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LAVIOLETTE, PIERRE – Volume VIII (1851-1860)

b. 4 March 1794 in Boucherville, Lower Canada


Responsible Government

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From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

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Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

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McDOUGALL, JOHN, businessman; b. 25 July 1805 at Coldstream, Scotland, son of John McDougal and Janet Wilson; d. 21 Feb. 1870 in the parish of Vieilles-Forges (Saint-Michel-des-Forges), near Trois-Rivières, Que.

Because precise information is not available, the McDougall families of Quebec are often confused. This confusion is all the more natural because three McDougall families came from Berwickshire, Scotland, to Canada in the 19th century. The John McDougall family of Trois-Rivières, which won fame at the Saint-Maurice and L’Islet ironworks under the name of John McDougall and Sons, was not the John McDougall family that owned the Montreal company “Caledonia Foundry” and bought the Saint-Pie-de-Guire ironworks in 1874; George McDougall, who from 1876 to 1879 operated the Saint-Maurice ironworks in partnership with Alexander Mills McDougall under the name of G. and A. McDougall, was a member of yet a third branch. Apparently there was no relationship between the first McDougall family and the second, but the first and third were linked by marriage. What the three families had in common – which helps to jumble the whole issue – is the fact that all were to a varying extent involved in the metallurgical industry in Quebec, and that the theatre of their operations was bounded by the triangle Trois-Rivières – Saint-Pie-de-Guire – Drummondville.

John McDougall, founder of the Trois-Rivières branch of McDougalls, had married Margaret Purvis before he crossed the Atlantic in the 1830s; he is believed to have arrived at Trois-Rivières in 1833. Almost nothing is known of his activities during the next 20 years, except that he may have worked at a distillery and brewery. At the time he became mayor of Trois-Rivières (from 1855 to 1857), John McDougall had for several years owned a general store and a number of plots of land; he was also president of the Three Rivers Gas Company, and he was described as a “steamboat agent” in a protest lodged against him by lumberman William Price. Price complained that the proceedings McDougall had instituted against him on 6 Aug. 1855 in the Circuit Court of Trois-Rivières to recover the sum of £36 4s. 9 1/2d. were injurious to his reputation. This grievance of William Price, if it were known to be justified, might shed light on McDougall’s character.

In the provincial elections of 4 and 5 Jan. 1858 John McDougall ran against William McDonell Dawson in the county of Trois-Rivières. In his electoral address Dawson associated himself with the “Liberal party of reform and progress” of the former team of Robert Baldwin* and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine whose principles were now adopted by the “moderate party of the day,” while McDougall, without propaganda and fanfare, blandly proposed to give “[his] support, in parliament, to the ‘Moderate party.’” Despite the subtlety of these distinctions, Dawson emerged victorious from an election in which there were violent confrontations between the supporters of the two camps. McDougall protested Dawson’s election. He thus added fuel to a newspaper quarrel between the readers of L’Ère nouvelle (pro-Dawson) and L’Écho du St-Maurice (pro-McDougall), each of whom denounced the reprehensible attitude of the opponent. During the ensuing lawsuit the defendant produced testimony by François Brousseau that John McDougall had attacked and beaten him with a walking-stick in the Saint-Louis district polling-booth. Although McDougall did not win the case, it is difficult to assess his temperament on the basis of this election brawl. Similarly the action brought by Marie Hamel on 28 Jan. 1858, a few weeks after the election, accusing McDougall of having raped her on 29 Dec. 1857, is hardly more illuminating. The plaintiff and her husband, Louis Bertrand, were former employees who had been dismissed by the accused. At the time of the inquiry, the judges concluded that Marie Hamel’s complaint did not even warrant proceedings at law. Was McDougall a victim of partisan manoeuvres to destroy his reputation? The electioneering customs of the time lead to this conclusion.

If McDougall’s short incursion into politics was a failure, his career as a businessman presents quite a different picture. In addition to the business activities already mentioned, McDougall was a member by 1858 of the board of directors of the North Shore Railway Company; a promotional notice of this company introduced him as a director authorized “to receive the payments required on the shares of the said company that were owned by shareholders living in the district of Trois-Rivières, and to give receipts therefor.” In the absence of exact data in the documentation available, it is impossible to determine McDougall’s role in this railroad company, the part he played in the Three Rivers Gas Company or as steamboat agent, or indeed the length of time he held these positions. We do not even know exactly the nature of his business activity although he is listed in notarial documents as merchant, independant grocer, “general merchant,” and later iron merchant.

