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Rev. George  Douglas, LL.D.









Rev. George Douglas, LL.D.Rev. George Douglas (1825-1924) was a Scottish-born Methodist leader in Canada.

Dr. Douglas's career furnishes a notable example of the extent to which genuine manliness and force of character, aided by a strong and earnest purpose in life, can triumph over depressing and adverse circumstances. He began his ministerial life with few advantages derived from education, and with none whatever derived from social standing.


Since reaching manhood he has been subjected to the serious drawbacks inseparable from various depressing ailments and an uncertain state of bodily health. His great powers have developed themselves in spite of hindrances to which a feebler will and a smaller measure of genius would undoubtedly have succumbed. Undeterred by the various obstacles which from time to time have arisen in his path, he has long since achieved a position as a pulpit orator unsurpassed—perhaps unrivalled—in this country.


His reputation is not confined to Canada, or to the religious Body wherewith he is more immediately connected. The lecture-halls of New England have echoed to the deep tones of his powerful voice, and his reputation for eloquence stands as high in Boston as in Montreal, where the greater part of his ministerial career has been spent. That he has been able to accomplish so much—handicapped, as he has been, by a late start in life, and by subsequent ill-health—affords strong proof that, under more favourable circumstances, his fame would have been world-wide. His services to the Methodist Church, and to the cause of Christianity generally, have been very great, and the future historian of Canadian Methodism must assign to him a place in the front rank among the pulpit orators of his time.

As is sufficiently indicated by his name, he is of Scottish origin. He was born on the 14th of October, 1825, at Ashkirk, a beautiful little village in one of the most picturesque parts of Roxburghshire, about seven miles from Abbotsford, and in the very centre of the district consecrated by the genius of Sir Walter Scott, the Ettrick Shepherd, and John Leyden. "Doubtless," says a writer in the Methodist Magazine, "his young soul was often stirred by the heroic traditions of Flodden Field and of Dunbar, which were both near by, and by the ballads of Chevy Chase and of the border wars." His parents were strict Presbyterians, and of course reared their family in the Presbyterian doctrines. How extensive the family was, we have no present means of ascertaining. There were at all events three sons, of whom the subject of this sketch was the youngest.


The family emigrated from Scotland to Canada in 1832, when George was a child of seven years old, and settled in the city of Montreal. The parents were in humble circumstances, and the children seem from the first to have recognized the fact that it would be necessary for them to make their own way in life. Their educational advantages, as has been intimated, were not great. George attended for a short time at a private school at Laprairie, kept by the Rev. Mr. Black, a Presbyterian minister; but he does not appear to have acquired much there beyond an elementary knowledge of the three R's. Upon leaving this school he was for a short time employed as an assistant in a Montreal book store, after which he was apprenticed to the trade of a blacksmith. He learned his trade, and entered into partnership, while still in his teens, with his eldest brother, James, who was a carpenter and builder. Meanwhile he had become an insatiable reader, and devoured with eagerness whatever books came in his way. His faculties would seem to have developed somewhat late, but before he had reached manhood his friends and acquaintances began to recognize the fact that he was endowed with unusual powers of mind. Upon any subject which specially attracted his attention he was wont to express himself with an eloquence and a wealth of illustration such as is not often heard from a youth imperfectly educated, and who has not enjoyed the advantage of association with cultured minds. Erelong he made up his mind to study medicine, and matriculated in one of the medical schools of Montreal.


Soon after this time, and while his medical studies were still in progress, a crisis took place in his mental history. He began to attend the Methodist Church, and was awakened by the preaching of the late Rev. William Squire, who was then a power in the local Methodist pulpit. Having experienced the mental phenomena incident to "conversion," he joined the Methodist Church, and soon afterwards began to take a conspicuous part as a "class leader," under the direction of the Rev. John Mattheson.


It is said that he was singularly diffident about his own capacity for speaking before an audience. In a very short time, however, his thoughts found forcible expression, and it was observed that his addresses produced a marked effect upon those who listened to them. In process of time he became a local preacher; emulating, in this respect, the example of his elder brother John, who had also undergone spiritual experiences, and who subsequently became a zealous and effective minister of the Methodist Church. George's sermons were from the very first marked by a high degree of spiritual fervour. "It was evident," says the writer already quoted from, "that God had called this young man to the office of the Christian ministry as his life-work, and he was not disobedient to the Divine call." In 1848, being then in his twenty-third year, he was received as a probationer for the ministry.


