The Hamilton Law Association
“Francis MacKelcan was the son of Dr John MacKelcan, a native of Guernsey, who came to Canada in 1834 and practiced in Ancaster. In 1845, the family came to Hamilton, where MacKelcan received his early education under Dean John Gamble Geddes, at the Hamilton Examiner School, and at Upper Canada College, where he earned his first scholastic honours. He worked for one or two years in the mercantile business, then decided to study law becoming an apprentice under Chief Justice Burton and Henry Eccles. In 1858 he was called to the bar, and he soon became junior partner in Pringle, Mills and MacKelcan. Shortly afterward he became senior member of MacKelcan and Robb, with James Robb. In 1872 MacKelcan went into business with John Morison Gibson. A few years later, William Bell was admitted into the firm as junior partner in MacKelcan, Gibson and Bell, appointed city solicitors on 13 January 1873.
Three years later MacKelcan was appointed queen’s counsel and was elected bencher of the Law Society; in 1880, he was made a dominion QC. When William Bell withdrew from the firm in 1883, MacKelcan and Gibson continued as city solicitors. However problems arose, and it was decided that one city solicitor would be appointed; MacKelcan was chosen on 14 June 1895 His partnership with Gibson was dissolved, and in 1902 he gave up all other private practices to concentrate on municipal law and moved into City Hall. MacKelcan was renowned throughout Ontario ‘as one of the best authorities on municipal law;’ ‘some of the best municipal laws on the statutes emanated from his brain.’ MacKelcan founded the Ontario Municipal Association with James Vernall Teetzel in 1889 and served as its legal advisor until his death at which time he was dean of the Hamilton Bar. At the time of the Fenian Raids, he ‘organized an independent infantry of volunteers and was gazette a captain. He was a good rifle shot and was President of the Victoria Rifle Club in the later 1870s. MacKelcan was also a founder of the Garrick Club and one of its strongest supporters. He became a member of the St George’s Benevolent Society as a young man and by the mid-1880s was president. He was an Anglican and a Mason.
In 1906, MacKelcan became seriously ill. A stroke in the previous December had paralysed his left side. During the winter and spring he was unable to work. However, as he began to recover he worked from his bed and returned to the office in early summer. Many believed ‘when he was first stricken that he would never be able to take up his position again in the city hall.’ He managed all the work himself. On 1 August, MacKelcan ‘felt that he could with justice ask the council for a month’s vacation.’ He was recovering and his illness was thought to be behind him. MacKelcan was ‘sure that the holiday would do him a world of good, and that he would come back better able than ever to do his work.” However, his health failed again, and he suffered another stroke which left him unconscious. He died soon afterward, with all his family members at his side.
City officials attended the funeral service as a group. Many expressed their regret for the loss of the man who ‘had an enormous capacity for work and great patience and perseverance, frequently accomplishing tasks that were feared to be almost impossible.’ City Clerk Samuel H. Kent said ‘that the one thing he admired and envied more than any other in the last city solicitor was his wonderful patience and unfailing courtesy even in the most trying and harassing circumstances.’
His second wife was the daughter of Robert Dunlop of Hamilton; MacKelcan’s first wife, was the daughter of Henry Covert of Port Hope, director of the Bank of Toronto for many years; their son, Frederich, was a barrister in Toronto. MacKelcan’s brother Harry had been a lawyer and an alderman in Hamilton.”
Source: MacKelcan, Francis, Dictionary of Hamilton Biography: 1925-1939 pp. 122 - 123
The Hamilton Law Association
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