| A fur trader, a builder, businessman, husband and father, John Alexander McDougall was one of Edmontons earliest pioneers. His was a life of adventure, achievement and a rich legacy that resonates more than a century later. |
John A. McDougall was born in Oakwood, Ontario on May 20th, 1854, the son of Alexander J. McDougall and Janet Cummings. When John Junior was just 13 his father died and he had to leave school and go to work to support the family. It was 1867 - Canadas year of Confederation.
He travelled to Winnipeg when he was just 19 and he came to Edmonton first in 1877. The total population was barely 40 people and few buildings stood outside the Fort. Those were the days the stockade walls were peppered with bullets from irate Blackfoot Indians and each night the forts huge gate was closed and locked, McDougall recalled in a 1918 speech to the Edmonton Rotary Club. It was a primitive place, he allowed, but he saw the potential and decided to make it his home. John A. returned to Ontario to marry his teenage sweetheart Lovisa (Lo-vice-ah) Jane Amey and the couple travelled west to Winnipeg by train and then by covered wagon to Edmonton - a three month trip. The year was 1879.
In fact, Lovisa was to make that trip seven times before the railroad finally arrived at Strathcona in 1891. From their earliest days in Edmonton, John A. saw his way to make a fortune as a free trader competing with the Hudsons Bay Company.
In an August 1879 letter, Lovisa wrote, Johnny has sold two thousand dollars worth of goods since he sold his stock . . . The Hudsons Bay Company is pretty vexed (at him). He is taking all the trade from them.
John A. McDougall and Company occupied several locations in downtown Edmonton, including Jasper Avenue and 98th Street and Jasper and 101st. McDougall bought land at that location in 1886 - the corner lot for fifty dollars and two adjoining lots for 25 dollars each.
He hired a man named Richard Secord as a fur buyer and the two men were to become partners in 1897. The firm of McDougall and Secord described itself as general merchants, wholesale and retail; buyers and exporters of raw furs; dealers in land scrip and north west lands; outfitters for survey parties, traders, trappers, miners and others for the north, and suppliers for country stores. Quite a handle!
Business became so successful the pair built one of Edmontons first brick buildings - the Empire Block at Jasper Avenue and 101st Street. In 1907, McDougall and Secord sold their general store and fur trading business and started a financial house and mortgage corporation.
John A. McDougall was elected alderman for the town of Edmonton in 1894 and 1895 and mayor in 1897 and 1908. In 1909, he won a seat as a Liberal Member of the Legislative Assembly for Edmonton and served as the first president of the Edmonton Board of Trade, the forerunner to the Chamber of Commerce. John A. was a promoter and original director of the Electric Light and Power Company, now known as EPCOR. He was also a founding director of the Edmonton Industrial Exhibition Association and member of the first senate of the University of Alberta.
But the adventure hadnt gone out of him yet. John A. spent many of the last years of his life travelling the world. It took most of a year to circumnavigated the globe at the turn of the century and he and Lovisa made several trips to Europe. These were days that a trip oversees consumed several months in the travel alone.
McDougall possessed a great thirst for knowledge and a love of art. He was known to read Shakespeare by candlelight.
John A. McDougall School, constructed in 1913 at 10930 107th Street, was named in his honor. It was nice of the school board to remember that John A. was one of ten citizens to guarantee the five hundred dollar annual salary of the citys first school teacher.
John A. McDougall passed away at his Edmonton mansion in 1928 at age 74. The mansion endured until 1973 and the site is now home to the YWCA Building. McDougall and Secord still does business on the original site of the first Empire Block at Jasper and 101st.
In 1997, the Edmonton Historical Board presented McDougalls great grandson John A. McDougall, president of McDougall & Secord, with its annual recognition award. All these years later, the company is still active in Edmonton, continuing a tradition started 125 years ago.
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