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DOUGALL, JOHN, merchant, journalist, and publisher; b. 8 July 1808 in Paisley, Scotland, elder of the two sons of John Dougall, manufacturer and merchant, and Margaret Yool (Yuil), and brother of James; d. 18 Aug. 1886 at Flushing, N.Y.

In his youth John Dougall received significant intellectual and literary stimulus from his father, but his first ventures in the adult world were commercial. He immigrated to Canada to 1826 and, using his ties with Scottish merchants, established with James a commission business for the distribution of textiles in Quebec and in Montreal and its hinterland. A branch office was begun in York (Toronto), but failed. When James then established a store at Sandwich (Windsor) with their father, John was a partner. In Montreal John’s commission business and a book and stationery shop provided a moderate income, and tied him to the economic aims of the Montreal business community. In the 1840s Dougall was a director of the Montreal Provident and Savings Bank. In addition, his marriage in 1840 to Elizabeth Redpath, eldest daughter of John Redpath*, gave him a commercial partnership with the Redpath family and an important entrée into the English-speaking upper class of Montreal.

Dougall’s activities were largely determined by an impressive personal philosophy of Christianity. A Calvinist by birth and conviction, an evangelical, and an individualist, he had strongly held views of right and wrong. In 1831 he left the Presbyterian Church to join the Congregational Church. He sought to carry his ideas to all classes of society in a variety of ways. He was a founding member in 1839 and executive officer of the French Canadian Missionary Society, an anti-Roman Catholic organization aimed at evangelizing French Canadians and converting them to Protestantism [see Henriette Odin*]. He himself took to the streets, particularly in working class and harbour districts, talking and preaching to those he met, and in the 1860s and 1870s was an active supporter of the Young Men’s Christian Association.

It was as a journalist and publisher that Dougall had his greatest impact. He had long had literary ambitions, and had attempted various writing ventures in his youth. In the late 1820s he published a number of pieces of prose and poetry in the Montreal Herald. In 1835 Dougall accepted the editorship of the Canada Temperance Advocate, the organ of the Montreal Temperance Society of which he had been a founding member in 1832. As editor he assumed the active leadership of the temperance movement in the Canadas, writing, travelling, and speaking throughout Upper Canada and parts of Lower Canada. In the 1840s and 1850s Dougall was involved in the publication of several other smaller journals devoted to the Sunday school movement, evangelism, and current affairs.

Dougall resigned as editor of the Advocate in 1845 and one year later established his greatest paper, the weekly Montreal Witness. The Witness grew steadily and a daily edition was added in 1860. The paper achieved a sufficiently large circulation in the English-speaking areas around Montreal to ensure moderate financial success despite the dissolution in 1858 of the Dougall and Redpath partnership. The paper was a stern champion of “right” ideas: evangelical Christianity, temperance, Sabbatarianism, economic progress, and free trade. Sermons were often reprinted and objectionable advertisements, such as those for alcoholic beverages, were refused. John Dougall believed that a newspaper must be politically independent, but the Witness was generally on the side of Reform or Liberal politicians. It was so aggressive and so intolerant of Catholics, Irish, and French Canadians that it directly stimulated the establishment in 1850 of a rival paper, the True Witness and Catholic Chronicle [see George Edward Clerk*], as a voice for the English-speaking Catholics of Montreal. Later, in 1875, when the newspaper was under the editorship of Dougall’s eldest son, John Redpath, the Montreal Witness was placed under ecclesiastical ban by Bishop Ignace Bourget.

Dougall was convinced of the need for inexpensive (a penny per issue), daily, religious newspapers, particularly for the working class, in every urban centre in North America and Europe. In June 1871 he was looking for “new fields to conquer,” now that several of his Canadian projects were well established. He left the Montreal Witness in the charge of his son, and with support and capital from Manhattan residents moved to New York City. Here he established the Daily Witness to embody his ideas. The Daily Witness was only briefly successful and failed in 1877, but the New York Weekly Witness which he also founded in 1871 achieved considerable circulation and continued after Dougall’s death.

John Dougall was an energetic, aggressive, and tireless worker. His views and forceful personality combined to antagonize people easily, but he also had much personal magnetism and a wide circle of friends. He had six daughters and three sons, several of whom were imbued with their father’s moral fervour.

J. G. Snell

John Dougall was the author of Essay upon the nature of the wine and strong drink mentioned in the Scriptures (Montreal, 1837).

PAC, MG 29, C34. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Report of the select committee . . . appointed to inquire whether any, and what measures can be adopted, to repress the evils of intemperance (Montreal, 1849), 7, 54. French Canadian Missionary Soc., Annual report (Montreal), 1845: 4, 33. Canada Temperance Advocate (Montreal), 1835–45. Montreal Witness, 1845–86. Beaulieu et J. Hamelin, La presse québécoise, I: 132, 147–50. Richardson Dougall, James Dougall of Glasgow (1699–1760) and his descendants through Dougall and McDougall lines in the United States and Canada (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1973), 3, 149–50. J. A. Johnston, “Factors in the formation of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, 1875 (phd thesis, McGill Univ., Montreal, 1955), 400, 475–78. J. I. Cooper, “The early editorial policy of the Montreal Witness, CHA Report, 1947:53–62.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

J. G. Snell, “DOUGALL, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 23, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dougall_john_11E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dougall_john_11E.html
Author of Article: J. G. Snell
Title of Article: DOUGALL, JOHN
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1982
Year of revision: 1982
Access Date: September 23, 2014