A History of Canadian Legal Thought: Collected Essays


436 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-8020-9424-4
DDC 340'.10971





Edited by G. Blaine Baker and Jim Phillips
Reviewed by John D. Blackwell

John D. Blackwell is director of the Research Grants Office at St.
Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, and the author of Canadian
Studies: A Guide to the Sources (http://www.


Dick Risk (professor emeritus, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto) is
a pioneer in the cultural history of Canadian law. This anthology of
Risk’s best work, edited by G. Blaine Baker (professor, Faculty of
Law, McGill University) and Jim Phillips (professor, Faculty of Law,
University of Toronto), delineates features of Canada’s distinctive
legal culture from Confederation to the 1960s. The 12 essays cover such
topics as the constitution, federalism, legal education, and the
influence of leading intellects, including A.H.F. Lefroy, Edward Blake,
John Skirving Ewart, Sir William R. Meredith, John Willis, W.P.M.
Kennedy, Frank Scott, and Bora Laskin. Each contribution reflects the
rigorous scholarship, deep insight, and eloquent style of Canada’s
most eminent legal historian.

The introduction by Baker and Phillips ably contextualizes Risk’s
contributions within Anglo-American and Canadian historiography, and
surveys the principal themes within Risk’s work: “Neither lawyers
nor legal scholars in the Anglo-American tradition have been much
interested in socio-legal history writ large, and there has
traditionally been even less enthusiasm for cultural histories of law.
... Risk intuited this shortcoming over three decades ago and urged his
contemporaries to do something about it…. When too few people
responded to that solicitation for support, Risk effectively created the
cultural history of Canadian law as a field of insightful and
comparative scholarship by doing the work himself.”

It is disappointing that this seminal volume lacks an index, which
would have helped readers and researchers mine the richness of the
collection. It is also regrettable that it lacks a bibliography of
Risk’s publications. Instead, they mention that Risk’s publications
to 1999 are listed in the festschrift Essays in the History of Canadian
Law: In Honour of R.C.B. Risk (1999), which they also edited; the
footnote does, however, list Risk’s four historical contributions
since 1999.

In conclusion, one must note the passing of Professor Peter Oliver, who
worked tirelessly for more than a quarter century as editor-in-chief of
The Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History and was responsible for
bringing to press the first 63 volumes in the society’s prestigious
publications series.


Risk, R.C.B., “A History of Canadian Legal Thought: Collected Essays,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/15941.