REMEMBER THIS: Family furniture company turned many heads

Dougall home and workshop stood on Worsley Street near the corner of Mulcaster Street, just to the northeast of the market building

Given the prevalence of the surname Turner today, there must have been a tradesman of this variety in every village at one time.

Turner, Smith, Wheeler and Carter are only a few of the last names that evolved from the career paths of our distant ancestors.

If Turner is your last name, it is very likely someone way back in your family tree made their living by converting pieces of wood into usable objects.

Turner is a fairly lost trade today. It is now more likely to be included in the work of cabinet makers or carpenters or, likelier still, replaced by mass production in highly mechanized factories.

David Dougall was a turner by trade. He was born in 1815 at Newburgh, a small harbour town in Fife, Scotland.

The year 1845 was a crossroads year in David Dougall’s life. His mother had recently passed away and his brother had sailed away to Canada to carve out a life for himself in the Innisfil woods. The young wood-turner decided to cross the Atlantic, as well.

His first few years in this new land were spent helping his brother clear the property he had purchased near Churchill. About 1850, David moved into Barrie and resumed his wood-turning trade.

The Dougall home and workshop stood on Worsley Street near the corner of Mulcaster Street, just to the northeast of the market building. Its tall chimney was a familiar landmark for years.

The centre of David Dougall’s craft would have been his lathe. It has been said the lathe was the first machine tool ever invented. In those earliest days, it was a two-person job. One man operated the lathe while the other took care of the spinning.

Of course, spinning is the key motion to this device. As the lathe spins, wood is pressed against it and shaped, which creates objects like the ornately designed table legs and chair spindles we see in antique furniture. That, in the simplest of terms, is the job of the wood turner.

By David Dougall’s time, the lathe had undergone some improvements. Small-scale wood-turning could be done by one turner using a foot pedal system. However, Dougall required more power than that and had a horse-driven lathe installed in his Barrie shop.

It wasn’t long before David Dougall made another upgrade. With all the wood at his disposal, it was only natural he outfitted his factory with a steam-powered lathe.

In those early years, most businesses in Barrie experienced a literal trial by fire. With David Dougall’s large wood supply, it wasn’t surprising he suffered a destructive fire in 1858. Afterwards, only his house remained. The only option was to rebuild the factory and carry on.

David Dougall’s Bedstead and Chair Manufactory of the 1850s evolved into the large, all-purpose furniture cabinet maker shop of the 1870s. By then, Dougall was offering wood planing, turning and finishing, and he advertised he had “the largest, best and cheapest stock of furniture in this section of the country.”

In his store, adjoining the factory, customers could inspect Dougall’s selection of “bedroom furnishings, parlour sets, extension tables and what-nots.”

In April 1889, David Dougall decided 40 years in business was a good run and it was time for him to retire. He passed the business to his well-experienced sons, John and James Dougall, and the Dougall Bros. furniture company was born.

In the early 1900s, the Dougalls had a store on Dunlop Street East, just east of Five Points. Their inventory had by then expanded to include furnishings made elsewhere. They offered curtains, rugs, tapestries, iron beds and mattresses by 1908.

David Dougall passed away in 1905 at the age of 90. His sons carried on the furniture business their father had started until 1921. The Dunlop Street shop was closed and all the furniture stock was sold to W.A. Lowe & Son.

The two Dougall brothers didn’t retire completely in 1921. They returned to their roots near the Market Square and offered furniture repair and picture framing services to their customers.

Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *