Community Voice - November 8, 2018
Author shares grandfather’s legacy as Supreme Court
BY ERIN MCCRACKEN
the story of Supreme Court Chief Justice Patrick Kerwin allowed Stephen McKenna
to come to know the grandfather he only knew as a young child.
took him about six years of in-depth research, tracking down practically every
document that mentions Kerwin’s name, combing through his grandmother’s
scrapbooks and photo albums, noting family anecdotes as well as his own childhood
memories and visiting places of note – never mind weaving together a chronicle
of both Kerwin’s work and personal life that now span 315 pages.
biography, titled Grace & Wisdom,
offers a blend of Kerwin’s life’s work as a lawyer and judge but also as a
an interesting story about an interesting man who basically made his own way in
a world that is very different from now,” said McKenna, who lives in the
Applewood Acres neighbourhood of Alta Vista. “I wanted to capture his story for
years ago, McKenna attempted to convince his mother – who worked for many years
as an English professor at the University of Ottawa – to write her father’s
said, ‘It’s too much work,’ and now I believe her,” quipped McKenna, a
professional musician for 30 years. “I must admit, three-quarters of the way
through I said to myself, ‘I wish I hadn’t told everyone I was doing it. Now I
have to finish it.’”
as “the doer” in a family of seven children, McKenna persevered with researching
and writing what would become his first published book. Completing it “was
wonderful, really,” he said.
by Petra Books, it has been well-received in the legal community since its
official launch at the Supreme Court of Canada in May.
was no shortage of material about the Sarnia-born man who began shouldering an
adult-sized amount of responsibility at just eight years old when his father, a
Great Lakes shipping captain, passed away. The young Kerwin juggled school and
work to help provide for his family.
was 14 when he began working as a clerk in a law firm after school, inspiring
him to later attend Osgoode Law School
in Toronto. To pay for his studies he clerked for lawyers and played piano for
silent movies. Kerwin
went on to become a lawyer with a firm in Guelph. He was made a partner in 1913
at age 23 and then senior partner two years later.
was 42 years old when he was appointed to the High Court of Justice of Ontario
in 1932 – making him the youngest person named to the Ontario bench at that
new job required him to move his family to Toronto, and he was often on the
road travelling throughout Ontario’s many counties to preside over cases.
three years, Kerwin was appointed by then prime minister R.B. Bennett to the Supreme Court of Canada – the
highest court in the country – in 1935.
eventually became senior justice, which required him to fill in when the
Supreme Court’s chief justice and governor general were out of the country,
such as accepting the credentials of new ambassadors.
got a whole book of pictures of people – I don’t know who they are, nothing’s
labelled – but it’s him standing beside somebody smiling,” McKenna said of his
grandmother’s photo albums and scrapbooks.
was appointed chief justice in 1954, a position he held for nine years until
his death at age 73 in 1963. In that role he often served as the administrator
of Canada in the governor general’s absence.
summer in the mid-1950s, the governor general sailed to England. Kerwin and his family were visiting friends at
a cottage. “The
prime minister’s office called. My grandmother answered the phone and said,
‘Oh, yeah, but you’ll have to wait a
minute. He’s taking out the garbage,’” McKenna said.
“He’s still a husband, a father.
That caused some commotion at the cottage.”
his grandfather’s funeral in 1963, then governor general Georges Vanier
remarked that Kerwin “occupied his office with grace and wisdom,” McKenna said,
which struck a chord in the would-be author. “My grandfather was not a chatty
man. His peers knew him as an open and reliable colleague and very
knowledgeable, especially in constitutional law.”
chief justice he became known for improving efficiencies in court proceedings
given his dislike for court cases that dragged on forever.
“He was known to say, ‘Justice
delayed is justice denied,’” said McKenna.He
was eight years old when his maternal grandfather passed away. His grandmother moved in with her daughter and her
seven grandchildren at their Alta Vista home when McKenna was 10.He
said he was fortunate to hear some of the old family stories while growing up.
“I slowly built up a file and I
thought, ‘Oh, I should write a story about this,’” he said.
a person of note, there was a lot of information available about Kerwin at the
Library and Archives Canada.Through
his research and the family anecdotes, it was apparent that McKenna’s
grandfather was not only “... a hardworking person who dedicated his life to
public service, he was a father.
serving on the Supreme Court, Kerwin, his wife Georgina and their children
lived in Ottawa.
lived in an apartment on Wilbrod Street across from St. Joseph’s Church (in Sandy Hill),” McKenna recalled. “I
remember sitting in his study and he’d be smoking his pipe and telling a story.
My grandmother would come in with a miniature glass of Ginger Ale.
was a very nice man and when left alone with the herd of us or a bunch of us he was quiet,” McKenna said of the
man the grandkids called Papa. “But you knew not to mess around.”
was not easy for McKenna to pick and choose which of the cases his grandfather presided over as a Supreme Court
justice to include in his book.
Roncarelli v. Duplessis, considered a landmark constitutional case in which a
businessman and Jehovah’s Witness successfully sued then Quebec premier Maurice
Duplessis for revoking his liquor licence. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of
trial judge’s decision and
Roncarelli in 1959.
decisions also helped strike down institutionalized racism in Noble v. Alley in
1951. In that case, the court ruled in favour of nullifying a clause in a
property deed that limited its sale to Caucasians. That
led to the outlawing of discriminatory property covenants based on race or
religion, McKenna said.
further give readers some unique insight into Kerwin’s mind, McKenna included
eight of his grandfather’s speeches, which he wrote between 1940 and 1956, at
the back of his book.
still recalls as a young boy his grandparents coming over for Sunday suppers.
Kerwin would drop off his wife, Georgina, at the house in the early afternoon,
then head off to do some work – either on a legal case or writing a speech –
before returning for a visit and a meal.
would hope he would feel I captured his life,” McKenna said of his finished
product, which he said was a “labour of love.”
hope he’d be proud of it.”www.chiefjusticekerwin.ca.