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James Dingwall


DingwaII, James, Cornwall, was born at Meadow Bay, on the road to Cornwall, Canada West, on the 8th May, 1840. His paternal grandfather, James Dingwall , was a U. E. loyalist, and he was born about the middle of the eighteenth century, in Strathspey, Scotland. While still a young man he and an elder brother, John, (grandfather of Judge Drew, of Guelph,) emigrated to America, and settled in the valley of the Mohawk, near Albany. At the breaking out of the Revolutionary war, each of the two brothers owned and lived upon comfortable and valuable homesteads in that pleasant and fertile valley. They both having refused to join the revolutionists, were then given to understand that if they remained quiet on their farms they would not be molested; but they declined, and were active and open in their sympathy and aid to the loyalists. In revenge, the revolutionists (or continentals) drove away their cattle. Later James Dingwall was imprisoned, and with several others had to "run the gauntlet," that is, to make a dash for one’s life between two rows of Indians armed with withes or rods, and past an Indian armed with a tomahawk at the exit between the two fiIes of Indians. Each was only to strike the person running when opposite him, and must not strike in front. Subsequently James Dingwall, continuing his hostility to the revolutionists and his aid to the loyalists, was imprisoned; and with others condemned to be executed. The night before the day fixed for the execution they broke through the roof of their prison, and. escaped by tearing their bed clothes into strips and knotting them into ropes. Finally, James Dingwall and his brother, after enduring many hardships, reached Canada with Sir William Johnston’s band of patriots about 1784, and settled upon the first settled farm on the south side of the river Raisin, between Lancaster and Williamstown, arid this homestead of 300 acres is still owned by his grandson. He was a man of great stature, (6 feet 2 or 3 inches) and of powerful frame and physique, and a man of strong character and. great determination. He is buried in the Presbyterian graveyard at Williamstown, and it is recorded upon his tombstone that "he fought and suffered. for his king arid country." His grandson deems it a happy circumstance that he may be said to have bled for his country, considering how many in these degenerate days ask their country to bleed for them. James Dingwall married Catherine Ferguson, daughter of Alexander Ferguson, another U. E. loyalist. This Alexander Ferguson died in October, 1785 , and was buried in the Presbyterian graveyard on the shore of Lake St. Francis, in the village of Lancaster, where his tombstone with this date can still be seen. This Lancaster graveyard is the oldest in eastern Ontario, and there is only one tombstone in it of an earlier date, namely, that of Mr. McKenzie, (great-grandfather of the late James Bethune, Q. C.) which recorded that he died in June, 1785. Alexander Ferguson’s homestead of 200 acres, a mile west of Lancaster village, and upon Lake St Francis, is still owned by his descendants. By Catherine Ferguson James Dingwall had fourteen children, the youngest of whom, named Malcolm, was the father of our subject Malcolm DingwaIl was born in 1812. In 1837 he went with his fellow Glengarrians to St. Phillippe and other places in Lower Canada to aid in Suppressing the rebellion. In 1839 he married Anne McLennan, daughter of Roderick McLennan, of Lancaster, and eldest sister of Donald McLennan, late of Port Hope, hardware merchant; of John McLennan, sheriff of the County of Victoria, and of James McLennan, Q. C., of Toronto. In the same year he settled upon a homestead of 240 acres in Meadow Bay, two miles west of Lancaster village, and on the road to Cornwall, and here the subject of our sketch was born. Malcolm Dingwall was an elder in the Presbyterian church at Lancaster. He was an excellent English and Gaelic scholar, and took a deep interest in educational matters. The homestead is still owned by a brother of James Dingwall. James Dingwall’s maternal grandfather, Roderick McLennan. was like his other ancestor, a man of strong and marked character. He was born in ScotIand upwards of a century ago. About the beginning of the present century he emigrated with his father to Canada, and settled in the third concession of the township of Lancaster, where his own and his father’s homesteads are still owned and occupied by descendants. He was the owner of several line farms, and it is illustrative of his character that on one occasion, long before our present railways were built—indeed before the old stage or mail waggons and sleighs were regularly run between Montreal and Toronto - he made a trip to Toronto, nearly 300 miles distant, to secure the title to one of his farms. On another occasion, a relative of the name of McLeod, a Presbyterian clergyman, in South Carolina, died in that distant country, and it was reported to his relatives in Canada that he had left them a large fortune to be looked after. This was about the year 1830, and Roderick McLennan made the journey to Carolina to enquire into the matter. We are to recollect that this was before the days of telegraphs or railways, or even steamboats. He was a man who took a keen interest in educating his family, and died at a good old age, universally respected. He married Mary McPherson, daughter of Alexander McPherson, of Lancaster, by whom he had a family of ten children, of whom our subject’s mother was the eldest, and James McLennan, Q. C., of Toronto, the youngest. James Dingwall, the subject of this memoir, was the eldest of the family. He attended the Lancaster public school until his seventeenth year, and afterwards the Williamstown Grammar (High) school. In the autumn of 1858 he matriculated at Queen’s College, Kingston, took a full arts course, and graduated BA. "with honours in all the subjects," in the spring of 1861. The balance of 1861 and the year 1862 he spent in miscellaneous reading, and during 1863 he was head master of the Kemptville Grammar or High school. In the spring of 1864, Mr. Dingwall began the study of law, in the office of Mowat and McLennan, of Toronto, being articled to his uncle, James McLennan. He continued four full years with Mr. McLennan, and was called to the bar in the spring of 1868. In October of the same year he entered into partnership with the late William Ross, of Cornwall, barrister, who for many years previously had been the law partner of the late