Law’s Bicentennial Website Project – Leading in Law Across Time

October 2019

The 2019 Bicentennial Team at the Faculty of Law

Professor Rosalie Jukier

McGill will turn 200 in March 2021 and throughout the 2020/21 academic year, countless events will take place to celebrate this milestone. While many will be university-wide, each Faculty has been called upon to create a unique Bicentennial Project.

The Faculty of Law’s project is the creation of an interactive visual archive (in the form of a micro-website) allowing our many stakeholders around the world to explore the impact of McGill’s Faculty of Law throughout its history and to learn about its potential for future impact as we move into McGill’s third century.

Our goals for this project include:

  • Highlighting important contributions of the Faculty of Law by its students, alumni, and professors, to governance, business, and civil society locally and internationally;
  • Showcasing the Faculty of Law’s long-standing tradition of public service and engagement;
  • Documenting the Faculty of Law’s influence on the development of law in Quebec, Canada, and worldwide
  • Demonstrating the Faculty of Law’s innovation and leadership in pedagogy through its unique and consistently path-breaking approach to legal education
  • Acknowledging challenges, and applauding changes, regarding diversity and inclusion in the Faculty of Law’s composition and curriculum; and
  • Generating new knowledge about the history of the Faculty of Law by undertaking large-scale historical research

For each of the summers of 2018 and 2019, a group of four law students worked to collect the necessary data, as well as visual images (such as photos, portraits and newspaper articles) for this project. They produced outstanding historical research that covered the beginnings of the Law Faculty in the mid-1800s until the present day, divided into ten unequal historical periods.

In some ways, we can view this website as our version of ancestry.ca! The popularity of genealogical DNA testing shows that people crave insights into their genealogy and origins. Our Bicentennial website provides similar insights into the origins and evolution of our law faculty. It tells us where we came from, who we are, and how we have changed over time. Focussing on three main themes of pedagogical leadership, changing diversity and contribution to community, the website highlights our growth from our beginnings in 1848 to the world-renowned institution we are today.

The information the student researchers found was incredible. As expected, there were the alumni who became Canadian Prime Ministers, Supreme Court justices, famous politicians and outstanding jurists. But did you know that our Faculty was formed as a result of a grassroots movement in the form of a petition by aspiring students? Or that a McGill Law grad wrote the English lyrics to O Canada? Or that, to the delight of students, Lord Denning visited our Faculty in 1967 and Henry Morgentaler spoke to a sold-out crowd in 1985? How about the fact that the first Indigenous law student, who was tragically killed in World War I, studied here as early as 1915? Or that Leonard Cohen was, briefly, a law student here in the 1950s and later inscribed one of his books of poetry, “with great admiration”, to Frank Scott, his former professor and fellow poet, who Cohen credited with giving him the courage to fail?

I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the 2018 group of students (Julia Atack, Frédérick Courchesne-Mackie, Michael Jacobs and Anna Rotman) and to the 2019 group (Julianna Duholke, Daniel Jordan, Émilie Laflèche and Hannah Young) who brought so much energy, creativity and fun to this project. Nor would this project have been possible without the incredible input of our outstanding communications officers, Karell Michaud and Sarah Huzarski.

These past two years have been a journey filled with discovery, excitement, pride and a newfound respect for this place we call home. Each of us who has worked on this project has been touched by something different in McGill Law’s history.

Last year, as published in the Quid Novi, we provided testimonials by the four students who worked on the project in the summer of 2018. We have done the same this year for those who worked in the summer of 2019. I will let the four student testimonials below speak for themselves.

Julianna Duholke (2L)

As part of our research for this project, we poured through all the old issues of the Quid Novi, which are available online dating back to the first issue published in 1981. Having just finished my first year, I will admit I picked up only two or three Quids this past year. With so much communication happening between law students instantaneously on Facebook, I struggled to see what purpose the Quid served. However, after going through the Quid archives, I was struck by the many roles it has filled in the Faculty. I discovered that the Quid is an important forum for both professors and students to communicate with each other; something that does not happen on Facebook. It was interesting to see the different pieces published by students and professors over the years, particularly when they would respond to each other’s articles. Since its beginning, the Quid has served as a forum for debate and it continues to provide a unique opportunity for public discussion of issues that affect the Faculty as well as broader societal issues.

My research into past Quid issues served as a reminder of how little things have changed over the years. For example, I discovered that students have been lamenting the lack of French classes for decades and many pieces published in the 1980s appear identical to conversations that we have been having today. The Quid also provides a glimpse into what has changed over the years. For example, one of the first issues of the Quid contained a notice that the Faculty would be introducing its first course on Indigenous peoples and the law whereas now, in addition to having two courses on the subject, Faculty Council recently voted to require that mandatory classes include Indigenous legal perspectives. Needless to say, I will be picking up the Quid more regularly this year!