During the 1850s McDougall acquired some land at Trois-Rivières; he owned a mortgage on four lots in the township of Arthabaska; and he had an “immense estate” called Moulin Rouge, at Sainte-Anne-d’-Yamachiche (Yamachiche) by 1857, when he received four lots and acquired the property of the Johnston heirs. It would be logical to suppose he obtained this land so that he could either supply his store with foodstuffs or carry on trading in timber, unless he was simply engaged in land speculation. What is certain is that when he offered to purchase the Saint-Maurice and L’Islet ironworks he had capital at his disposal.

The whole story of the Saint-Maurice ironworks, from its beginning in the 1730s until its demise in 1883, was marked by periods of depression and growth, stops and starts. In 1861, two years after the partners Andrew Stuart* and John R. Porter went bankrupt, the government, as mortgage holder, seized the establishment. In the following year Onésime Héroux bought it for $7,000. The metallurgical industry in the Saint-Maurice region was probably threatened when the Radnor ironworks were built in the future village of Fermont (adjoining the parish of Saint-Maurice) by Auguste Larue, George Benson Hall*, and Joseph-Édouard Turcotte in 1854 and the L’Islet ironworks were established beside the stream at L’Islet (Ilet) on the west bank of the Rivière Saint-Maurice by Dupuis, Robichon et Compagnie in 1856. John McDougall was to turn this situation to his advantage by purchasing the Saint-Maurice and L’Islet ironworks.

The process by which he acquired these undertakings illustrates his business sense. On 15 Dec. 1862 he both initialled a contract of sale with the former owners of the Saint-Maurice ironworks (Porter and Stuart) and concluded a deal with the owner of the L’Islet ironworks. Through notary Louis-Zéphirin Duval, John Porter and Company sold McDougall the equipment it still possessed at the Saint-Maurice ironworks and in the neighbourhood. Of the $1,000 cost of this transaction, McDougall immediately paid $300 representing the value of the iron mine and of the moulds for heavy casting. John McDougall then signed with Louis Dupuis, the sole owner of the L’Islet ironworks since March 1862, an agreement by which the latter undertook not only to deliver to McDougall before 15 Nov. 1863 various types of cast-iron stoves, cauldrons, axle-boxes, moulds for pipes, and “250 barrels of pig-iron,” but also not to supply these kinds of articles to other merchants.

A year later, on 16 April 1863, McDougall acquired the L’Islet ironworks from Dupuis, who apparently preferred to sell rather than to declare bankruptcy. The land sold consisted of a piece three arpents wide by 25 deep, in the north-east range of the Saint-Félix concession in the parish of Notre-Dame-de-Mont-Carmel, on which the L’Islet ironworks had been set up; these encompassed “several edifices, a furnace, sheds, a casting-shop, houses, stables, cowsheds, and other outbuildings.” McDougall also bought four other pieces of land in the Saint-Félix concession, as well as “all the items and articles necessary for the operation of the ironworks.” The figure for this transaction was £2,000 at current rates or $8,000, according to the contract; however, it was stipulated that McDougall would pay this sum by undertaking to discharge the numerous mortgages encumbering the property of Louis Dupuis. The mortgages in question and the interest accruing thereon were apportioned as follows: $805.30 to Louis-Charles Boucher de Niverville, $808.31 to Moses E. Hart, $541.87 to John Houliston, $127.75 to Luc Précourt, and $5,694.08 to Amable Prévost: a total of $7,977.31. In the end Dupuis received only $22.69. Furthermore, as a guaranty of the act of sale, which in fact was a statement of bankruptcy, the “caster” Louis Dupuis, who could not write, had to mortgage his property at Trois-Rivières for $1,200 in favour of McDougall.

