New Titles From the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History

The Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History held a book launch in Convocation Hall yesterday evening. Four new titles were added to the Society’s roster of over eighty titles published since the Society was launched in 1979.

The annual event was presided over by its founder and president, Roy McMurtry. It was attended by numerous legal luminaries with an interest in legal history, including most notably Andromache Karakatsanis, the newly appointed Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Legal history really does have cachet after all.

As in previous years, the Osgoode Society continues to demonstrate its interest in a wide range of subjects that form a part of legal history – a late nineteenth century murder case in Prince Edward County, an everyday lawyer’s practice in the first half of the nineteenth century, the stories of judges from the colonies who were suspended or removed from office for political reasons, and the operation of the criminal justice system in the west from 1886 to 1940.

The List for 2011

The Lazier Murder: Prince Edward County, 1884
by Robert J. Sharpe, Justice of the Court of Appeal for Ontario.
Published for the Osgoode Society by the University of Toronto Press.

In December 1883, Peter Lazier was shot in the heart during a bungled robbery at a Prince Edward County farmhouse. Three local men, pleading innocence from start to finish, were arrested and charged with his murder. Two of them — Joseph Thomset and David Lowder — were sentenced to death by a jury of local citizens the following May. Nevertheless, appalled community members believed at least one of them to be innocent — even pleading with prime minister John A. Macdonald to spare them from the gallows.

The Lazier Murder explores a community’s response to a crime, as well as the realization that it may have contributed to a miscarriage of justice. Robert J. Sharpe reconstructs and contextualizes the case using archival and contemporary newspaper accounts. The Lazier Murder provides an insightful look at the changing pattern of criminal justice in nineteenth-century Canada, and the enduring problem of wrongful convictions. – U of T Press

Lawyers and Legal Culture in British North America: Beamish Murdoch of Halifax
by Philip Girard, Professor, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University.
Published for the Osgoode Society by the University of Toronto Press.

From award-winning biographer Philip Girard, Lawyers and Legal Culture in British North America is the first history of the legal profession in Canada to emphasize its cross-provincial similarities and its deep roots in the colonial period. Girard details how nineteenth-century British North American lawyers created a distinctive Canadian template for the profession by combining the strong collective governance of the English tradition with the high degree of creativity and client responsiveness characteristic of U.S. lawyers — a mix that forms the basis of the legal profession in Canada today.

Girard provides a unique window on the interconnections between lawyers’ roles as community leaders and as legal professionals. Centred on one pre-Confederation lawyer whose career epitomizes the trends of his day, Beamish Murdoch (1800-1876), Lawyers and Legal Culture in British North America makes an important and compelling contribution to Canadian legal history. – U of T Press

Dewigged, Bothered and Bewildered: British Colonial Judges on Trial
by John Mclaren, Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Victoria.
Published for the Osgoode Society with the Frances Forbes Society by the University of Toronto Press.

Throughout the British colonies in the nineteenth century, judges were expected not only to administer law and justice, but also to play a significant role within the governance of their jurisdictions. British authorities were consequently concerned about judges’ loyalty to the Crown, and on occasion removed or suspended those who were found politically subversive or personally difficult. Even reasonable and well balanced judges were sometimes threatened with removal.

Using the career histories of judges who challenged the system, Dewigged, Bothered, and Bewildered illuminates issues of judicial tenure, accountability, and independence throughout the British Empire. John McLaren closely examines cases of judges across a wide geographic spectrum — from Australia to the Caribbean, and from Canada to Sierra Leone — who faced disciplinary action. These riveting stories provide helpful insights into the tenuous position of the colonial judiciary and the precarious state of politics in a variety of British colonies. – U of T Press

Westward Bound: Sex, Violence, the Law, and the Making of a Settler Society
by Lesley Erickson, Professor, Department of History, University of Calgary
Published for the Osgoode Society by the University of British Columbia Press.

In the late nineteenth century, European expansionism found one of its last homes in the North American West. While the settlement of the American West was renowned for its lawlessness, the Canadian Prairies enjoyed a tamer reputation symbolized by the Mountie and his legendary triumph over chaos.

Westward Bound debunks the myth of Canada’s peaceful West and the masculine conceptions of law and violence upon which it rests by shifting the focus from Mounties and whisky traders to criminal cases involving women between 1886 and 1940, where offences ranged from rape and wife-beating to husband murder and prostitution. In doing so, Erickson opens a window onto a world where judges’ and juries’ responses to the most intimate or violent acts were coloured by a desire to shore up the liberal economic order by maintaining boundaries between men and women, Native people and newcomers, and capital and labour. Victims and accused could only hope to harness entrenched ideas about masculinity, femininity, race, and class in their favour. The results, Erickson shows, were predictable but never certain.

This fascinating exploration of hegemony and resistance in key contact zones not only complicates traditional narratives of prairie exceptionalism, it also draws the region’s history into larger debates about law, colonialism, and nation building. This book will be welcomed by social and legal historians, those with an interest in colonial and frontier history, as well as scholars and students of law and gender. – UBC Press

Gifts for the Holidays

After a series of brief speeches by the authors, Roy McMurtry concluded the evening with an invitation for everyone present to consider the Osgoode Society as a source for gifts for the Christmas and Holiday season. Not a bad idea. For details, check the Osgoode Society website –


  1. Applause for Gary Rodrigues in bringing the offerings of the Osgoode Society to a wider audience, in particular Robert Sharpe’s book on the Lazier murder.

    Bob Sharpe is a County boy (that is, brought up in Prince Edward County, the smallest and only island county in Ontario, settled initially by Loyalists as early as the 1790s) and Bob resides, occasionally, not far from the house in which the Lazier murder took place in 1893.

    As a fellow County resident, let me recommend this book highly. It is a compelling reminder of the power of “group think” in a community, and of the later attempt by that same community to reconsider what it had done.