The Court of Queen's Bench of Manitoba, 1870–1950.


512 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-8020-9225-X
DDC 347.7127'0234





Christopher English is a history lecturer at the Memorial University of
Newfoundland and a recent law-school graduate.


It is ambitious to undertake a “collective biography” which aims to define a symbiotic relationship between the 33 judges appointed to Manitoba’s highest trial court between 1870 and 1950 and the wider context of professional, political, and social opportunities and constraints in which they operated. Of the individual appointees, some are eminently forgettable, monuments to nepotism, incompetence, personal excess, or laziness. Such judges, of course, are no less interesting as examples of how personal ambition and judicial preferment functioned and continues to function. Some readers may tire of the details about forebears, parents, siblings, children, and in-laws which flesh out the family contexts in which these men (there were no women) were raised. Others may prefer that the judges’ interpretation of the law, reflecting their values and beliefs be emphasized: Andrew Knox Dysart, for instance, sat for 31 years, and 38 of his (presumably) illustrative cases are cited in the bibliography, but he is awarded only seven pages of text.


It is a strength of Brawn’s study that these preferences are encompassed within his central theme: how were these men socialized (by their studies, articling experiences, mentors and senior partners, practice as barristers and solicitors, professional contacts, and wider social activities, for example club memberships, political parties, churchgoing, and hobbies)? What were the keys to success in practice and to achieving the pinnacle of lawyerly ambition, appointment to the bench, as the Manitoba bar emerged by 1920 as homegrown in reaction to the initial influence of lawyers from Ontario and, to a lesser extent, from Quebec and the Maritimes? Induction into the legal culture of senior members of the profession who might sponsor one’s nomination in Ottawa was key to building a prominent practice and winning judicial appointment. The prize was clearly worth the effort—whether it met economic or emotional needs—for only a quarter of those appointed to Queen’s Bench left it for retirement. Fourteen of the 33 appointees died in office, often at an advanced age (one at 86), and 12 were promoted to the court of appeal where, presumably, some also died in harness.


As is usual with the Osgoode series a third of the text is dedicated to footnotes, appendices, index, and an extensive bibliography. Almost all of the judges are pictured, and although Brawn is sometimes critical of his subjects, he is judicious in his portraiture and his conclusions. This is a large book on a large subject and will be welcomed by legal historians, potential students of law, and members of the public eager to know more of homo iudicans.


Brawn, Dale., “The Court of Queen's Bench of Manitoba, 1870–1950.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024,