A look back at the Law Class of 1950’s “The Group”

October 2019

The Group, possibly inspired by class photos of yesteryear, posing in turn-of-the century garb (see end of article for a more complete picture).

By Ann Soden, Ad.E., BCL’81, LLB’82

Wyndham StroverIn November 2018, the last surviving member of “The Group”, a famous study group of the Law Class of 1950, passed away at the age of 98. Wyndham “Windy” Strover, the Group’s oldest member at its outset, would outlive all its members. A private celebration of Windy’s life was held recently at the home of his step-daughter and step-son-in-law, McGill Law graduates and lawyers, Lynne-Marie Casgrain and Julius Grey, Ad.E.

The love of Windy Strover’s life

While studying law at the Faculty, Windy fell in love with one of the three women in the class of 1950, Marie-Claire Kirkland. However, she would not permit him to court her as he was a Protestant and she was devoutly Catholic.

Forty years later, when both were single, Windy reached out once more to her. By then, Marie-Claire Kirkland-Casgrain, CM CQ QC, a pioneer in politics and law as the first woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Quebec, had become the first woman appointed a Cabinet minister in Quebec, the first woman appointed acting premier, and the first woman judge to serve in the Quebec Provincial Court. Windy Strover married the love of his life, at whose side he remained for the next 27 years until the very moment of her death in 2016 (read Focus online‘s homage to her).

How “The Group” came about

James SodenHere is the story of this group of notable lawyers, judges and businessmen who came together to get through law school following the war and who remained friends ever after, as told by James A. Soden, CM QC, BCL’50, to his daughter Ann Soden.

The BCL class of 1950 was an unusually large class. Its ranks had swelled to almost 100 students thanks to the arrival of many World War II veterans who had, by 1947, completed their abridged requisite Arts two-year courses. Many of the ex-servicemen combined a mature outlook with a penchant for pranks, perhaps to make up for lost earlier opportunities.

On the first day of class in 1947, a unique study group was formed and whose traditions and friendships remained strong among the members over the next 65 years. Jim Soden, a war veteran, was already married and had a newborn. Knowing he, and believing others too, would need help getting through law school, Soden spoke to a small group of ex-servicemen classmates at the McGill Union and suggested they form a study group to share what promised to be onerous work.

“The Group”, as they went on to call themselves, met thereafter every Saturday morning to discuss the past week’s cases and readings. They studied hard, regularly peppering their professors with insightful questions borne of life experience and a sense of urgency to learn and move on after many lost years. They also played hard.

An elaborate hoax

One of The Group’s best-remembered practical jokes concerned a fictitious Free French Forces veteran named “Henri d’Ung” who was registered as a member of the class. D’Ung became the subject of much spurious correspondence with the McGill Registrar for non-payment of fees, with a suggestion of sharing with the Registrar appropriately increased fees payable by La Commission des monuments historiques, as was the French custom. The Group’s members also benefited from Henri d’Ung’s subscriptions to Time, Life and other weekly publications mailed to him at the law building.

The hoax went as far as members of The Group writing some of the exams for d’Ung after completing their own, and hiring an out-of-work actor whom they nominated in an Undergraduate Society election and who defeated the legitimate candidate. That election ended D’Ung’s career.

Click to expand. Dramatis personæ: members of The Group, and Marie-Claire Kirkland, are highlighted in this class composite.

The start of a class tradition

During the course of their law studies, members of “The Group” accumulated a trove of case studies and analyses of laws and lectures. After graduation, these were collected and sold to the incoming first-year students. The proceeds were spent on a splendid lunch at the then Chez Stien. Such was the pleasure that every year since then, “The Group” met in the late fall for a black tie dinner complete with oysters, Stilton and port.

In the early days, these affairs went into the wee hours, while members smoked cigars and played dice. As the remaining members of “The Group” approached 80 and older, dinners became tamer with gatherings beginning at six and ending at ten, with spouses in attendance. However, the rituals of enjoying several courses of fine food, drinks, jokes and reminiscences remained unchanged. Members who could not make a dinner were always phoned, and widows of deceased members sent roses equal to the number of surviving members.

Jim Soden summed up the camaraderie and longevity of “The Group” this way: “We were all equals in “The Group”. We came together to get through law school, and grew to respect and value each other. There never was an argument or a harsh word that passed between us, not then, nor now.”

McGill Daily, March 1, 1950, page 2

Click to expand.

McGill Daily Picture Editorial

This photograph of “The Group”, in turn-of-the-century legal garb, was displayed in the Notman studio window on Sherbrooke St. It attracted the attention of The Gazette and of the McGill Daily, both of which provided sprightly commentary:

Graduation time nears and all across the nation editorial writers are busy writing and re-writing, trying to prepare a message which fearlessly tells the world the bad news – a new crop of university students will soon be set loose. The words are always the same and newspaper readers cannot tell whether civilization is due for advancement or not. We therefore thought it might help if we presented to our readers a picture of the latest product. It should be obvious immediately that this crop is temperate, clean living, serious and expert at cribbing.

This is a representative group ranging in healthy diversity from the lettered athlete in the back row to the rest engineer facing the world with commendable calmness in the foreground. It should be noted too that today’s graduate is tidy. This is indicated by the empty bottle held by the figure at right front. It was obviously brought into the Union where it would not have the same unsightly effect it would have on Sherbrooke Street.

As the central figure in the group clearly indicates, this year’s graduates more than any others are prepared to carve out a career in a troubled world. They face the rising sun with cheerful countenance, standing determined upon the threshold of a brave new world.

This tableau is composed of law students who are, left to right, starting at the back row: Jack (The Wire) Bryson, Paul (Dapper) Le Brooy, Barry (le Notaire) Campbell, Cliff (l’Avocat) Malone, Joe (Coach) Porteous, John (Brooker) Claxton; centre row: Ken (Councillor) Mackay, Ernie (the Gnome) Saunders, Jack (Hanging Judge) Crépeau, Jim (the Commissioner) Soden, Neil (Lard) Phillips; front: Hunter (Tabs) Wilson, Windy (Fingers) Strover, Ted (Pinhead) K-Hugessen.

(This article can also be seen in the archive of The McGill Daily for March 1, 1950.)

From Old McGill, 1950

Yearbook photos of some members of The Group.

 

 


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