McDougall had had the equipment of John Porter and Company in his possession since December 1862 and on 27 April 1863 assumed control of the Saint-Maurice ironworks, which Onésime Héroux sold to him for $4,300. A cash payment of $1,075 was made to Héroux immediately, and McDougall undertook to pay the balance of $3,225 to the government, in equal annual instalments until November 1865, to discharge its mortgage on the ironworks. McDougall did indeed pay off this mortgage, interest included, on 8 Feb. 1866, according to the acceptance of satisfaction of mortgage signed by Marie Héroux, the former wife of Onésime Héroux, on 26 April 1867. McDougall’s new domain included “houses, barns, sheds, cowsheds, stables, coal storage space, a flour mill, a large furnace, a foundry, a casting-shop, forges, and other outbuildings.” However, the seller, a merchant of Saint-Barnabé, did not surrender his property completely; he kept a portion of the land adjoining the stream on which were “a large brick shed and a sawmill.”

Research has thus far provided scant data on which to base an estimate of production at the Saint-Maurice ironworks. It seems that in 1865 they produced about 90 tons per week, and that the annual average was some millions of pounds. Apparently in 1870, with about a hundred men employed, half of them at the foundry, an output of about four tons a day was obtained. We know nothing of the conditions under which these employees worked, or of their salaries, except that according to Dollard Dubé they were paid either “with vouchers exchangeable at the store” or in money.

The growth and expansion of McDougall’s economic activities, and his determination to involve his sons, led to the formation of a partnership on 26 April 1867. The firm of John McDougall and Sons took the form of a partnership in two sections. The first, relating only to the general store at Trois-Rivières, established the parity of each partner (John McDougall Sr, John McDougall Jr, and James McDougall) in profit-sharing; at the management level, the two sons were to give all their time to the store, while the father would free himself from it completely in order to devote his energies more effectively to administration of the ironworks. The second section, relating to the Saint-Maurice and L’Islet ironworks, included the eight sons; each owned an eighteenth of the shares, except for William who held one-ninth; the father retained half of all the shares. This proportion applied to both profits and losses.

The place of residence of each of the partners in 1867 was indicative of both the level of their participation and the importance of the Saint-Maurice ironworks: John Sr, Robert, George, and David lived at the Saint-Maurice ironworks, Alexander Mills lived at the L’Islet ironworks, and John Jr, James (who for a time was to be a banker), William, a lawyer, and Thomas resided at Trois-Rivières. In 1869 they were still living in the same places except for the youngest, Thomas, who was now in Montreal; in 1873 he married the oldest daughter of George Baptist*.

Although the distribution of shares and activities within John McDougall and Sons was necessary for accounting purposes it had in reality an artificial quality, for the firm’s metallurgical sector and its commercial sector (the general store) overlapped. In fact, one transformed raw material and the other sold the finished product. The most demanding activity was undoubtedly the ironworks. Not only was it necessary to oversee the various operations, but the blast furnaces had to be supplied with charcoal. This fuel, needed for the reduction of the ore, came from numerous surface deposits of “hydrated iron oxide,” and was provided by the surrounding forest. However, one had to possess the wooded areas, or take steps to purchase the timber cuts of the small local landowners. Thus, when John McDougall and Sons was founded, it owned 38 pieces of land in the parish of Mont-Carmel, specifically, in the concessions of Saint-Félix, Saint-Louis, Saint-Michel, Saint-Mathieu, and Saint-Flavien; to these were added 14 sections in the fief of Saint-Étienne, one in the fourth concession of Shawinigan Township, and the former estate of Thomas Burn at Mont-Carmel. The policy of purchasing land reached a culmination on 22 Nov. 1867, when the commissioner of crown lands sold McDougall 62 lots in the Cap-de-la-Madeleine seigneury, at a unit price of $24.00. These lots, each 60 acres in size, were located in the concessions of Saint-Louis, Saint-Michel, Saint-Mathieu, and Saint-Flavien.

The above inventory, although not exhaustive, seems to reveal the dynamic drive of John McDougall and Sons. In the absence of precise data on the production of the ironworks, the store sales, and the balance-sheets, the analysis cannot be taken any further. It is possible, of course, that, in addition to the motives listed earlier, the 1867 deed of partnership was dictated by a need to enlarge the credit margin. At the time the company’s debts stood at $11,500, and they were still increasing in 1869. The interesting point is that its creditors were closely or distantly related to the McDougall family. Mrs Janet Purvis, John Campbell’s widow, to whom the firm owed $2,500, was probably a relative of Margaret Purvis, the wife of John McDougall; Anne Paterson, widow of Quebec merchant John Paterson, to whom they owed $9,000, was the eldest daughter of John McDougall.

