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People: Scots of Windsor's Past

James Dougall (1810-) & Family:

James Dougall
James Dougall
"A sketch of [James Dougall's] life in this section of country would be to relate the history of this Western Peninsula."
~ Windsor Record [13 April 1888]

James Dougall was born in 1810 in Paisley, Renfrewshire, to Margaret Yuil and John Dougall, Sr., a well-known muslin manufacturer. John's father, Duncan Dougall, was also in the muslin trade, and maintained private gardens that were admired throughout the locality. Unskilled factory workers were, however, quickly displacing skilled craftsmen in the booming textile industry. By the mid 1820s, the Dougall family's financial situation had declined to the point that the only suitable recourse was emigration.

John Sr. sent his two sons, James and John Dougall, Jr., to Québec City in 1826 to sell a consignment of dry goods. He joined his sons two years after they established their wholesale dry goods store, and the three opened up a branch in Montréal. Later that year, John Sr. and James moved to York to open a third store and cash in on the boom in Upper Canada. That establishment was only open less than two years, however, before it was consumed by a fire. So in mid-1830s the father and son moved to the farthest reaches of Upper Canada, opening a store at the ferry terminus on the southern bank of the Detroit River on what is today Riverside Drive, near the Cleary International Centre. Dougall's Emporium was the first general store to open between Chatham and Amherstburgh: its prime location between Detroit and Upper Canada, combined with its connections in Montréal, guaranteed its instant success.

The Canadian Emigrant, Essex County's first newspaper, published the following advertisement in its 16 November 1831 issue:


Importer of British Goods

Respectfully informs country dealers and the public generally, that he is receiving the most extensive and splendid assortment of merchandise ever brought to this part of the country. As his goods are consigned to him direct from the manufacturies of London, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow, he will sell wholesale or retail at prices much lower than any person who can who obtains goods from Montreal or New York; and as profit is not so much his objects as running through a large quantity of goods for his consignees, every person will do well to call and see before making purchases elsewhere."

~ Canadian Emigrant [16 November 1831] 1

John Jr., meanwhile, remained in Montréal to manage the two stores in that region. He branched out into journalism in 1846 when he became the editor of the Montréal Witness, a weekly that championed Christian morality, free trade, and economic progress with a Liberal/Reform bend. He relocated to New York City in 1871 to publish the Weekly Witness, and died there in 1886 at the age of 78.

J & J Dougall Store
J & J Dougall Store

Soon after establishing the store in Sandwich, John Sr. returned to J. & J. Dougall's Montréal branch. Dougall's Emporium grew so quickly that James had to build a bigger store after being in business for just a year. He also added a wharf to the operation, and by 1832 he was respectable and successful enough to marry into the Western District's most powerful family. James's marriage to Suzanne Baby, daughter of Francois, propelled him into the local elite and offered intimate connections to the district's commercial and political leaders.

In 1834, J. & J. Dougall became the regional agent for the Commercial Bank of the Midland District based in Kingston, and the firm continued to grow in both wealth and prestige. John Sr. died in Montréal in 1836 at the height of his firm's success. His obituary in Sandwich's Canadian Emigrant hailed his appearance in the region as the impetus for "the flourishing village of Windsor, of which he was the father." 2 Fifty years later, the Windsor Record would credit his son with the same thing.

James Dougall is perhaps best remembered in local tradition for bestowing the city of Windsor with its name. As a newly-appointed Justice of the Peace and notary public (posts he retained for the whole of his life), he shared responsibility for naming the little development that had sprung up around Sandwich Ferry. When Robert Mercer settled on farm No. 86 in 1833, he called the land Richmond, after his favourite vacation spot in England. The same year, Joseph McDougall purchased farm No. 85. In the autumn of 1835 he divided the farm into lots and called his development South Detroit. Many people of the Border Cities, however, objected to this name, and a meeting was held on 6 September 1836 at Hutton's Tavern to settle the issue of what the village at the Sandwich ferry terminus should be called.

Mr. Mercer and his supporters wanted to call the village Richmond, while Mr. McDougall and his supporters insisted that it be called South Detroit. James Dougall was called upon to break the deadlock; his suggestion, Windsor, was agreeable to both parties. Mr. Mercer was pleased because Windsor neighboured Richmond in England, and Mr. McDougall was satisfied Mercer, an Englishman, did not have his way. On 20 September 1836, James Dougall issued the first advertisement to use the name Windsor in the Canadian Emigrant.

James Dougall won further fame in January 1838 when the American Patriots threatened Upper Canada with an invasion from Detroit. To help with the region's defense, James loaned $12,000 to the Loyalists to purchase munitions and provisions, and provided an additional $14,000 worth of clothing and blankets from his store at cost. When the Patriots finally did cross the river into Canada in December 1838, Dougall, after removing $24,000 from his store's safe in case the place was looted, joined Colonel John Prince and fought in the Battle of Windsor. He also offered $25 worth of gold to the man who shot the bearer of the rebel flag. (Captain Pierre Marantette, the man who shot the flag-carrier, refused the reward, however, insisting, "I am not fighting for money, I am fighting for my country." 3 )

Following the rebellion, Dougall moved from Sandwich to Anderdon Township, just north of Amherstburgh, where he operated another branch general store. Living the life of the landed gentry, he developed a keen interest in horticulture and livestock breeding. The estate, Rosebank, became famous for its nurseries and the pure-bred cattle and horses imported from Scotland. After opening the Windsor Nursuries in 1850, which he operated for the remainder of his life, he began contributing articles to various American-based agriculture journals.

The Dougall family grew to even more prominence when John Jr. wed Elizabeth Redpath, daughter of the sugar mogul and Bank of Montréal Director John Redpath in 1840. The firm of J. & J. Dougall was renamed to Dougall and Redpath, and James gave up his agency with the Commercial Bank to become a BMO agent in Sandwich and Amherstburg. The firm was flourishing as a wholesale and retail business, and even operated two vessels. In 1842, the firm's provision business expanded to supply meat to the British market and corn, biscuits, and fish to the Hudson's Bay Company. (The lucrative liquor trade ended in their stores in the early 1830s when both brothers converted to the temperance cause.)

But by the late 1840s the firm's success had begun to wane. It had overextended its credit in Montréal and was suffering the fallout of the 1847 depression. A fire in downtown Windsor in April 1849 did $25,000 worth of property damage, and the goods were only partially insured. The partnership of Dougall and Redpath never regained its former prosperity, and dissolved in March 1858. James and John remained responsible for the $82,000 the firm owed in unsecured debts, and despite their reliable payments to creditors, Dougall and Redpath was forced into bankruptcy in 1868.

James had, fortunately, diversified himself. Aside from operating a small nursery business, he had grown into an important figure in public affairs during the 1850s and '60s. He was elected warden for Anderdon in 1845, and after Windsor was incorporated as a village in 1854 he sat on the first council. Four years later, when the village officially became a town, Dougall continued to sit on that council as well. He was elected mayor in 1859 and held office for two year-long terms, during which he received the Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward VII. He served as alderman from 1863-1865, and returned to the office of mayor in 1867 (in which he stayed until 1869) when Samuel Smith MacDonnell died.

Raised in a culture that had emphasized the importance of education, James had also contributed a great deal to the development of the area's educational facilities. In 1845, he donated funds to construct a school for both black and white children in Anderdon, and also built a school opposite his Windsor residence near Riverside Drive West. In the mid 1850s he joined the grammar school board as a trustee, and was elected chairman of Windsor's new Joint Grammar and Public Schools Board in 1864, a position he retained until his death twenty-four years later. In his later years he was also active in the Windsor Board of Trade, serving as its president for a number of years in the 1870s, and served as its delegate to the Dominion Board of Trade many times to give lecture on trade development on the Windsor frontier.

James Dougall left a legacy as one of Windsor's leading merchants and land developers. An astute businessman, he had persuaded the town planners to terminate both Victoria and Dougall Avenues (the former named for his daughter who died at seventeen months) at Chatham Street when the village was first laid out, thereby channeling vehicles and pedestrians north on Ferry Street to the front door of his shop. When the Great Western Railway arrived in 1854, moreover, James saw to it that it ended in Windsor. The railway company had originally wanted to build through the Baby farms in the core of Windsor en route to Sandwich and Amherstburgh, but James refused to let the railroad through his property. If it laid tracks where it wanted, the ferry terminus at Ouellette Avenue would most likely be moved downstream, and James rightly feared that such a move would be detrimental to his business operation. The Great Western Railway, therefore, stopped in downtown Windsor, the ferry terminus remained where it was, and the city grew to regional prominence.

James Dougall left such a profound impact on the area that the Windsor Record claimed in his obituary that sketching his life "in this section of country would be to relate the history of this Western Peninsula."

James and Suzanne had five sons and two daughters. Duncan Dougall, born 1841, became the most successful member of the family: educated in law at McGill University, he was called to the Toronto Bar in 1863. He returned to Windsor in 1868 and became a distinguished member of the Bar of the County of Essex while operating a small real-estate business on the side. After Duncan's mother passed away, James remarried to Elizabeth Marcon in 1864, and had two more daughters by her.

James Dougall Headstone
James Dougall Headstone
Suzanne Baby Headstone
Suzanne Baby Headstone
Duncan Dougall Headstone
Duncan Dougall Headstone
  1. MacDonald, George F. "How Windsor Got its Name," Papers and Addresses, Vol. 3, Essex Historical Society: Windsor, Ont., 1921. 36-7
  2. Canadian Emigrant, 20 September 1836. Cf. Armstrong, Frederick H. "James Dougall and the Founding of Windsor, Ontario,"Ontario History, Vol. 76 No. 1 (Mar. 1984): 52
  3. Neal, Frederick, The Township of Sandwich, Past and Present, Record Printing Co., Ltd: Windsor, Ont., 1909. 16. Reprinted 1979 by the Essex County Historical Association and the Windsor Public Library Board.
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