The Law Society of Upper Canada in context: a chronology


  • Upper and Lower Canada are created
  • Introduction of common law in Upper Canada



  • Creation of Toronto (York)



  • William Osgoode, after whom Osgoode Hall is named, is the first Chief Justice of Upper Canada



  • The Parliament of Upper Canada passes a statute permitting lawyers to organize a society "to be called The Law Society of Upper Canada"
  • The Law Society is organized at Wilson's Hotel in Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) by 15 members of the Bar



  • With no permanent seat, the Law Society conducts business in a variety of public offices in the town of York (now the capital of Upper Canada), sometimes holding meetings in the private residences of benchers or public officials



  • John White, first Law Society Treasurer and Attorney General of Upper Canada, is killed in a duel



  • The first student-at-law is formally entered on the Law Society's Rolls



  • The schooner the HMS Speedy sinks off Presqu'ile Point en route to a trial in Newcastle, killing all aboard, including the Law Society's Treasurer Angus Macdonell, Solicitor General and Law Society bencher Robert Isaac Dey Gray and law student John Anderson



  • The Law Society disbars its first lawyer



  • The Juvenile Advocate Society is founded



  • The Law Society is incorporated by statute of the Parliament of Upper Canada, and is now authorized to hold land
  • The Law Society gives up jurisidiction over attorneys, a type of lawyer similar to a solicitor but retains it for barristers and solicitors



  • The population of Upper Canada is 166,379



  • The Law Society purchases six acres from the Attorney General, John Beverley Robinson (later Chief Justice), outside the town of York for 1,000 pounds, for the purpose of building permanent quarters



  • Construction begins on what is now the east wing of Osgoode Hall



  • Osgoode Hall's neighbourhood is a rather poor district. The building is still in the suburbs of Toronto



  • The population of Upper Canada is 213,156



  • The Law Society moves into Osgoode Hall
  • The Law Society hires James Martin Cawdell as Secretary and Librarian, the Society's first staff member



  • The east wing of Osgoode Hall is enlarged to the west
  • The first edition of the Law Society's Rules are published



  • The city of Toronto is incorporated (population 9,300)



  • Upper Canada Rebellion



  • Osgoode Hall houses troops following the 1837 Rebellion. In 1843, the Law Society considers suing the government which refuses to pay the full cost of damages to the building



  • Lawyers Allan MacNab, John Cartwright and Henry Sherwood are the first to be awarded the honour of Queen's Counsel (QC) in Upper Canada



  • Toronto is now a highly commercial city. It has busy steamboat activity, its main streets are gaslit and sewered. King St. is the main east-west artery of the period, while Yonge St. is the city's main south-north axis



  • Provincial legislation is passed that requires county and district court judges to be barristers (previously, non-lawyers or lawyers who were solicitors only could be appointed)



  • A west wing and centre portion are completed for Osgoode Hall. The courts move in.



  • The population of Upper Canada is 952,004
  • Toronto is now linked by rail to New York, Montreal, Georgian Bay, Detroit, and Chicago



  • The Brant Law Association is the first of the county and district law associations to be incorporated (the next ones would not be until 1879)



  • Robert Sutherland, Ontario's first Black lawyer, is called to the bar



  • The central part of Osgoode Hall is enlarged and the dome removed. The Courts of Common Pleas and Queen's Bench were constructed. The Library and the Rotunda are built



  • The Law Society regains jurisdiction over attorneys, and now has authority to regulate all status of lawyers in the province (attorneys, solicitors and barristers)



  • Establishment of the first official law school at Osgoode Hall



  • Confederation. The province of Ontario is created and Toronto is made the capital (but the Law Society does not consider changing its name to the Law Society of Ontario, for unknown reasons)
  • The fence around Osgoode Hall is built



  • The first law school closes



  • Opening of the Eaton's department store



  • The population of Ontario is 1,620,251. The largest cities are, in order, Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, London and Kingston
  • First democratic election of benchers by the lawyers of Ontario



  • The Law Society establishes the second official law school at Osgoode Hall



  • The Law Society transfers ownership of parts of Osgoode Hall and the land to the Government of Ontario



  • The Law Society closes down the second law school



  • Convocation Hall (the Osgoode Restaurant) is completed. It is the first addition dedicated to the Law School.
  • The Ontario Judicature Act abolishes attorneys; all practitioners with this status become solicitors if they were not already
  • The third law school opens at Osgoode Hall (to continue on a year-to-year basis until 1889 when the fouth and final law school is established)



  • John O'Connor, Jr., of Irish descent, is the first Roman Catholic appointed an Ontario judge



  • Completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR)



  • Delos Roget Davis, after a lengthy struggle, becomes the second Black lawyer called to the bar in Ontario (after Robert Sutherland in 1855)



  • Construction is started on the legislature at Queen's Park



  • The fourth (and final) law school opens at Osgoode Hall - becomes known as Osgoode Hall Law School



  • Admission of Clara Brett Martin - first woman lawyer in British Commonwealth. See Crossing the Bar



  • Death of Queen Victoria
  • The population of Ontario is 2,182,947



  • The Ontario branch of the Canadian Bar Association is formed (later to be incorporated as the Ontario Bar Association in 1985)



  • Henry Ford builds his first Model-T. Beginning of mass-production of automobile



  • Niagara Falls is harnessed to produce cheap energy for more factory growth
  • The position of "life bencher" is created by the Law Society to recognize long-service benchers and open up the bencher elections to more non-incumbents



  • The Titanic sinks off the coast of Newfoundland



  • Toronto is the second metropolis of Canada, competing with older and larger Montreal. From there on, Toronto grows rapidly. By 1951, Greater Toronto's population rises to over a million