The Saint-Maurice McDougall family included, in addition to the father and mother, eight boys and three girls. The latter were: Anne, who married John Paterson in 1847; Janet Wilson, who married Montreal accountant Robert Nilson in 1871; and Margaret, who became the wife of Montreal merchant Robert Linton in 1867. The boys distinguished themselves in business, politics, or one of the professions. All the children survived their father, who died on 21 Feb. 1870, and whose burial was the occasion for a procession of more than “fifty vehicles [. . . that followed] the hearse from the Vieilles Forges du Saint-Maurice” to Trois-Rivières.

After the death of its founder, the firm of John McDougall and Sons entered an extremely trying phase during which the sons experienced serious difficulties in keeping their metallurgical operations profitable. Numerous factors, including the gradual exhaustion of iron ore and the effects of the international banking crisis of 1873–79, explain the decline. Nevertheless, John McDougall and Sons did not appear to suffer from the restricted credit characterizing banking relations in Quebec during this crisis: from 30 June to 27 Oct. 1875 the Trois-Rivières branch of the Quebec Bank gave them a credit of $80,500. When they were unable to meet payments, either as a result of the poor productivity of their ironworks or because they were selling at a loss, they were obliged to mortgage the Saint-Maurice and L’Islet ironworks on 8 Nov. 1875; thus covered, the bank extended the date of reimbursement of the $80,500 debt by four years.

Subsequently, on 8 Dec. 1876, John McDougall Jr and his brother Robert relinquished their shares in the Saint-Maurice ironworks to a member of the third McDougall family, George McDougall. The latter, in partnership with Alexander Mills McDougall under the name of G. and A. McDougall, presided over the destinies of the Saint-Maurice ironworks until 1879, at which time Alexander Mills, who had closed the L’Islet ironworks the preceding year, sold his investments and left the Saint-Maurice region. Under the sole direction of George McDougall, the Saint-Maurice ironworks continued to function at a slow pace from 1879 to 1883, when a new international monetary crisis closed it down for good.

Georges Massey

AJTR, Greffe de la paix, dénonciation et plainte de Marie Hamel, 28 janv. 1865; déposition de François Brousseau, 1er févr. 1858; Registre d’état civil, St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 1876–89. ANQ-TR, État civil, Presbytériens, St Andrew’s Church, 1846–75; Greffe de R.-Honoré Dufresne, 22 nov. 1867; Greffe de Petrus Hubert, 17 mars 1857, 8 janv., 26 févr. 1858, 5 nov. 1859, 15 déc. 1862, 16 avril 1863, 26 avril 1867, 6 janv. 1868, 3 mai 1869, 8 nov. 1875; Greffe de F.-L. Lottinville, 14 mars, 14 mai 1850, 23 mars 1854, 2 mars, 22 sept. 1855. Le Constitutionnel (Trois-Rivières), 28 févr., 23 mai 1870. L’Ère nouvelle (Trois-rivières), 10, 14 déc. 1857; 14 janv., 15, 22, 25 févr., 5 avril 1858. Cyclopaedia of Canadian biog. (Rose, 1886). Brouillette, Le développement industriel. Ernestine Charland-Rajotte, Drummondville, 150 ans de vie quotidienne au cœur du Québec (Drummondville, Qué., 1972). Une page d’histoire de Trois-Rivières et la région, magnifique essor industriel (Trois-Rivières, 1954). Albert Tessier, Les forges Saint-Maurice, 1729–1883 (Trois-Rivières, 1952); Les Trois-Rivières: quatre siècles d’histoire, 1535–1935 (2e éd., s.l., 1935). “La famille McDougall,” BRH, XXXIII (1927), 401–3. Daniel McDougall, “The final half-century of charcoal iron production in Quebec, 1861–1911,” Canadian Mining Journal (Gardenvale, Que.), 92 (1971), no. 8, 30–34.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Georges Massey, “McDOUGALL, JOHN (1805-70),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 4, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcdougall_john_1805_70_9E.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/mcdougall_john_1805_70_9E.html
Author of Article:   Georges Massey
Title of Article:   McDOUGALL, JOHN (1805-70)
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   March 4, 2024