The Honourable Sir William McDougall was the only Lieutenant Governor of Rupert's Land and the Northwest Territories. However, when he tried to enter that jurisdiction from the United States, he was turned back near the border by Louis Riel's insurgents before he could establish his authority at Fort Garry. Consequently, he resigned from office.
William McDougall was born on January 25, 1822, near York (Toronto) Upper Canada (Ontario). His parents were Daniel McDougall and Hannah Matthews.
He received his education at Victoria College in Cobourg, Upper Canada, and in 1847, began practising law as an attorney and solicitor in Upper Canada. In 1862, he was called to the Upper Canada Bar.
In 1845, William McDougall married Amelia Caroline Easton, daughter of Joseph Easton of Millbank, Upper Canada. After the death of his first wife, he married Mary Adelaide Beatty, daughter of John Beatty, M.D., a professor at Victoria College, Cobourg, in 1872. William McDougall had six children: George, Harold, Gladwyn, Dr. Westroppe, Mrs. George Brown, and Mrs. Alfred Seymour.
Throughout his career, William McDougall was noted as a leading voice of the Clear Grit movement, the radical faction of the Reform Party. To voice his political views, in 1850, he established the North American, the official publication of the Clear Grits. Later, this publication was absorbed by George Brown's Globe, and the two men worked together until 1865.
From 1858 to 1867, William McDougall was a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Canada which governed present day Ontario and Quebec. He represented the electoral districts of North Oxford (1858-63), North Ontario (1863-64), and North Lanark (1864-67). During this period of time, he also served as Commissioner for Crown Lands from 1862 to 1864 and was appointed Provincial Secretary in 1864. William McDougall was a delegate to the Charlottetown, Quebec, and Westminster Conferences and, consequently, was one of the Fathers of Confederation.
After Canadian confederation in 1867, he joined the Conservative Party and served as a Member of Parliament for the electoral district of North Lanark from 1867 to 1872 and was Canada's first Minister of Public Works. In .1867, he introduced the resolution in the House of Commons that eventually led to the purchase of Rupert's Land. He then accompanied Sir George-Étienne Cartier to London, England, to negotiate this purchase in 1869.
On the advice of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, William McDougall was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Rupert's Land and the Northwest Territories effective October 1, 1869. This appointment was made by Lord Lisgar, Governor General of Canada. However, as previously noted, when he tried to enter that jurisdiction from the United States on October 30, he was turned back near the border by Louis Riel's insurgents before he could establish his authority at Fort Garry. Since William McDougall was never officially installed as Lieutenant·Governor at Fort Garry, many authorities feel that he never was Lieutenant Governor of Rupert's Land and the Northwest Territories and do not name him as such. After he returned to Ottawa, he served as a Private Member in the House of Commons until 1872.
In 1873, he resumed the practice of law. He then returned to politics and served as the Member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario for South Simcoe from 1875 to 1878, and following that, he served as the Member of Parliament for Halton from 1878 to 1882.
William McDougall was knighted Companion of the Bath in 1867 and was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1881.
He died on May 29, 1905, at Ottawa, Ontario, and was buried in the Beechwood Cemetery at Vanier, Ontario.