DIXON, WILLIAM, public servant; b. in Ireland c. 1825, second son of Alexander Dixon and Esther O’Dwyer; m. Clara Rowsell by whom he had several children; d. London, Eng., 27/28 Oct. 1873.
William Dixon was brought to Canada in 1830, and in 1835 the family settled in Toronto where his father opened the British Saddlery Warehouse. William was educated at Upper Canada College in Toronto, but nothing else is known of his early career. About 1859 he went to England where he travelled widely and engaged in business.
In February 1862, on the recommendation of Philip Michael Matthew Scott Vankoughnet*, the chief commissioner of crown lands in Canada, Dixon was put in charge of exhibits arriving from Canada for the London International Exhibition. Because of his efficient discharge of his duties he was kept on as curator of the Canadian court at the exhibition later that year.
It is as Canada’s chief emigration agent in England that Dixon is mainly known. In 1859 the Canadian Bureau (later Department) of Agriculture had begun sending Canadian agents to Europe on temporary missions to promote emigration, a policy which received its most enthusiastic support from Vankoughnet and Thomas D’Arcy McGee*. In January 1866 McGee, as minister of agriculture, appointed Dixon temporarily Canada’s emigration agent for the United Kingdom. The agency proved so useful and Dixon so capable that McGee continued the office on a temporary basis and Dixon was stationed in Liverpool, then in Wolverhampton (1867–68). Finally, in January 1869, Dixon went to London to establish a permanent office. His duties as emigration agent included distributing publicity, supervising the work and accounts of other Canadian emigration agents throughout Europe, cooperating with provincial emigration agents, and reporting to Canada on the conditions affecting European emigration. He also undertook such general duties as providing information about Canada and assisting Canadian visitors.
Dixon was agent until his death in 1873, and during his tenure was established the basic framework for the Canadian emigration agency, which lasted until the appointment of Alexander Tilloch Galt* as high commissioner in 1880. Dixon advocated strengthening the agent’s authority, particularly as regards the agents in the dominion, a reform achieved under his successor, John Edward Jenkins*, who was also given the title of agent general. Dixon was frequently recalled to Canada for consultation with the Canadian government, and had official contact with McGee, and with the deputy minister of agriculture, Joseph-Charles Taché*. He did not, however, have the influence on Canadian government policies enjoyed by the chief agent at Quebec until 1868, Alexander Carlisle Buchanan*.
From 1869 to 1873 there was a considerable increase in emigration to Canada from the British Isles and western Europe over the previous years Economic and political conditions in Europe and North America were chiefly responsible for the increase but Dixon deserves some credit because of his vigorous efforts in the promotion of emigration. His honesty, courtesy, and competence helped ensure the permanence of the Canadian agency in London and set a high standard for future agents.
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