
In 1813, after having managed the Lake Winnipeg department for two years, Cameron was made a partner in the NWC. He was credited with being the first person in the northwest to construct a flour-mill, located at his headquarters at Bas-de-la-Rivière (Fort Alexander, Man.). During the conflict with the Hudson’s Bay Company in the Red River settlement, Cameron staunchly defended the Nor’Westers’ rights. He felt that the colony established by Lord Selkirk [Douglas*] must be disbanded and he was responsible for transporting a large group of its settlers to Upper Canada in the spring of 1815. Cameron was stationed next at Sault Ste Marie (Ont.), but he also served at Île-à-la-Crosse (Sask.) before the NWC’s merger with the HBC in 1821.
As an experienced and respected fur trader, Cameron became a chief factor upon the union and was placed in charge of the Columbia district until the appointment of John McLoughlin in 1824. He then served at Rainy Lake (Ont.) for almost a decade, where he was noted for his ability to keep the Indians loyal in the face of increasing competition. In 1830 Cameron renamed the Rainy Lake post Fort Frances in honour of the visit of Governor George Simpson’s young English bride, Frances Ramsay Simpson. From 1832 to 1834 Cameron was given his former charge at Bas-de-la-Rivière. During this time he made several trips to the Red River settlement, where on 5 June 1833 he and his Indian wife were formally married in the Anglican church. After a furlough spent in both Upper and Lower Canada in 1835, Cameron served the remainder of his career in the Southern Department, from 1836 to 1839 at Michipicoten (Michipicotin River, Ont.) and from 1839 to 1844 at Fort La Cloche. Because of ill health, he settled with his wife and daughter Margaret near Grafton in 1844, although he did not officially retire from the HBC until 1846. He invested his fortune in land as well as in growing Canadian enterprises such as the Bank of Montreal and several railway companies.
John Dugald Cameron had a distinguished fur-trade career, being widely admired by colleagues and Indians alike for his integrity, affability, and generosity. Simpson, with whom he maintained a warm correspondence, described him as “a very good well meaning steady man.” Of abiding religious faith, Cameron also thirsted for knowledge and largely educated himself by reading “almost every Book that ever came within his reach.” Finally, he was a devoted family man, remaining loyal to his Indian wife during a time of increasing racial prejudice and showing considerable concern for the education of his children, of whom there were at least four sons and three daughters.