MacDOUGALL (McDougald), C. BRUCE, newspaperman; b. 3 Feb. 1863 in Campbellton, P.E.I., son of Peter MacDougall; d. unmarried 16 Nov. 1910 in Sydney, N.S.
What little is known of Bruce MacDougall’s early years confirms the reorientation of regional life in the decades after confederation. About 1880 his family left Prince Edward Island and settled in Moncton, N.B., one of the urban centres which benefited from the railways and industries of the federal Conservatives’ National Policy [see Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley*]. His father worked as a cooper for the Acadia Sugar Refinery. Three of his brothers, like MacDougall himself, were eventually employed by the Intercolonial Railway, which had its headquarters in Moncton; two sisters and two brothers, however, joined the exodus to New England and another brother settled in Saskatchewan.
An able young journalist, in 1889 MacDougall was hired to edit the Restigouche Pioneer, a new Campbellton weekly designed to boost the prospects of northern New Brunswick following the completion of the Intercolonial. He singled out the railway workers as an important constituency: the first issue denounced one railway official as “a worthless tyrant” and another as “a pagan autocrat,” and by the end of 1890 he was describing the Pioneer as “the People’s Paper” and “the workingmen’s journal.” He subsequently returned to Moncton and published the Plain Dealer (1892–94). His editorials often denounced politicians and businessmen, especially those associated with the Conservative party, and described the Intercolonial offices as “a dumping ground for political favourites.” MacDougall welcomed the growth of unions and encouraged them to assert their influence. He was also an enthusiastic muckraker and his boldness led local authorities to seek an occasion for reprisals. In 1894 he was arrested and charged with publishing obscene literature. The specific offence was that “the names of vessels given in shipping intelligence were those of women reported by the police as of ill repute.” At his trial the jury was unable to reach a verdict and he was not convicted, but the Plain Dealer ceased publication.
Following the change in the federal government in 1896, MacDougall obtained a post in the audit department at the Intercolonial headquarters in Moncton. A supporter of New Brunswick Liberals Andrew George Blair and Henry Robert Emmerson*, successive ministers of railways and canals in Wilfrid Laurier*’s administration, he continued to object to the “rotten management” of the public railways by entrenched Tory officials. He returned to journalism in 1907 with the publication in Moncton of Free Speech, where he exposed injustice and immorality in free-wheeling style. He also continued to promote unions, and in 1908 helped discredit the International Brotherhood of Railway Employees and encourage the creation of the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway Employees. Originally printed in Nova Scotia and later in Newcastle, N.B., Free Speech was shipped by train throughout the Maritimes. In 1908 MacDougall claimed a circulation of 20,000 copies a week; more conservative estimates suggest a peak of 7,000 copies. In politics Free Speech professed independence; but in the 1908 election MacDougall took an unpaid leave from the Intercolonial to support Emmerson as the local “labor candidate.” Following the election he became increasingly critical of the Liberal establishment in Moncton. He also opened his columns to socialist intellectuals such as the teacher and journalist Henry Harvey Stuart*. Free Speech published the platform of the Socialist Party of Canada and Stuart wrote editorials urging voters to “send both capitalist parties to Oblivion.”
Free Speech came to an end in August 1909. MacDougall was arrested for publishing libels and obscene matter. The charges concerned abusive stories and a cartoon directed at prominent citizens in Saint John, Tory and Liberal both. He was found guilty on 4 of the 11 charges and sentenced to 11 months’ imprisonment. The trial did not arouse the same indignation apparent some years earlier when journalists John Valentine Ellis* and John Thomas Hawke* were jailed for contempt of court. MacDougall appeared on more lurid charges and few defenders were heard.
Following his release MacDougall launched the Vindicator, likely in Moncton. It directed much of its attention to the class struggle in Nova Scotia, where the coalminers had been fighting a long strike in support of the United Mine Workers of America. In November 1910 MacDougall went to Cape Breton and in cooperation with the union arranged for the defence of newsboys arrested by the Glace Bay police. Returning to the railway station in Sydney, he was attacked and badly beaten. At the Windsor Hotel the following day he mysteriously fell down the basement stairs and struck the concrete floor. A few minutes later he was pronounced dead. A coroner’s jury concluded that the death was accidental.
Although surviving only in scattered copies, MacDougall’s newspapers offer a glimpse of local Maritime journalism at the turn of the century. As a publisher MacDougall recognized the significance of the revolution in transportation; the railways gave him frequent subject matter and a means of distribution. In an age of progress, he exposed the underside of urban society, defended the unfortunate, and upheld the rights of labour. To some readers he was a crusader and to others a blackmailer. His social criticism was rooted in populist traditions, but was often martyred to the demands of partyism and the appetite for scandal. Comparing MacDougall’s journalism to that of Robert Chambers (Bob) Edwards* in Alberta, John T. Hawke’s Moncton Transcript gave MacDougall credit for his “marked natural ability as a writer” and his “rough and ready flow of language,” but added that “his writings were too often applied to giving offence without serving a useful public purpose.”
N.B. Museum, Saint John City records, The King v. C. B. MacDougall (preliminary hearing indictment, 1 Sept. 1909). UNBL, MG H25, scrapbooks. Daily Post (Sydney, N.S.), 1910, esp. 19 November. Daily Transcript (Moncton, N.B.), 1894. Free Speech (Moncton), 1907–9. Moncton Transcript, 1909–10. Plain Dealer (Moncton), 1892–93. Progress (Saint John, N.B.), 1894. Restigouche Pioneer (Campbellton, N.B.), 1889–90. David Frank and Nolan Reilly, “The emergence of the socialist movement in the Maritimes, 1899–1916,” Labour, 4 (1979): 85–113. H. B. Jefferson, “The great Pooh-Bah case,” Atlantic Advocate, 54 (1963–64), no.1: 45–51. The King v. MacDougall (1909), New Brunswick Reports (Fredericton and Saint John), 39 (1908–10): 388–402. N.B. newspaper directory (Craig).