A Man and His Paper
The Story of J. R. Dougall and the Montreal Witness
G. B. VAN BLARICOM
EVERY morning of the year, from his quaint, old fashioned home on the mountain side, a sturdily built, erect gentleman of kindly countenance and pleasant disposition may be seen coming down street before eight o’clock. He starts for the heart of the city and walks every inch of the distance. He steps lively, smartly and uprightly until he reaches his office where he is diligently at work by 8 o’clock, never leaving his chair until late in the afternoon. He has his luncheon in the simply furnished apartment adjoining his private office. For over half a century this leader in Canadian journalism has followed the same consistent, methodical and unobtrusive life—and yet it is a life that
is leaving its imprint on our nationhood. He finds his chief delight in work and, when in search of relaxation, engages in a little more labor. The man is John Redpath Dougall and the spot around which ais life interests centre is the Montreal Daily Witness.
The Weekly Witness was founded by his father John Dougall in 1845 and the paper has always been in the hands of the family. It is a venerable and. in many respects, a model institution. The late John Dougall had high ideals in launching the publication and his son has worthily followed in his wake and carried many of them to a logical conclusion. It has always been a great home paper, clean, elevating and
honorable, while keeping abreast of the times. It has been fearless and independent, out-spoken and aggressive at all times on the leading issues of the day and the moral factors that make for the betterment of a community. Its policy has always been one of integrity and public spiritedness and in the fight for political purity and higher conceptions of trust and duty, both on the part of the elected and* the electorate, its stand has been as a beacon light. For over sixty years it has%iever deviated from its course to run with the crowd, nor has it trimmed its sails to catch some passing breeze of approval. The Witness has stood firm and steadfast and, when it has seen fit to differ from life long friends and admirers—as it has on many occasions—the paper has invariably been accorded credit in that its views have been inspired by a sense of public watchfulness and the qualities of sincerity and courage. Even its most vindicative opponents will admit that the “Montreal Wickedness,” as some of them assailed it in days of yore, has aimed to raise the standard of journalism in Canada and to lead the public conscience aright on all matters affecting the moral, religious and national uplift of the people. In many a campaign for political rectitude, temperance reform, improved civic administration and in its war against bucket shops, gambling, lotteries, fake speculations, and medical panaceas, it has dealt many a powerful blow and aimed straight from the shoulder. While the fight was strenuous. yet the Witness endeavored to be just and fair, but like other mortal institutions, it may have erred, though unconsciously.
In some respects the career of the Witness is unique. In its record of 63 years it has never inserted an advertisement of a saloon, or a brand of liquor. It has declined to give space to theatre, lottery, tobacco, and other announcements, particularly of questionable medical preparations and doubtful schemes, which the management believe were calculated or in-
tended to take advantage of or injure its readers. This has resulted in The Witness losing thousands of dollars annually in proffered publicity, but it has resolutely stood by the principles and ideals of its founder. During the earlier mining booms the management accepted no mining advertisements. When, however, the argentiferous wealth of our unrivalled Cobalt had been established beyond peradventure and the people had become educated, The Witness opened its columns to this class of advertising, believing that it constituted a fair and legitimate outlet. Its attitude is summed up in the following announcement which appears daily at the head of its editorial page. “It is, of course, impossible to know much about mining advertising which offers probably the most speculative and therefore, the most risky of all investments. The great chances of gain are balanced with the great chances of loss and no one should invest in a very speculative property more than lie can afford to lose.”
The Daily Witness was launched in i860—just 15 years after the establishment of the Weekly—and next year will celebrate its golden anniversary. Its beginning was auspicious and coincident with several stirring events—the visit of the Prince of Wales (now King Edward) to Canada —the opening of the Victoria Bridge, the agitation in favor of the fusion of the scattered provinces into a Canadian Confederacy—and later the bitter struggle of the Northern and Southern States to rid the American Republic of slavery, which, in turn, was followed by the Franco-Prussian war. From the day of its inception to the present the public has never lost confidence in the motives and character of The Witness, and the paper has received compliments from its contemporaries the world over. It has come triumphantly through many stirring periods. It was once in its early days placed under the ban of the Roman Catholic Church, and some fourteen years ago, when carrying on a valiant battle against the
numerous gambling dens and bucket shops in Montreal, a deliberate attempt was made to destroy the office with dynamite. Late one night a bomb was thrown in the press room. The explosion tore up the floor and broke every pane of glass in that part of the building. Had the missile gone just four feet farther it would have completely shattered the big newspaper press.
But what of the man back of the paper, the central figure of its personality, the power behind the publication ? John Redpath Dougall is not nearly as widely known as his paper. He has never been a lover of the spectacular or the dramatic. You might as well attempt to extract information
from a stone as to induce the veteran editor and publisher to talk about himself. He is quiet, reserved, and strictly uncommunicative regarding his own affairs. When he speaks to the public it is through the editorial columns. He acquired his journalistic training under his father and succeeded him in the management of the Daily and Weekly Witness in 1870. The firm is still known as John Dougall & Son. The honored journalist is one of the closest personal friends of Canada’s Premier. What is the reason of this intimate friendship? Mr. Dougall, although leaning to the Liberal school of politics, has, on many occasions, criticized the actions and course of the Laurier Government and, in no un-
measured terms, pointed out its weaknesses and shortcomings. The editor has never been in a party committee room and never runs up to Ottawa on political or newspaper errands. Times without number he has been asked to attend political gatherings and to occupy a seat on the platform. He has been urged to become a parliamentary candidate and given hearty assurances of support. To all these overtures his invariable reply is “No. My work is at the office. The Witness is my field of labor and there I can best do my duty to my country and my fellow men.”
