On the morning of July 17, 1797, ten lawyers met in a tavern in Wilson’s Hotel in Newark, Upper Canada (now Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario) to found Canada’s first self-governing body for the regulation of lawyers.
This historic gathering was the result of a new act, passed just two weeks earlier. An Act for the better regulating of the Profession of Law (37 Geo III, c.13 (U.C.)) empowered “persons now admitted to practise in the law, and practising at the Bar of any of His Majesty’s Courts of the province, to form themselves into a Society to be called the Law Society of Upper Canada.”
Led by John White, an English barrister and Upper Canada’s first attorney general, the group passed a unanimous motion to establish the Law Society of Upper Canada, thus giving their profession the authority to govern itself. And, as provided for in the legislation, they elected six of their number as governors, or Benchers. White was appointed the first Treasurer. Before adjourning their brief meeting, they called themselves to the Bar, as well as five other legal practitioners.
This small new group of Law Society members could hardly have imagined the longevity of the organization they founded, or the growth in their numbers, from 15 lawyers authorized to practice law in the province in 1797 to over 58,000 lawyer and paralegal licensees today.
|Wilson's Hotel, Queen and Gate Streets, Newark, Upper Canada.
Artist’s interpretation. The hotel was destroyed by fire in 1849.
The meeting at Wilson’s Hotel was the Law Society’s first and only Convocation in Newark. The capital of Upper Canada had recently been changed to York (now Toronto) and all subsequent meetings were held there. The Benchers met in various law offices around town until the Law Society’s permanent home was built. The first Convocation held in Osgoode Hall was on February 6, 1832.
C.H.A. Armstrong, The Honourable Society of Osgoode Hall (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Co. Ltd, 1952).
Christopher Moore, The Law Society of Upper Canada and Ontario’s Lawyers 1797-1997 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997).
Miles D. O’Reilly, “Genesis”, (1972) 6 Law Society of Upper Canada Gazette (175th Anniversary Special Issue) 7.
-- Jeanette Bosschart