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John Alexander McDougall

J.A. McDougall

John Alexander McDougall was an Edmonton pioneer who helped develop the city through his retail and real estate empires. Like many of Edmonton's pioneers, McDougall was originally from Ontario, born in Oakwood in 1854. An enterprising adventurer, McDougall moved west to work as a fur trader, traveling first to Fort Garry (now Winnipeg) in 1873, and then to Edmonton in 1879. He married Ontarian Lovisa Jane Amey and he set himself up as a general merchant in Edmonton Settlement, with a general store along High Street.

Soon after arriving in Edmonton, McDougall dabbled in real estate speculation. From 1880, he began buying land to resell it for profit while running his fur trade and general store business. He made a tidy profit, which he used to build one of the first frame houses in Edmonton. McDougall expanded his enterprise by entering a partnership with Richard Secord. In 1897, they established McDougall & Secord, a general merchant business involved in selling furs and supplies for survey parties, trappers, and others working in the North West Territories. McDougall and Secord owned a significant portion of land along Jasper Avenue where their offices were located.

J.A. McDougall’s Store

The firm of McDougall & Secord became quite profitable by engaging in questionable business practices. For instance, the company profited during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896 and 1897 by misinforming potential prospectors. In an attempt to garner more customers, McDougall & Secord advertised a particular route from Edmonton to Yukon as the cheapest and quickest; however, this proved to be untrue as many prospectors perished along the challenging route.

In 1907, McDougall and Secord sold their company, abandoned their retail business and created McDougall & Secord Limited, a financial firm and mortgage corporation. They were a major mortgage lending operation in the city, responsible for the development of much of the city's commercial, industrial and residential real estate. John C. McDougall, John A. McDougall's son, joined the company and eventually took it over after the original partners retired. By 1908, real estate prices were skyrocketing and McDougall & Secord Inc. were prospering. During the recession many firms went under but McDougall and Secord Inc. managed to weather the storm, and the firm still exists today.

John Alexander McDougall is responsible for the development of two of the finest buildings in Edmonton. In 1905, McDougall & Secord built one of the first brick structures in Edmonton - the Empire Block on 101st St and Jasper Avenue. The Empire Block operated as an office and retail building until McDougall & Secord Inc. demolished the structure in 1962 and replaced it with the 11-storey Empire Building. John A. McDougall was also responsible for the construction of the McDougall Mansion in 1898 - a Victorian brick mansion with scenic gardens, stables and a tennis court. It was built at a cost of $30,000 on the corner of 100th Avenue and 103rd Street. The mansion stayed in the family's possession until 1946 when it was sold to the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire who used it as a children's shelter. In 1969, the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) took possession of the house to operate a women's rehabilitation centre. In 1974, the McDougall Mansion was demolished to build a new YWCA building. A commemorative arch stands at the entrance of the new building as a means of commemorating the old mansion.

During his life, McDougall was one of Edmonton's most prominent citizens. He helped organize Edmonton's Board of Trade in 1889 and became its president in 1895. He also invested in Edmonton Light and Power Company thus helpting to introduce an electrical light system to the city in 1891. McDougall entered politics, albeit briefly, becoming mayor of the city in 1897 and 1908. As mayor, he played an instrumental role in constructing Edmonton's first bridge, the Low Level Bridge. Later in his life, he retired and began traveling the world. He died in Edmonton on December 17 of 1928 at the age of 74, after being hospitalized with a serious illness.

References

Byfield, Virginia. In ‘Old Edmonton’ the New Century Brings a Ray of Hope at Last. Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol.1: The Great West Before 1900. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Edmonton Public Library. Buildings from 1876-1910. Retrieved July 15, 2008

Edmonton Public Library. McDougall, John Alexander. Retrieved July 11, 2008

Goyette, Linda and Carolina Jakeway Roemmich. Edmonton In Our Own Words. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2004.

Herzog, Lawrence. Lost buildings of Edmonton. Real Estate Weekly, 25(33), August 16, 2007. Retrieved July 11, 2008

Herzog, Lawrence. The Story of John Alexander McDougall. Real Estate Weekly, 21(23), June 12, 2003. Retrieved July 11, 2008

Klassen, Henry C.  A Business History of Alberta. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1999.

Macgregor, James G.  Edmonton Trader: The Story of John A. McDougall. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 1963.

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