The Hamilton Law Association is one of the oldest county and district law associations in the Province. It was created by the hard work and inspiration of Britton Bath Osler with the purpose to support a law library in the Court House, the general interests of the profession, and the good feeling and harmony of its members...
Osler presided at the first meeting of the Association on January 22, 1879 which elected Emilius Irving as President. Members were to pay a fee of $5.00 ( which continued for half a century) and a membership of 60 was established. The members gave books from their personal and modest libraries to create the library in the space allowed by the Municipal Council in the Court House. By the end of the year, the Hamilton Law Association was incorporated and seeking a grant of $432 from the Law Society to assist in building and maintaining a law library.
In addition to private practice, B. B. Osler was a Crown Attorney. He joined his brother Featherstone Osler in Toronto and continued as Counsel in the courts of this Province until the turn of the century. His brother became a Chief Justice and was knighted. Another brother was prominent in finance. A third brother, Sir William Osler, became the idol of the medical profession internationally.
Emilius Irving became Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1893 at the age of seventy. He served as Treasurer for twenty years, the longest-serving treasurer in Law Society history. He became Sir Emilius Irving, Knight Bachelor, during the reign of King Edward VII in 1906.
During the early years, 1879-1910, the Association directed its attention to the continuation and improvement of the Library by pressing for funds from both the Federal and Provincial governments as well as from the Law Society. An annual grant was received from the Law Society in the amount of $300.00 and Provincial assistance in the amount of $300.00 was received.
The budget included a librarian who began with an annual salary of $100.00 and grew to $200.00 by 1910. Social functions included an annual dinner and a picnic.
Until the 1890's women were excluded from the profession of law - that is they were not in law ‘persons’. The first woman member of the Hamilton Law Association was Jean Cairns Morris, called to the Bar in 1913.
By 1924 the Junior Bar sought to hold monthly meetings “for promoting legal education and other matters by agreed on”. Within a few years (by 1935) it led to the creation of the Lawyers’ Club with C.W.R. Bowlby as its first President.
In the early 1950's an increase of the annual fee to $30.00 and Saturday closing were achieved. The Courthouse at 50 Main Street East opened its doors in 1956. The Association conducted its celebration by way of opening the following month at which the Chief Justice, the Honourable Dana Porter was the honoured guest. Dinner followed at the Royal Connaught Hotel. The Provincial Court (Criminal Division) moved to a leased premises at 125 Main Street East in 1966.
In 1974 the HLA presented a resolution to the Attorney General, Robert Welch, urging the Provincial government to consolidate all legal services for Hamilton-Wentworth at one site. The concept was endorsed by the Attorney General. The Provincial Offences Court moved to a leased premises at 32 James Street South in 1976. The Unified Family Court (UFC) was established in 1978 and occupied a leased premises at 100 James Street South. In 1982, the Land Registry Office was relocated from the main courthouse to a provincially owned building at 119 King Street West and the Provincial Court (Criminal Division) moved to an additional leased premises at 140 Hunter Street East.
On June 30, 1986, the HLA made a submission to the Public Accounts Committee of Ontario Legislature to call for a comprehensive study of and consolidation of Hamilton Court facilities. In April 1988, the Ministry of Attorney (MAG)’s Court Services branch proposed renovations to 125 Main Street East and a twenty-year extension of lease. Milton Lewis for the HLA and Bernd Zabel (Hamilton Criminal Lawyers’ Association) wrote to L. Tobias, MAG, Director of Facilities and Special Court Services to reject the proposal and call for a comprehensive study to determine alternatives including the consolidation of courts at the 50 Main Street East site. Dermot Nolan (HLA) wrote to Attorney General Ian Scott to suggest consideration of the Post Office Facility on August 16, 1988. After several meetings, both private and public, a CHCH-TV interview, numerous Hamilton Spectator editorials, and intense lobbying by D. Nolan and B. Zabel, Attorney General Ian Scott formally offered to address the HLA annual meeting in June 1989. On June 14, 1989, Scott announced that “today the government approved this request for proposals at the Post Office site....”
The John Sopinka Courthouse opened its doors on May 31, 1999. The former post office became the home to the city’s civil, criminal and small claims courts, replacing five downtown court locations. Renovations to the 63-year old building cost $77 million, combining old and new by painstaking restorations to preserve its historical architectural character.
The HLA celebrated one year in the new courthouse by holding a reception following its Annual Meeting on June 21, 2000. Many distinct members of the community were invited to attend. The Honourable Ian Scott made a special appearance.
Membership in the Hamilton Law Association has continued to rise. The membership of 60 in 1879 grew to 100 by 1909, 142 members by 1940, 227 members by 1960, 339 by 1968, and 550 members by 1979. Current membership (December 31, 2019) stands at 1037. The Anthony Pepe Memorial Law Library is one of the largest law libraries in Ontario and houses over 30,000 volumes. Members benefit from the many informative and educational Continuing Legal Education programs held throughout the year. The annual dinner is held each March, and the Annual General Meeting is held in May.
The Hamilton Law Association continues to strive to enable its members to become successful, respected and fulfilled in their profession.
The Hamilton Law Association would like to acknowledge the kind efforts and assistance provided by Mr. John D. Ayre, Crown Attorney.