I heard this comment recently, and thought it was original. Google proved me wrong. But it’s still true.
I spent the best part of three days recently to research an article. It will appear in the second volume of Movers & Mavericks of Thunder Bay. Each article in the volume is a biographical sketch of someone who made history.
The someone I chose is Neil McDougall. The editorial committee had never heard of him. Still, they agreed with my choice.
I contacted several archives in Thunder Bay, mentioned my subject. They’d never heard of him. But . . . they all came up with dossiers on him. Memories are short-lived; dossiers are forever.
In 1875, Neil McDougall arrived in the settlements we now call the City of Thunder Bay. He got off the steamboat at Prince Arthur’s Landing, got his directions straight, transferred to a smaller watercraft, and followed the shoreline to Fort William – an actual fort at that time, district headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company – on the Kaministiquia River.
McDougall was just a kid at that time, 19 years old. He lived to be 92. When he died, Port Arthur and Fort William were booming cities. In the intervening 73 years, he witnessed eras come and eras go. But he was more than a witness – he was an active participant. He made history.
No one today remembers him. But, my friends, that is normal. No one will remember him until someone writes up his life. And that honour, my friends, falls to me.
How did I come up with Neil McDougall as my subject?
Back in the 1980s, I was actively researching and writing local histories. One of my subjects was Lake Nipigon and the river that drains it, both in my extended backyard. One of the books I consulted, by an author of popular travelogues, had devoted a full chapter to Neil McDougall. Somehow – I don’t remember how – I tracked down a descendent of McDougall.
She lived in Thunder Bay. She was 86 years old at the time. She readily agreed to an interview. So, on November 25th, 1989, I sat down with her.
Mrs. Frances Garrard.
The sole surviving offspring of Neil McDougall.
[Concluded in Chapter 2]