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John McDougall

Portrait of John Mcdougall

As the fur traders moved west into Rupert's Land, establishing trading forts and missions the western regions stood at the threshold of massive white settlement. While this would become a great opportunity to expand the agricultural potential of the western region it had very negative effects on the native populations. The Methodists believed that it was necessary to help the Indian population to integrate, not by force but through Christianity, into a more European way of life. It was believed that if the natives could know Christianity they would learn to appreciate it and more willingly accept European values and eventually a European lifestyle. When John McDougall joined the Methodist Missionary service in 1864, he had been well prepared for such a position and knew this Methodist dictum well.

Morley MissionJohn McDougall was born in 18442 in Sydenham, Upper Canada to George and Elizabeth McDougall. George McDougall was a farmer by background who had become a Methodist missionary and, as a result, John McDougall was educated through the mission school system. During his school years he learned to speak Ojibwa and Cree. When, in 1862 his father (by this time the superintendent for the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada) decided to move his mission farther west, he brought his family with him. The family relocated to a site on the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River, near present-day Pakan, Alberta. Here they established a mission and named it Fort Victoria. At Victoria John worked as an interpreter and teacher and, in 1864, married the eldest daughter of Reverend Henry Steinhauer, an Ojibwa missionary. That same year he became a candidate for missionary service.

Gravesite of Abigail McDougall, John's wifeJohn McDougall and his new wife were soon appointed to reopen the Pigeon Lake mission. This was a very turbulent period in the west. Violence was escalating between the Cree and Blackfoot tribes, the two only separated by the North Saskatchewan River and everyone was at risk of disease. In 1870-71 a terrible smallpox epidemic was sweeping the plains. It was at this time that McDougall lost his first wife, shortly after her death he was ordained to the Indian service. In 1873 McDougall and his new wife, Elizabeth Boyd, were chosen to establish a new mission in the Alberta foothills to serve the Stoney Indians. They chose Morley to set up their mission, a town where he is fondly remembered to this day.

Throughout his life and career John McDougall worked hard in aid of the native communities of Alberta and truly believed in his faith and his work. During the North West Rebellion he travelled around to Indian camps all over Rupert's Land to help calm fears and offer assurances to the people that they were safe and that the government would respect their rights. He was not just a Methodist minister but became a teacher, health care provider and friend to many natives and new settlers from the east.

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