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CHURCH, LEVI RUGGLES, physician, lawyer, politician, and judge; b. 1836, probably 26 May, in Aylmer, Lower Canada, son of Peter Howard Church and Sylvia Comstock Coller, a native of Merrickville, Upper Canada; m. 3 Sept. 1859, in Montreal, Eliza Jane Erskine Bell, daughter of lawyer William Bell and niece of General George Bell; they had a son who died in infancy and three daughters; d. 30 Aug. 1892 in Montreal and was buried in Bellevue Cemetery near Aylmer.
Levi Ruggles Church was a grandson of loyalist Jonathan Mills Church and a descendant of Richard Church who died in Massachusetts in 1667; his father was a physician in Aylmer. The Church family was to have five generations of physicians who provided 122 years of uninterrupted medical service to Aylmer. Levi at first followed in his father’s footsteps, as did his two brothers. Before beginning the study and practice of law, he studied medicine at Victoria College in Cobourg, Upper Canada, the Albany Medical College in New York State, and McGill College in Montreal; McGill, from which he graduated in 1857, was attended by 13 members of his family who went into the medical profession.
On 7 Feb. 1859 Church was called to the bar of Lower Canada, after being articled in Montreal to Henry Stuart and Edward Carter. He returned to Aylmer and practised with Fleming and Church, which later became Fleming, Church, and Kenny. In 1863, along with lawyers Jean Delisle and Peter and John Aylen, he sued a judge, Aimé Lafontaine, for embezzlement. Lafontaine, a protégé of George-Étienne Cartier*, would find himself at the centre of controversies pitting friends of Church against the town council of Hull and curé Louis-Étienne-Delille Reboul*, the Oblate who had founded the town. This lawsuit was only an opening round in the dogged fight between Aylmer and Hull over the administration of the law in Hull Township. In 1868 Church was appointed crown attorney for Ottawa District, and on 22 Oct. 1874 he was made a qc. He also practised law in Montreal with noted lawyers such as Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau, John Smythe Hall*, Albert William Atwater, and Edward Carter.
In addition to pursuing his legal career, Church went into politics, a field not unknown in his family. His uncle Basil R. Church, a physician, had sat for Leeds and Grenville in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada from 1854 until his death in April 1858. Levi ran successfully for the Conservative party and represented Ottawa riding in the Quebec Legislative Assembly from 1867 to 1871 and Pontiac from 26 Oct. 1874 until 1881. He also was a member of the cabinet under Conservative premier Charles-Eugène Boucher* de Boucherville, as attorney general from 22 Sept. 1874 to 27 Jan. 1876 and treasurer until 8 March 1878, six days after Lieutenant Governor Luc Letellier* de Saint-Just dismissed the government. Church preferred the practice of law to politics, however, and subsequently he twice turned down Premier Chapleau’s invitations to join his cabinet.
A member of one of the most respected families in Aylmer and the Ottawa valley, Church throughout his life held prestigious offices, in the financial sphere as well as in the law and politics. He mingled with such leading citizens as James Maclaren, George Bryson, and Peter Aylen, who were part of the Conservative establishment in that region. These connections probably explain his presence on the first board of the Bank of Ottawa (founded in 1874), his close ties with various shipping companies operating on rivers, his presidency of the controversial Pontiac Pacific Junction Railway Company in 1883, and his directorship in the Ottawa Agricultural Insurance Company and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Lower Canada, as well as his membership on the Protestant committee of the Council of Public Instruction of the province of Quebec. His irregular attendance at the council’s meetings led Honoré Mercier’s government to ask him to explain his conduct. The same request was also made to Boucher de Boucherville, Adolphe-Basile Routhier*, and Sir Narcisse-Fortunat Belleau, in the hope of ousting the most conservative elements from the council. The attempt failed, however, and Mercier found it impossible to secure passage of anticipated reforms.
Levi Ruggles Church spent his final years as a judge on the Court of Queen’s Bench from 25 Oct. 1887 till 7 Jan. 1892.
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