  • World War I



  • The Lawyers' Club is founded



  • The Law Society unveils a memorial, in Osgoode Hall's Great Library, to lawyers and students-at-law who died in service during World War I (designed by Francis Loring)
  • The first edition of the Osgoode Hall School student newspaper Obiter Dicta is published



  • The Great Depression begins



  • Ontario lawyer Helen Kinnear is appointed King's Counsel - the first woman in the British Commonwealth to be awarded the honour of either King's (KC) or Queen's (QC) Counsel (QC)



  • A three-storey addition to the east of the east wing of Osgoode Hall provides more room for the Law Society (the law school)
  • Norman Lickers, Ontario's first Native lawyer, is called to the bar



  • World War II



  • Helen Kinnear is appointed judge of the Haldimand County Court, making her the first federally appointed woman judge in Canada (and also the first woman to hold such an appointment in the British Commonwealth)
  • The first continuing legal education program is offered by the Law Society - in the form of lectures and a "refresher" program for those returning from service in World War II.


  • The Reading Law Club is formed by Jewish members of the Ontario bar; the Club would eventually merge with the Lawyers' Club in the 1960s, a process that began after the latter rescinded most of its restrictions on admitting anyone who was not white, Christian, male and under 40 in 1952 (women were finally admitted in 1974)



  • The "Controversy of 1949" - Dean "Caesar" Wright and almost all the Osgoode Hall Law School faculty resign because of differences with the Law Society benchers over approaches to legal education; this event ushers in fundamental changes to how lawyers are trained and admitted to the bar in Ontario



  • The Law Society establishes a pro bono legal aid plan in conjunction with the county and district law associations (would evolve into the Ontario Legal Aid Plan)



  • The population of Ontario is 4,597,542
  • The Law Society unveils a memorial to lawyers and students-at-law who died while in service during World War II (in the Rotunda of Osgoode Hall, designed by Cleeve Horne)



  • The Law Society establishes a compensation fund, supported by annual contributions from the lawyers of Ontario, to assist clients who suffer financial loss due to lawyer dishonesty



  • Further addition to the north of the 1838 addition of Osgoode Hall for teaching purposes



  • The option to practice as a "barrister" or "solicitor" only ends for all practical purposes when the Law Society allows lawyers to automatically become both (most had already opted to do so for many decades); by 1964, the current practice of admitting every lawyer as both a barrister and a solicitor was formalized (there is still a separate process for call to the bar as a barrister by the Law Society and swearing in as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Ontario but they have been conducted jointly as part of the call to the bar process for many decades)



  • Following a lengthy review of legal education by Convocation after the events of 1949, the Law Society establishes the Bar Admission Course (BAC) (consisting of an articling period, classroom instruction and examinations); admission to the BAC requires some under-graduate university training and an LLB or equivalent - for the first time in its history, the Law Society recognizes the degrees of other law schools, not just its own



  • Following the changes made in 1959, the first Osgoode Hall Law School class graduates with bachelor of law (LLB) degrees, in addition to the degree of barrister-at-law awarded upon call to the bar of Ontario
  • Using its new degree-granting powers, the Law Society awards its first honorary doctorate of laws (LLD) to John Delatre Falconbridge.



  • The Advocates' Society is founded
  • Abraham Lieff becomes a justice of the Ontario High Court of Justice, the first Jewish lawyer to be appointed to an Ontario superior court



  • Creation of the Ontario Legal Aid Plan, administered by the Law Society and funded by the Ontario government and the lawyers of Ontario



  • Osgoode Hall Law School moves to York University; the Law Society's educational focus is now on post-law school training - delivery of the Bar Admission Course and continuing legal education programs



  • Mabel Van Camp becomes a justice of the Ontario Supreme Court's High Court of Justice - the first woman to be appointed to an Ontario superior court
  • First bencher election to incorporate regional representation (half of the benchers elected had to be from outside Toronto) >



  • Major renovations to Osgoode Hall; Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II reopens the building



  • The first lay (non-lawyer) benchers are appointed by the Ontario government to represent the public interest at Convocation



  • Laura Legge is elected the first woman Law Society bencher



  • CDLPA (County and District Law Presidents' Association) is founded



  • Laura Legge is elected the first woman Treasurer of the Law Society



  • Lawyer disciplinary hearings begin to be heard in public (with a provision that a hearing can be held in camera under specific and limited circumstances)



  • The first public meeting of Convocation is held in Ottawa (the first meeting outside of Osgoode Hall since 1832); following a brief trial period in 1988, a policy of open or public Convocation meetings is formalized (with a provision for in camera sessions to protect personal privacy and for consideration of confidential matters)



  • The fourth, fifth and sixth floors are added to the Law Society's education wing



  • The Lawyers Professional Indemnity Company (LPIC) is incorporated; owned by the Law Society, it is established as a separate body in order to provide the best quality of liability insurance to Ontario's lawyers



  • Pre-1960 Osgoode Hall Law School graduates are offered LLB degrees from York University



  • The Law Society celebrates its bicentennial



  • The Ontario Legal Aid Plan becomes Legal Aid Ontario, an agency of the Ontario government (with Law Society representatives on its board of directors)



  • The first bencher election is held under an expanded regional representation formula



  • LibraryCo. is established to manage the network of county and district law libraries



  • The population of Ontario is 12,160,282
  • The Bar Admission Course is replaced by the Licensing Process (articling and examinations, ending classroom instruction)



  • With the passage of the Ontario government's Bill 14, the mandate of the Law Society now includes the regulation of paralegals



  • First paralegal licences issued by the Law Society



  • First paralegals elected to the Paralegal Standing Committee by the paralegals of Ontario, and the first two paralegal benchers elected to Convocation by the Committee