McQUEEN, THOMAS, stonemason, journalist, politician, and poet; b. 9 Oct. 1803 in the parish of Kilbirnie, Ayrshire, Scotland; he married and had several children; d. 26 June 1861 at Goderich, Canada West.
Thomas McQueen’s father was a labourer in a rural parish 20 miles southwest of Glasgow, and McQueen received little schooling because he was required to work. At the age of nine an accident left him convalescent for a long period and lame for the rest of his life. He developed an interest in books, although his reading never led him away from his origins. He went to work as a stonemason at 14 or 15, during years of intense labour unrest when working class journalism became established. Stimulated by the agitation for parliamentary reform in the 1820s and early 1830s, he wrote for the periodical press and lectured on the rights of the working man. He also published three volumes of poetry – much of a political nature – and issued a weekly series of essays and lectures on political economy, education, and morals.
In 1842 McQueen immigrated to Canada West and settled near Pakenham in the Bathurst District, immediately north of an established settlement of Glasgow weavers and other Scots. Although the rocky land of much of the district was ill suited to agriculture, he was impressed by the rent-free, cheap, and fertile land available elsewhere in Upper Canada and contrasted the settler’s opportunities to prosper with “the revolting condition of the five-farthing per-yard weaver” in Britain whom the industrial system had “driven within the precincts of a lingering starvation.” From 1842 to 1846 he worked as a mason throughout the Pakenham area. His journalistic instincts were not long in surfacing, and he began to contribute regularly to the Bathurst Courier, vigorously advocating secular education and deriding the claims of the Church of England.
In 1847 Malcolm Cameron*, a Sarnia merchant and radical Grit member of the assembly for Lanark, offered McQueen £100 a year to edit a paper in the newly settled Huron Tract. McQueen did not accept this offer, but in 1848 he moved to Goderich and on 4 February the first issue of the Huron Signal appeared with McQueen as editor and Charles Dolsen as publisher.
McQueen saw his principal task as the revival of the Reform party in Huron County, represented in the assembly by William Cayley*, a Tory lawyer from Toronto and a nephew of Bishop John Strachan. Huron was divided between conservative Ulstermen and reform-minded dissenting Scots, but the Reformers were fragmented and disorganized and in the Signal McQueen set out to give them a point of focus. He urged the farmers of Huron to elect “one of your own class,” and denounced toryism as “the curse of the civilized world – the liberal meaning of it is to exalt and pamper a few individuals in luxuriant indolence, at the expense of the sweat and toil and degradation of the great mass of industrious mankind.” McQueen’s triumph came in 1851 when Malcolm Cameron defeated Cayley in Huron. By this time, as McQueen put it, he was “tired of living in the extreme verge of civilization in Goderich.” In 1852 he took the editorship of a new Reform journal, the Hamilton Canadian, at £200 a year. During the next two years the Canadian developed from a weekly to a tri-weekly and McQueen acquired a province-wide reputation as an advocate of reform and temperance. Early in 1854 Francis Hincks asked him to edit the Montreal Pilot and Journal of Commerce at £250 a year and he had offers from newspapers in Halton County, Belleville, and elsewhere. But he chose to return that year to Goderich and the Huron Signal.
In the election of the same year McQueen ran against Cayley on a radical Grit platform, promising to seek the abolition of the clergy reserves, separate schools, and seigneurial tenure in Lower Canada, and to work for reciprocity with the United States and a union of the British North American provinces. He was defeated by a strong Conservative turnout in the town of Goderich.
After 1854 McQueen took a special interest in evaluating agricultural methods and educating farmers in proper drainage, rotation of crops, drill husbandry, fencing, and the use of fertilizers and machinery. He bought an 800-acre property in Huron County and continued as editor of the Signal until his death in 1861.
Thomas McQueen was the author of My gloaming amusements, a variety of poems (Beith, Scot., 1831); The exile; a poem, in seven books (Glasgow, 1836); The moorland minstrel (Glasgow, 1840); and “Report on the county of Huron,” Upper Canada, Board of Agriculture, Journal and Trans. (Toronto), II (1856–57), 172–203. Bathurst Courier (Perth, [Ont.]), 1842–48. Huron Signal (Goderich, [Ont.]), 3 July 1861. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 273–75. Wallace, Macmillan dictionary, 487. Andrew Haydon, Pioneer sketches in the district of Bathurst (Toronto, 1925), 237–85. James Scott, The settlement of Huron County (Toronto, 1966), 247–49.