About This Book

The book provides a glimpse behind the actions and decisions of a man whose professional life has affected all Canadians; a look at his origins, family life and the forces that shaped the man who in turn helped shape our lives.

This biography began through an ongoing curiosity about my maternal grandfather, Patrick Grandcourt Kerwin. From my perspective as a child, he was a kind and attentive grandparent with a warm smile and gentle demeanour.

My grandfather died at the age of 73, when I was only eight years old, but my memories, affection and interest in him continue.

This is his story.

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

is as true today as it ever was.
Chief Justice Patrick Kerwin speaking at the opening of the Superior Court of Québec Montreal, Québec, 1957.

Canada Today Has a Legal System

in which its people could take great satisfaction. Law is not an exact science, but no stone would be left unturned that could possibly interfere with the best possible determination of the rights of man.
Chief Justice Patrick Kerwin as quoted by the Sarnia Daily Observer, October 25, 1957

Courts are Established to Settle Disputes.

Justice Patrick Kerwin in an address to graduating students, Osgoode Hall, Toronto, 1950.

Students of Law Must be Taught

not merely what the professor knows, but they must be trained to think for themselves.

Address by the Chief Justice at the University of New Brunswick – Honourary Degree of Laws, Saint John, October 15, 1954



The Canadian Law Library Review
Feature Article, May 2019
Volume 44, no.2

The Sarnia Journal May 2019

Supreme Advocacy
Feb.20, 2019

Sarnia &Lambton County
This Week:

Ottawa Citizen Dec.2016


Book submitted to the Library and Archives Canada (#41)

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Send review to contact@chiefjusticekerwin.ca.

Canadian Law Library Review 
PAGE 23 - Vol.45, No.13
February 2020

November 2018

RADIO: CBC Radio In Town and Out
October 2018

Other Articles
Ottawa South Community Voice (p.2)
November 2018 (see below)

November 2018

Guelph Mercury October 2015

Community Voice - November 8, 2018

 Author shares grandfather’s legacy as Supreme Court chief justice


Telling 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.

It 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.
The biography, titled Grace & Wisdom, offers a blend of Kerwin’s life’s work as a lawyer and judge but also as a family man.

“It’s an interesting story about an interesting man who made his own way in a world that is very different from now,” said McKenna,  “I wanted to capture his story for posterity.” Published by Petra Books, it has been well-received in the legal community since its official launch at the Supreme Court of Canada in May.

There 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.

He 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.

Kerwin 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 point.The 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.

Within 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.
He 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.

Kerwin 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.

At 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.”

As 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.

As 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.

While serving on the Supreme Court, Kerwin, his wife Georgina and their children lived in Ottawa.

“They 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.

“He 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.”

It 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.
There’s 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 the
trial judge’s decision and Roncarelli in 1959.

Kerwin’s 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. To 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.

“I would hope he would feel I captured his life,” McKenna said of his finished product, which he said was a “labour of love.”

“I hope he’d be proud of it.”www.chiefjusticekerwin.ca. 



Stephen G. McKenna

The author of this biography undertook the task ensuring his grandfather’s story was captured for posterity.

Having contributed articles to the media about his grandfather, Stephen continues to tell the story of a great Canadian in this book: Chief Justice Patrick Kerwin, a person who dedicated much of his life to the service of all Canadians.

The tale is told about his maternal grandfather’s career and the life he lived with his family as he climbed to the pinnacle of his profession. Stephen has also brought the personal side of his storied life by including family anecdotes and pictures never before seen in public.
As an author, musician and producer living in Ottawa, Ontario, Stephen will be publishing a collection of short stories and other works in the near future.



Grace & Wisdom in the media

Additional Reviews:
A truly enjoyable read for the general public and law students alike. As an immigrant to Canada, Stephen perked my interest with the family history of Great Lakes Ship Captains' and the importance of the St. Lawrence in commerce in the building of this country.  
The story of a man of humble beginnings who in his early family days played piano (secretly) at 'silent movie' shows in order to make ends meet.
Deals with the essential creation of Canada’s legal system and the large role Patrick Kerwin played in it.  At just 23 he was a full-named Partner and at 55 Chief Justice of Canada.  
"...it must be remembered that the law is a jealous mistress and demands of you, and all her devotees, an assiduous devotion to her cause. The common law is not static but develops from era to era...but that changing circumstances require you to seek to apply those principals to altered conditions...." Address to Students, Osgood Hall, Toronto, June 29, 1950. 
R. Britton, Ottawa

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It carried me along and I looked forward to picking it up each time. I learned a lot about the times...and  also enjoyed learning about the court system and legal cases/issues (e.g., I found your grandfather’s role in the Jehovah Witnesses case so forward thinking). I recognize how you skillfully covered topics that could have been covered in a way that was wildly tough/obscure/dull, and instead you presented things clearly and in a way that engaged the reader. You illustrated why Mr. Justice Taschereau said on your grandfather’s passing: “…..it was my privilege to fully appreciate his great qualities of heart and mind”.Yes, your grandfather’s great heart and mind shone through.

E. Donahue, Ottawa

To read recent articles about CJ Kerwin, please select the following links
SL stands for Canada's online Legal Magazine, SLAW