In 1849, having been recommended by the Lower Canada District to attend the Wesleyan Theological Institute at Richmond, in England, he crossed the Atlantic for that purpose, but had scarcely reached his destination ere he was appointed to missionary work in the Bahamas District of the West India Mission. He was specially ordained at St. John's Square, London, in the spring of 1850, by the Rev. Thomas Jackson, Dr. Alder, and others, and sent to the Bermuda Islands. After about eighteen months' residence there his health failed, and he began to suffer from a distressing affection of the nerves, engendered by the peculiarities of the climate, and augmented, doubtless, by his ceaseless mental toil. He was accordingly compelled to return to Montreal, and has ever since resided in Canada, where his reputation has steadily grown with his increasing years.


Of his ministerial life, twenty years have been spent in Montreal—eleven in pastoral work, seven as head of the Wesleyan Theological College, and two without a charge, on account of ill-health. His other fields of toil have been Kingston, Toronto, and Hamilton, in each of which he laboured with great effect for three years. Ever since devoting [Pg 96]himself to the ministry he has been an indefatigable student, and has aided his great natural powers of mind by a wide and various course of reading. He is especially learned in Metaphysics, and notwithstanding his multifarious duties and frequent bodily infirmities, he has kept himself fully abreast of the times in literature, philosophy, and natural science. In 1869, in recognition of his distinguished abilities, the University of McGill College conferred upon him the degree of LL.D.


To say that Dr. Douglas is highly esteemed by his brother ministers and Professors, and by Canadian Methodists generally, would be to give very faint expression to the prevailing sentiment. He is endowed with a magnetic force of character which impels all his acquaintances to regard him in the light of a warm personal friend. He has often been deputed to represent his Church in the great ecclesiastical gatherings of Christendom, and "right royally has he performed that task, maintaining the honour of his Church and country in the presence of the foremost orators of the day.


His manly presence, his deep-toned voice, his broad sweep of thought and majestic flights of eloquence, have stirred the hearts of listening thousands, and done brave battle for the cause of God." His oratory has been pronounced by many competent judges to be even more effective than that of his friend and fellow-labourer, Dr. Punshon. Possessed of few of the tricks of elocution, his voice has a peculiar depth and richness of intonation which no mere elocutionary training can give, and, when roused by a more than usually congenial theme, his utterances seem to be positively inspired.


Among a host of other important undertakings, he has represented his Church at the Young Men's Christian Association at the International Conventions at Washington, Philadelphia, Albany, Indianapolis, and Chicago; at the Evangelical Alliance in New York; and at the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the Southern States. He has also filled with eminent ability the offices of Co-Delegate of the old Canada Conference, President of the Montreal Conference, and Vice-President and President of the General Conference of the Methodist Church of Canada.


Of late years he has devoted his best powers to the duties incidental to his position as Principal of the Wesleyan Theological College at Montreal.


The Canadian Portrait Gallery: Volume II, 1889


George Douglas, Methodist minister and educator was born on 14th October 1825 in Ashkirk, Scotland, youngest of three sons of John Douglas and Mary Hood. 28 In November 1855, he married Maria Bolton Pearson in Toronto, and they had four daughters, one of whom died in childhood.

In the company of his mother and two elder brothers, George Douglas arrived at Montreal in July 1832 to join his father, who had immigrated the previous year following a decline in his fortunes as a miller in Scotland.

On 10 Feb. 1894 Douglas succumbed to pneumonia and, following a simple service, he was buried in Mount Royal Cemetery. Although his candour had engendered considerable controversy, he had been almost universally admired for his uncomplaining endurance of physical affliction and his unwavering commitment to righteousness.


Research note:
•  It is possible that an uncle, William Douglas (b. 1799) attended Scotland’s Edinburgh University as a student in the Faculty of Arts for three years (1816-1818). He became a schoolmaster in Edinburgh and lived in the parish of St. George. He married Miss Margaret Usher [eldest daughter of John Usher] in 1819. 


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