McDougall was a Father of Confederation from Canada West (Ontario). Because he had changed political allegiance, McDougall was colloquially known as “Wandering Willie”.
McDougall lived at two addresses in Sandy Hill: between 1866 and 1870, at Besserer House, corner of King Edward and Daly Ave.) and, after 1870, at 407 Wilbrod St. (an earlier house than the one that currently stands at this address). Besserer House was the first large residence to be built in Sandy Hill and was likely built in 1859 (but perhaps as early as 1844) for Louis Théodore Besserer who owned most of the land in Sandy Hill north of Laurier Ave. An 1878 map of the property shows the house with verandas on all four sides. The house illustrates the persistence of classically-inspired architectural design into the mid-nineteenth century.
In 1869, along with Georges Étienne Cartier, McDougall was responsible for negotiating the purchase of the almost 8 million square kilometre Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company for $1.5 million. He was subsequently appointed Lieutenant Governor of the territory. His trip to the Red River settlement to assume his new post did not go well. The Red River Métis had not been consulted about becoming Canadians and were suspicious of Ottawa’s intentions. These suspicions were enhanced by the fact that McDougall had shipped some 300 guns in advance to the Manitoba border in case of trouble. Joseph Howe, a former Nova Scotia premier and vigorous anti-Confederation campaigner but now a fellow member of Macdonald’s cabinet, was returning from Red River as McDougall was arriving. He described the McDougall cavalcade of 30 wagons as that of “a great satrap paying a visit to his Province, with an amount of following, a grandeur of equipage and a display of pomp” … that constituted “a great blunder.” (Bumstead, 1996) The Métis declared their own autonomous government and prevented McDougall from entering the territory, forcing the Canadian government to negotiate what would eventually be the creation of Canada’s fifth province, Manitoba.
McDougall is buried in Beechwood cemetery.