Hon. John Sandfield McDonald. He remained in partnership with Mr. Ross until his death in December, 1882, since which time he has carried on a large law practice alone. When he went into partnership, Mr. Ross’s business was insignificant, owing to his eyesight having failed him ; but to-day Mr. Dingwall’s business is probably more profitable than that of any other lawyer in Cornwall. In February, 1873, he was appointed county crown attorney and clerk of the peace for the united Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, and he has now held the position longer than any of his predecessors. There are between 300 and 400 qualified justices of the peace in these united counties, and the work of the two offices of county crown attorney and clerk of the peace for a population of upwards of 70,000 is necessarily large and varied. Mr. Dingwall can claim that during the thirteen years he has held office he has made no mistake. He has never given an official opinion or advice that has been challenged. And he can claim that the policy he has pursued has had much to do with the noted absence of crime in these counties. Apart from his official position, his professional business has been very lucrative. Both the late Mr. Ross and himself prided themselves upon discouraging litigation, except where absolutely necessary. It was said of Mr. Ross that he uniformly killed more suits than all the other lawyers in the town brought. These two successful lawyers engaged largely in loaning money, and their influence was a valuable check upon the operations of the loaning companies. For instance, Mr. Dingwall has in the eighteen years he has been in practice in Cornwall, taken upwards of seven hundred mortgages in his own name, and he has had occasion to take legal proceedings upon only three out of that number in that time. In the fall of 1879, he spent upwards of five weeks acting as counsel for the town of Cornwall before A. H. Dymond, appointed a special commissioner by the Ontario government to enquire into the financial affairs of the town. The enquiry was one of the most exciting affairs that ever occurred in. Cornwall. It led to the exposure of’ many scandalous transactions and effected a permanent revolution for the better in municipal matters in the community. In 1882 and 1883, at great expense of time and work, Mr. Dingwall carried to a successful completion a re-survey of the front half of the town. He did the whole work of getting up petitions and having them signed, hunting up evidence, urging on the municipal council, &c., alone, and almost unaided by any one, and he had to overcame much unscrupulous opposition. To realize what he effected it should be stated that the town is upwards of one hundred years old, that there was not a single old monument to be found, that people built their fences where they pleased, that many of the principal streets were encroached upon to the extent of five, seven, eight, ten, and even sixteen feet, this state of matters had become intolerable, but the citizens seemed helpless,—the leading men of the town having attempted to move in the matter and failed, and the late Andrew Hedge, when mayor, had D. R. Brown, P. L. surveyor, spend a week hunting for evidence of the original survey without result. Now the re-survey has been made and confirmed by act of the Provincial legislature and the buildings that now encroach upon the streets, fences, &c., will in time be rebuilt on the proper lines. The re-survey is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to the town, and an achievement for which Mr. Dingwall must be remembered in time to come, seeing that the town will before long become an important city. In 1880 he was appointed by the counties’ council a trustee of the Cornwall High school, the object of his appointment being to ferret out and put an end to certain improper financing of the then board, and he accomplished the object aimed at by the council, and has remained on the board ever since. When he became a member of the board, the attendance in the school was about forty; now it is near one hundred, and the school is efficient and flourishing. Mainly owing to his persistent exertions, the counties’ council have recently built a handsome new county building at the court house, for offices for the court’s officials, at a cost of about $15,000. In his official position Mr. Dingwall has had to act a principal part in many important cases. Mr. Dingwall takes a deep interest in gardening and forestry, and has invested a good deal of money in wooded lands, and derives a good deal of pleasure from his transplanting operations. Mr. Dingwall belongs to no secret society; he abhors them. Good men, he admits, join such societies, intending to act only with the other members on what is right; good, and benevolent; but he maintains that they are often led to back each other through thick and thin in what is wrong. He affirms that when a man joins a secret society he ceases to be in a position to say as in the Lord’s prayer "lead us not into temptation." Mr. Dingwall is a Calvinist and a Presbyterian, and believes the Presbyterian form of church government is the model upon which the best political governments are and will be formed. It is that, he points out, of local bodies dealing with small and local matters; and of larger bodies dealing with larger and more general subjects. It is, therefore, he concludes, a philosophical system, and so will stand the test of time. In politics, Mr. Dingwall believes in the greatest good to the greatest number. He hates monopolies; and believes in vested rights, if honestly and honourably acquired. He believes in being conservative of the good we possess, and would only make changes slowly and cautiously. At the same time he believes this wonderful age in which we live, calls for our being liberally progressive in all things. In his hatred of governmental corruption he would be called a rabid Grit. He does not believe in the hideous doctrine that a politician need necessarily be corrupt affirming that it is only those who are corrupt themselves that preach such a doctrine. He is a Liberal by conviction. Apart from this he is by nature and by descent conservative, in 1878 he married Mary Hunter, by whom he has four children. His wife is a younger daughter of John Hunter, an old and respected citizen of the town. Her mother was Christina Leitch, a sister of William Leitch, of the township of Cornwall, father of James Leitch, the present mayor of the town of Cornwall.


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