Here you get a glimpse of the innate modesty and true character of the man. It is freely rumored that, after the death of the late Sir Wm. Hingston, Sir Wilfrid offered Mr. Dougall a Senatorship, which was
promptly declined, and report has it that the editor of The Witness was proffered a Knighthood but he did not accept. Those who know him intimately declare that he will work unceasingly to the end, giving his talent and his energy to the paper with which he has so long been identified. The man rarely takes a holiday. Last summer—for the first time in years— he was prevailed upon to take a vacation He went away but in less than three weeks was back at his post. It was during his absence that the despatches appeared in the press about him having been offered a Senatorship, and later a Knighthood. Asked about the correctness of these persistent rumors he laconically observed “Merely another hot weather story.” By many not intimately associated with him, Mr. Dougall is often misinterpreted. He has warm personal
friends but he has never been in the public eye. There are several reasons for this beside the fact that he prefers to spend all his energies through his papers, one being his naturally retiring disposition and another that he has not a well developed sense of the individual. If he were introduced to a man to-day he might pass him on the street to-morrow and not recognize him, but if the stranger spoke first Mr. Dougall would be cordial in his greeting. Pie has never played for popularity and his paper holds some standards that perhaps do not appeal to the masses. For ininstance, it is the usual custom for the press of to-day when a newsboy or for that matter any person, finds a pocket book or wallet containing a large sum of money, to praise the honesty of the person who hunts up the owner and returns it. Such items frequently appear under larue headings. The Witness, while it would make mention of such an incident, would not land the honesty and integrity of the finder to an unusual degree as is frequently done, because it holds that in returning the property the finder has done nothing more than his duty, and that common honesty is not such as a rare or exclusive possession that it should be unduly praised, and, perhaps, the modest finder made to feel uncomfortable b y prominent references to his conscientious scruples.
Mr. Dougall possesses the faculty to an unusual degree of reading other men’s minds. After perusing a speech he can, as it were, analyze every thought and feeling of the man behind the delivery, although he may know him by name only. He is quick to size up a new reporter and bring out the best that is in him. Being a tireless worker himself he inspires in others a love of toil and impresses upon them the need of accuracy, fairness and impartiality as well as freshness and virility. Every editorial in The Witness office is read by at least three members of the staff before it sees day light in the public print. Any suggestion or advice is considerately accepted by Mr. Dougall. He likes to have those around him think for
themselves—to have ideas of their own. He presents the fullest information on every subject on which he writes. No amount of research appals him ; he wants the facts at all costs. He is never without a dictionary, an atlas, or an encyclopedia at his elbow, and these he frequently consults. Often he writes an editorial over three or four times; he must be thoroughly satisfied with it on every point before it is sent to the composing room. During the South African war, when despatches of a conflicting character appeared in the press, The Witness day after day gave able editorial reviews, thoroughly analyzed their import and significance, explaining apparent discrepancies and contradictions. This is only a side light on the thoroughness of the man and his methods. In his paper he has always stood for pure and undefiled English, the exclusion of slipshod or colloquial expressions, and for correctness of punctuation.
Mr. Dougall in taking a stand on any great issue has never been known to pander to expediency, to halt or hesitate about how such a position or policy would affect the interests of the business office or the cash drawer. He has always been above mere sordid considerations. A man of few hobbies, he spends the day in writing. When the evening edition is out he wends his way home, if he has not some business meeting to attend.
He is a member of the Corporation of McGill University, of which by the way, he is a graduate, the Board of Directors of the Congregational College, the Sun Life Assurance Company and other bodies. As indicative of another trait of his nature it may be stated that he is President of the Boys’ Home in Montreal and of the Boys’ Farm at Shawbridge. He has always been prominently indentified with the temperance cause. In religion he is a Congregationalist of wide gauge and liberal mind and a staunch supporter of Church Union, and in the Citizens’ League for the promotion of civic good government he has
been a leading factor. He is an ardent free-trader but not a party man. Tariff walls, customs schedules and other barriers he does not countenance, believing that the closest and truest union is promoted throughout the Empire by the greatest freedom of commerce and unrestricted intercourse in the matter of trade.
Mr. Dougall is fond of the open air and a lover of animals. For years his constant companion was a big mastiff dog. For exercise he enjoys walking and bicycling in the country, and when he has time often takes his water colors with him and will sketch while some friend reads aloud. Appreciative of a good joke, he gets much relaxation out of the humor columns of the daily and periodical press. But outside of the work of the office he spends most of his hours in reading. He peruses the current literature of the day, the ablest and brightest controversies on political questions, commerce, education, industry, invention, agriculture, science and other topics. He retires regularly at io o’clock and is up shortly after 6 the next morning. Sixty-seven years old, or rather sixty-seven years young— and still a bachelor — John Redpath Dougall leads the simple life—a quiet, kindly, thoughtful man with a mission and a purpose, his devotion to duty his highest ambition, and yet not of so serious a mien that he fails to catch much of the sunshine and the brightness that border life’s pathway and to reflect its spirit and illumination in his work and ideals. He resides at the quaint old Dougall homestead on the slope of Mount Royal, and has been like a father to nephews and nieces who have lived with him.
Since the foregoing article was written, the Witness office in Montreal, has been destroyed by fire. With indomitable energy, Mr. Dougall has set about replacing what was lost in the conflagration, and the new home of his paper will be in keeping with its position in Canadian newspaperdom.