KIRBY, JAMES, lawyer and legal journalist; b. 28 Jan. 1840 in Montreal, son of Robert Kirby, a clerk in the army commissariat, and Mary Ladly; d. unmarried 15 Feb. 1914 in Westmount, Que.
James Kirby’s father came to Lower Canada in 1827. Kirby spent his boyhood in Chambly, where he attended an Anglican grammar school. He moved back to Montreal in 1852 and, after a year in a private school, he entered the High School of Montreal in September 1853; he graduated three years later. He obtained a ba from McGill College in 1859 along with the Henry Chapman Gold Medal, a prize awarded each year to the outstanding graduate in arts. After completing a bcl and studying in the law offices of Alexander Cross and Henry Bancroft, he was admitted to the bar in 1862; that same year he received an ma from McGill. In 1893 he would be named a qc.
Throughout his life Kirby demonstrated interests bridging journalism and law. In 1860, through the influence of David Kinnear*, one of the proprietors of the Montreal Herald, he wrote an article on Montreal for The new American cyclopædia: a popular dictionary of general knowledge (16v. New York, 1858–63). He also edited The British North American almanac . . . 1864. . . , published in Montreal by John Lovell* probably that same year. In compiling this compendium of “accurate and reliable” information ranging from weights and measures to history, geology, and fisheries, Kirby was part of the “inventory” tradition in Victorian science. He received help from well-known experts, such as John George Hodgins for Upper Canadian education, Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau* for Lower Canadian education, and engineer Samuel Keefer* for railways. His association with Lovell continued in 1869 when he contributed sketches of the provinces of Canada for the Canadian dominion directory . . . , first published in Montreal in 1871. Kirby also wrote legal articles for the Montreal Daily Witness, and then during 1871–78 he served as chief assistant editor and lead writer for the Montreal Gazette.
Given his interest in journalism, Kirby never practised law, concentrating instead on developing an expertise in legal reporting; an obituary described him as the “best law reporter that had ever written on legal subjects in the province.” The diversion of bright young lawyers into the field of legal reporting was of great importance. It reflected the professionalization of the law in Quebec and the growing power of law schools. In a period which saw the codification of Quebec civil and procedural law, jurists and law students needed scientific, written sources.
Kirby’s advance in legal journalism was aided by well-placed friends and mentors among the anglophone élite of the bar, such as Thomas Kennedy Ramsay* and Frederick William Torrance. In 1865 he became editor of the Lower Canada Law Journal (Montreal), a new quarterly review which published précis of court decisions, correspondence, legal appointments, and notices from the bar. Kirby hoped that the journal would be one in which “members of the bar can communicate their opinions, and advocate such improvements and amendments in the law as they may desire to see carried out.” In October 1868 he became junior editor of the Lower Canada Jurist (Montreal), a position he held until 1885; from 1885 to 1891 he edited the seven volumes of the Montreal Law Reports, Superior Court and the seven volumes of the Montreal Law Reports, Court of Queen’s Bench.
In 1878 Kirby founded the Legal News (Montreal), a weekly journal that responded to the need of both bench and bar for descriptions and analysis of the expanding jurisprudence, particularly in commercial law. Kirby intended this work to replace the scrapbooks maintained by lawyers of court reports published in newspapers. It was published until 1897. In 1892 he had become senior editor of the Quebec Official Reports (Montreal), published by the Quebec bar. Eight years later, with Pierre-Basile Mignault*, he published in Montreal a General index, 1892–1898 of the reports.
A lifelong member of the Church of England and a Conservative, Kirby had a retiring disposition, although he apparently ran for election in 1907 as an alderman in Ward 2 of Westmount. Unmarried, he lived with his brother Charles H. in Westmount, where he died in 1914.
AC, Montrdal, État civil, Anglicans, St Matthias Church (Westmount), 17 Feb. 1914. ANQ-M, CE1-65, 16 févr. 1840. NA, MG 29, D61. Gazette (Montreal), 16 Feb. 1914. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898 and 1912). S. B. Frost, McGill University: for the advancement of learning (2v., Montreal, 1980–84). Suzanne Zeller, Inventing Canada: early Victorian science and the idea of a transcontinental nation (Toronto, 1987).