In the early stages of planning for the University of Saskatchewan, it was determined that the University would be the “People’s University”. The first president, Walter Murray, declared that the university would offer programs and provide education in all of the professions whose services would be needed by the citizens of Saskatchewan.
An important part of this vision was the idea of a university-based law school. Two of the first faculty members hired to teach in the College of Arts and Science, Arthur Moxon and Ira MacKay, were chosen because of the prospect that they would be suitable faculty members for a law college. And among the early offerings for arts students were courses in constitutional law and legal philosophy.
“The Early Years” 1912-1940s
By the latter part of 1912, the plans for a law school took shape. The first classes in the new Bachelor of Laws program were held in 1913. As the university was still growing the new classes were taught in office buildings in downtown Saskatoon to accommodate the workday schedules of students, most of whom were carrying out their articling duties while they studied law.
A law school sponsored by the Law Society of Saskatchewan—Wetmore Hall, operated in Regina in the decade after 1913, reflecting the concern of the Law Society that students admitted to the legal profession have strong practice-oriented training as well as academic preparation. Through a process of amicable negotiation and with little fanfare, the Law Society and the university worked out a combination of academic and professional training strikingly similar to the one now in place across the country – a full-time degree program followed by a period of articles and a bar admission program – and by 1923, Wetmore Hall had closed its doors.
For the four or five people who constituted the full-time faculty until the 1950s, offering a full range of courses was a challenge, even though each of them typically taught six or seven classes each year. They were joined in the endeavor by a dedicated group of part-time faculty, mostly practicing lawyers. The program consisted of courses thought essential to the practice of law. Naturally, there were always differing opinions of what was fundamental, and the list evolved over time. In the 1940s, for example, the College of Law became the first to offer a distinct course in administrative law, reflecting a changing administrative and regulatory system.
In addition to the faculty providing sound professional training through the vehicle of a “case method”, modeled on that pioneered at Harvard, faculty also gained a reputation for their contributions to the emerging field of legal research.
Though most graduates of the College entered the legal profession as practitioners in law firms or government, they also had an unexpected influence on the development of Canadian legal education and research. The first deans at the law schools of Alberta, UBC, Queen’s and Victoria were graduates of the College. Other notable stars of Canadian legal scholarship were W.R. Lederman, J.A. Corry and Walter Tarnoplosky.
A continuing theme in the lives of students, graduates and faculty of the college, has been a tradition of public service. From the second dean, Frederick C. Cronkite, who co-wrote the Saskatchewan submission to the Rowell Commission in 1937 exploring the novel idea of federal-provincial transfer payments; to the fourth dean, Roger Carter, who in 1975 established the summer program responsible for a startling boost to the presence of Aboriginal people in the legal profession; to the faculty members who have chaired or been members of public commissions and advisory bodies on taxation, labour relations, human rights and law reform; to the students and faculty members recently responsible for a new interest in clinical legal education and pro bono activity, members of the College community have given advice and support in many areas of public service and public policy. There is perhaps no more striking example of this than the long lists of names of students and graduates who entered military service in both world wars.
The papers of the College show that law students have always found their studies challenging, and they were particularly intimidated by the dreaded comprehensive examination that was required of third year students until the 1960s. Still, students have always found time to engage in social and recreational activities. Participation in campus athletic leagues has always been a significant feature of student life. Venerable college institutions like the first-year banquet, dating back to the beginning years of the College, and the annual variety show Legal Follies have been entirely the result of student enterprise, as have a range of student societies and clubs reflecting interests as diverse as debating, dramatics, the status of women and international law. Until the 1940s, students were also responsible for running the law library. In a less structured vein, the rivalry between law students and engineering students in the 1950s and 1960s was legendary, and law student musicians – including a future governor-general and a distinguished Ottawa law professor – regularly entertained Huskies football fans as part of the Intensely Vigorous College Nine.
Sense of Place
Over its history, the facilities of the College of Law have changed dramatically. From its beginnings in downtown office buildings, the college moved to the College Building (now the Peter MacKinnon Building) and then to Qu’Appelle Hall. In the 1950s, the college moved to quarters in the new Murray Memorial Library. Through these decades, the deans and faculty steadily spoke out about the inadequacy of their arrangements – of cramped spaces, insufficient library resources and (during the Qu’Appelle Hall period) incursions from residence students. In 1967, the college was finally able to move into its own building, and with the addition of a major extension in 2008, students, staff and faculty now enjoy an exceptionally comfortable and well-equipped space.
Turning the Corner
From its origins as a Bachelors Program with a handful of students taught by two professors to the present college we have truly turned the corner. With several hundred students and a full-time faculty of twenty-five, the college has been proud of its graduates and of the achievements of its faculty. Some graduates have become household names on a provincial, national or international scale – these would include a prime minister, a governor-general, three Supreme Court of Canada judges, two premiers and a university president. There are those who have gone on to be mainstays of the legal profession across the country as private and public lawyers, and as judges. There are also alumni who have sought careers outside of the legal profession as staff members of unions, as managers of worldwide corporations, as employees of international human rights organizations, as radio personalities and more. In 2012, the college marked its centennial with a number of special events including a gala that celebrated all staff, faculty, students and alumni and the significant contributions they have made all over the world. In 2016, CREATE Justice, a centre for research, evaluation, and action on the topic of access to justice, specifically, in the areas of access to legal services, dispute resolution, and systemic justice, was established.
Our distinguished alumni
Here is a list of just some College of Law alumni who have paved the way to success:
- Roger Carter, founder and first director, Native Law Centre
- John G. Diefenbaker, Canada’s 13th Prime Minister
- Willard Zebedee Estey, Supreme Court of Canada Justice
- Emmett Hall, Supreme Court of Canada Justice, one of founders of Canadian Medicare
- Ramon (Ray) John Hnatyshyn, 24th Governor General of Canada
- William R. McIntyre, Supreme Court of Canada Justice
- Tillie Taylor, Saskatchewan’s first female magistrate, and first chairperson of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission
- William I.C. Wuttunee, first Aboriginal lawyer to be called to the bar in Western Canada