HOWELL, HECTOR MANSFIELD, lawyer and judge; b. 17 Sept. 1842 in Thurlow Township, Upper Canada, son of Charles Howell and Harriet Ann Pake; m. 14 July 1875 Harriett Susanah Lally (d. 1908) in Barrie, Ont., and they had one son and four daughters; d. 7 April 1918 in Winnipeg.
Growing up in the Bay of Quinte region, Hector Mansfield Howell was surrounded by reminders of his family’s United Empire Loyalist heritage. He attended public schools in Prince Edward County before enrolling in 1860 at Belleville Seminary. He apparently taught school briefly until he could pursue the career he desired.
Howell was articled in Belleville to John Bell and continued afterwards in Toronto, where attendance at Osgoode Hall was possible. Following his call to the bar in 1871 at age 29, he joined the branch office in Barrie of the law firm of D’Alton McCarthy*, an influential Conservative lawyer and politician. He married the sister of McCarthy’s wife in 1875. Sometime during his years of practice in Uxbridge, from 1875 to 1879, Howell became convinced that his career could only be enhanced by escaping the limited professional opportunities in Ontario. He accepted the offer of Heber Archibald of Winnipeg to join him in practice and arrived there in 1879. Over the next 25 years Howell became and remained the dominant figure in this firm, which was eventually known as Howell, Hudson, Ormond, and Marlatt.
Howell was part of the first wave of Ontario lawyers who arrived in Manitoba, drawn by expectations that the development of a new region would create a large market for legal services. Howell litigated often and well in common law, equity, and criminal cases, prepared appeals with great energy, and handled a wide range of clients, soon establishing himself among the most reliable and hard-working lawyers in Winnipeg. Regarded in professional circles as knowledgeable, quick-witted, and forceful, he served many influential local and central Canadian clients. Recognizing the importance of involvement in local society, Howell was a director of the Northern Bank, president of the Winnipeg Rowing Club, a governor of the St John’s College Ladies’ School, and a member of the prestigious Manitoba Club and Holy Trinity Anglican Church.
Like other Conservative supporters of Sir John A. Macdonald*, Howell realized soon after his arrival that the policies of the national party and the circumstances of Manitoba were not in harmony. An unsuccessful candidate in a provincial by-election in Winnipeg in 1880 and a supporter of Premier John Norquay*, he became angered by the federal government’s disallowance of provincial railway legislation. In 1890 he defended Liberal attorney general Joseph Martin* in a series of highly publicized libel proceedings against the editor of the Manitoba Daily Free Press, William Fisher Luxton*. He came to identify with western interests and the mishandling of the Manitoba school question by the federal Conservatives [see Sir Mackenzie Bowell] apparently finally encouraged him to shift his political allegiance to the Liberals.
Appointed a dominion qc on 3 Nov. 1884, Howell enjoyed the superior status of the designation, which granted him a right of precedence when presenting court motions. It was an important consideration for a courtroom pleader. As a distinguished member of the bar, Howell acted for the Law Society of Manitoba in occasional disciplinary actions against its members. He served as president of the society in 1904.
In 1906 the Court of Appeal was created in order to assume the expanded workload that had been thrust upon the Court of King’s Bench. When Howell was named its chief justice, Conservatives condemned the appointment as a blatant political reward. Citizens were reminded that Howell’s name had been among those of prominent Liberals who had allegedly tampered with voting lists before the election of 1904 in what had become known as the Red Line scandal, the term referring to the erasures of the names of many voters by party insiders. Although he had denied the charges, he had been severely criticized in the partisan press. Howell was given the unusual title of chief justice of the Court of Appeal rather than chief justice of Manitoba because Joseph Dubuc would retain the title of chief justice of the Court of King’s Bench until his retirement in 1909, even though all appellate functions had been transferred to the higher court.
With a reputation for spotting specious arguments, Howell was an intimidating presence for counsel, but his judgements were sound, if unspectacular. Eschewing political controversy, Howell was placed in an awkward position in 1915 during a political scandal surrounding the contracts for the construction of the legislative buildings. He allowed the lieutenant governor, Sir Douglas Colin Cameron, who was faced with a request for a royal commission to investigate the affair, to consult with him first rather than with attorney general James Henry Howden, as protocol demanded. Cameron had lost confidence in Howden, even though technically the attorney general still retained the confidence of the electorate. By his actions Howell inadvertently appeared to support Cameron’s position.
What had perhaps elevated Howell among other lawyers was simply his superior ability to adapt to new circumstances and to demonstrate publicly his legal competence. He died in Winnipeg in 1918 and was survived by three daughters. He left a substantial estate. A state funeral was followed by burial in St John’s Cemetery.
AO, F 24, MU 510; RG 80-5-0-52, no.8685. Arch. of Western Canadian Legal Hist., Univ. of Man., faculty of law (Winnipeg), Biog. files. Man., Legislative Library (Winnipeg), Biog. scrapbooks. PAM, GR 170, file 9925; GR 541; GR 4347. Manitoba Free Press, 8 April 1918. Winnipeg Tribune, 8 April 1918. Canadian annual rev. (Hopkins), 1906. The Canadian law list (Toronto), 1883–1918. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). Dale and Lee Gibson, Substantial justice; law and lawyers in Manitoba, 1670–1970 (Winnipeg, 1972). Manitoba Reports (Winnipeg), 1883–1906. J. H. O’Donnell, Manitoba as I saw it, from 1869 to date, with flash-lights on the first Riel rebellion (Toronto, 1909). Ontario Register (Lambertville, N.J.), 8 (1990): 166. Pioneers of Man. (Morley et al.). Political appointments, parliaments, and the judicial bench in the Dominion of Canada, 1867 to 1895, ed. N.-O. Coté (Ottawa, 1896). J. P. Robertson, A political manual of the province of Manitoba and the North-West Territories (Winnipeg, 1887). H. R. Ross, Thirty-five years in the limelight: Sir Rodmond P. Roblin and his times (Winnipeg, 1936). R. St G. Stubbs, Lawyers and laymen of western Canada (Toronto, 1939). Who’s who in western Canada . . . , ed. C. W. Parker (Vancouver), 1911. R. A. Willie, “‘These legal gentlemen’: becoming prominent in Manitoba, 1870–1900” (phd thesis, Univ. of Alta, Edmonton, 1989).