Daniel Jordan (2L)

Being a part of McGill Law’s Bicentennial Project has given me a newfound respect and appreciation for the renown and prestige that surrounds McGill’s Faculty of Law, and for that reason, I am truly grateful to have been a part of this project. This is especially so given the fact that I began working on this project on the heels of having just completed a whirlwind of a first year at the Faculty and was still very much trying to process the fact that I was attending McGill Law School. I spent the summer researching the lives of some of McGill’s Law’s most successful graduates, and even had the pleasure of interviewing some of them. I learned of the remarkable things that they have gone on to accomplish, not all in the field of law, and I left this project feeling inspired to accomplish some amazing feats of my own.

During the countless hours of research over the course of the summer, one thing that struck me most about the Faculty was how involved McGill Law’s graduates and professors were in some of Canada and Québec’s major moments in history. From the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to the 1982 Constitution, from both Québec referenda to the Reference re the Secession of Québec, McGill Law has stamped their name on each of these defining moments in the history of Québec and Canada. The McGill Law grad I really enjoyed learning about was Mary Dawson who graduated in 1966 with a BCL. From law school, Dawson would move on to have an extremely successful career at the Department of Justice Legislative Section where she was responsible for drafting some of Canada’s most important pieces of legislation such as the Constitution Act 1982 and the Official Languages Act. Graduates like Dawson have truly inspired me to make the most of time at the Faculty of Law and to contribute to society after graduation.

Émilie LaFlèche (2L)

Researching the history of McGill Law was a wonderful way to cap off my first year as a law student for two main reasons. The first is that learning about the history of McGill Law has provided me with the historical context I feel is important to frame my education. It was especially rewarding because our Faculty is so unique. Learning about how transsystemic education came to be, and how great thinkers such as Rod Macdonald have influenced the direction of the Faculty’s research, have given me greater insight into the richness of my legal education.

The second reason is that this research exposed me to the myriad of possible careers I have in my future. Learning about the different paths McGill Law graduates have taken has been one of the most surprising aspects of this project. One example is Hanson Hosein (LLB’92/BCL’93), who won an Emmy in 1999 for his work as a war correspondent in Kosovo. Another example is Jess Salomon (BCL/LLB’04), who quit her job at The Hague to pursue comedy, and has performed at international comedy festivals and on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Of course, I also have to mention Ken Dryden (LLB ‘73), who won the Stanley Cup during his exam season at McGill Law!

Some graduates were successful lawyers and still chose to pursue other careers at the same time. Justice Morris Fish (BCL’62) was a reporter for the Montreal Star as a student, and kept writing for the newspaper under a pseudonym for over a decade while he was practicing law. Catherine McKenzie (BCL/LLB’99), who is the Montreal lawyer who challenged Quebec’s Bill 21, is also the author of numerous international best-selling novels. These are only a few examples of the many McGill Law graduates who have tread off the beaten path. Learning about all of the doors that can open after studying at our Faculty was eye opening and exciting. I will be entering the second year of my legal education with a new perspective about all of the possibilities that lie ahead.

Hannah Young (2L)

One theme that kept emerging throughout the project that really resonated with me was the investment that students put into their own education. I learned that McGill law students have never been afraid to make their voices heard and that they have had such a significant impact on the Faculty’s development. One example includes the curricular changes that the Faculty made to the National Programme in the 1980s – students had been calling for more bilingual courses and the curricular changes came in response to that. Another example is the “Day of Silence” protest in 1981. To protest their lack of seats on the Faculty, students came to class but refused to speak a word. This protest was successful and, to this day, students have approximately one fifth of seats on the council. These observations have mirrored my own experience at McGill thus far as I see how my colleagues are eager advocates for their own education.

I also learned that the Faculty has been a great venue for discussion, and I was impressed to hear how engaged students and professors were with visitors. In the 1980s, the Faculty of Law invited Henry Morgentaler, Elie Wiesel, and Lord Wilberforce to speak. Each one of these visitors spoke to full crowds, and the Quid later remarked on how enthusiastic the entire Faculty was about their visits. Just this year, the Faculty’s response to Bill 21 demonstrated that the spirit of debate and activism continues to be a strong presence at McGill Law.

Working on this project has been a very interesting experience for me, and I truly feel as though my legal education has been enriched by learning so many things about the history of our Faculty. I am very privileged to have had the opportunity to peak into the past, and I hope everyone takes the opportunity to do the same when the project is published.

Sarah Huzarski, Communications Officer

Over the past two summers, our Bicentennial student researchers have poured hours into research, writing, – and, often, detective work – to distill down 171 years’ worth of our Faculty’s history. McGill Law predates Confederation: our alumni, professors, and greater community have lived through – and contributed to – some of the most monumental events over the last two centuries, both at home and abroad. The stories shared in the Bicentennial project offer a glimpse into the Faculty’s past and this history has helped shape its present identity.

In this project, you’ll find stories of McGill Law that will make you proud, make you feel, and make you think. I hope this project inspires future generations of students, faculty, and alumni alike to continue documenting our Faculty’s legacy: in order to understand where we need to go, it’s important to understand where we’ve come from. It’s been a pleasure to have been so intimately involved in helping to weave the Bicentennial narrative of McGill Law’s history.

This article was also published in Vol. 41 No. 1 of the Quid Novi.

 


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