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Original title:  Sir Thomas Wardlaw Taylor (1833-1917). From: Charteris-Thomson, Margaret. The Colonial Ancestry of the Hon. Sir Thomas Wardlaw Taylor, Dumfries, Scotland: Courier Press, High Street, 1937.

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TAYLOR, Sir THOMAS WARDLAW, lawyer and judge; b. 25 March 1833 in Auchtermuchty, Scotland, son of the Reverend John Taylor and Marion Antill Wardlaw; m. first 8 Dec. 1858 Jessie Cameron (d. 1863) of Toronto, and they had three children; m. secondly 1864 Margaret Vallance* of Hamilton, Upper Canada, and they had seven children; d. 2 March 1917 in Hamilton.

Since his father was a prominent minister of the United Associate Synod of the Secession Church in Scotland, Thomas Wardlaw Taylor grew up in a manse where the public controversies of the day, particularly those involving the relations of church and state, received much attention. His mother, well educated and proud of her American loyalist background, was frequently ill; she conducted his education in an irregular, sometimes stimulating, but generally undisciplined fashion. Taylor, devoted to his protective mother and without boyhood companions, took up the solitary occupations of hiking, angling, and reading.

Taylor enrolled at the University of Edinburgh in 1848 and soon found the lectures austere and undemanding. Admitted to articles during his second year, he quickly realized that the demands of the law office were overshadowing his studies. He discontinued articles and in 1852 graduated ba, with a first in Greek and a second in Latin.

Later that year Taylor journeyed with his parents to Upper Canada, after his father had accepted a professorship at the United Presbyterian Seminary in London and a pastorate. Responding to the advice that he abandon any thoughts of pursuing law in Upper Canada and that he take up land instead, Taylor, then only 19, helped oversee work on the prosperous farm of Robert Christie, father of David*, in South Dumfries Township. The following summer he purchased a largely uncleared 230-acre lot near Barrie. The isolation, crude manners of his neighbours, arduous labour, and lack of reliable help forced him to concede that pioneer farming was “plainly not my proper vocation.” By the time the farm was sold in 1855 he had moved to Toronto to live with his widowed father and had resumed the study of law.

Accepted as a student by the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1855, Taylor was articled in Toronto to Secker Brough. His readiness to accept heavy responsibilities and to take initiatives led to his managing much of the office routine, an unusual arrangement since he was only a clerk. A serious student of the law, Taylor developed what he called “a mania for the technicalities of bygone times.” His scholarly approach may have been enhanced by his completion of an ma at the University of Toronto in 1856. Through his attendance at the Court of Chancery, he came to the attention of William Hume Blake*, its chancellor. By the time of his call to the bar in 1858, he had become an authority on the inner workings and rationale of the court.

The pattern of Taylor’s law partnerships was unsettled. In eight years of private practice, he was a member of six different firms, none for more than one year; on two occasions he practised alone. Primarily an equity lawyer, he was described by a biographer as quick-tempered, extremely conscientious, and oversensitive to criticism. To his father he hinted that the position he coveted most was the mastership in chancery because it promised an escape from the petty irritations of private practice.

Despite the reforms implemented by Blake, the Court of Chancery remained unpopular, was generally known to be poorly managed by a sinecurist, Andrew Norton Buell*, and was a procedural mystery to many. In 1860 Taylor brought out a hastily prepared book entitled Orders of the Court of Chancery, which explained and clarified the court’s procedures. The publication of an enlarged edition in 1863 established him as an authority on chancery in Upper Canada. Personal tragedy struck that year when he was widowed and left with three young children. He was remarried the following year, to Margaret Vallance, whose capable management of their household allowed him to follow an exhausting work routine, broken occasionally by reading and yachting.

In 1866 his knowledge of bookkeeping and financial matters served him well when he was called on to help rationalize the court’s system of accounting for collections. This work prompted his appointment as the judge’s secretary, a position newly created to hear and grant motions and to draw up the necessary decrees and orders. Taylor was also assigned the revision and consolidation of a third edition of his book. His additional appointment in 1867 as referee under the Quieting Titles Act led to a suggestion by a vice-chancellor of the court, Oliver Mowat*, that he write a book on land conveyancing. By 1869 The investigation of titles to estates in fee simple was complete.

Taylor was sometimes resented by his peers. Savaged in a letter to the Toronto Evening Telegram as a “whipper snapper of a clerk,” who assumed “the air of a judge” and relished “thwarting applications,” he found himself severely exposed to public scrutiny. Following further reorganization of chancery, he was appointed referee in chambers on 21 Feb. 1871 with more definite duties and tenure. He was later promoted by Premier Mowat, becoming master in ordinary on 16 Dec. 1872. Four years later he was awarded a qc.

With his status secure, Taylor found time to publish Commentaries on equity jurisprudence, founded on Story in 1875 and, in collaboration with a brilliant young lawyer, John Skirving Ewart*, he began an annotated version of the Ontario Judicature Act of 1881 which appeared that year. Although overloaded with work, he succeeded both in improving the expeditiousness of the court and in winning the confidence of the profession.

An influential Presbyterian layman, Taylor had assisted his father in establishing Gould Street United Presbyterian Church in Toronto and he later served as elder, clerk of session, and representative to the presbytery. As a member of the board of Knox College and the senate of the University of Toronto, he revealed a special interest in higher education. He also published the first edition of The public statutes relating to the Presbyterian Church in Canada in 1879, as his church increasingly called upon him for legal advice.

When a puisne vacancy on the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench developed following the death of Chief Justice Edmund Burke Wood*, the Manitoba bar, which wanted an equity lawyer and whose members knew of Taylor’s abilities, urged the Conservative federal government to appoint him. Taylor was sworn in on 30 Jan. 1883. Irregular sittings of the court had created a formidable backlog of work, but he had a reputation for speedy and efficient treatment of cases and it grew as he sat every day except Sunday, including evenings, in order to clear the accumulated docket. Indecorous and unprofessional behaviour in his court was swiftly rebuked. Being recognized by his judicial peers as a legal authority with great range and energy ensured that his workload remained heavy, a situation compounded by the illness, neglect, age, and death of other judges.

In 1885 Taylor chaired the royal commission on the subject of municipal laws in Manitoba, a departure from regular courtroom duties. National attention focused on the Court of Queen’s Bench in the fall of that year when Métis leader Louis Riel* appealed the death sentence of a Regina court. Forced to wade through difficult constitutional points involving legal jurisdiction in the North-West Territories and the conduct of the trial, the full court, relying mainly on Taylor’s judgement, dismissed the leave to appeal and its decision was upheld by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

On 22 Oct. 1887, at 54, Taylor became chief justice, and he remained in office until 1899 when he resigned at age 66. His elevation and the arrival two years earlier of a capable colleague, Albert Clements Killam*, relieved him of writing the bulk of the weightiest judgements. In Barrett v. City of Winnipeg [see John Kelly Barrett*], which challenged the constitutionality of the Public Schools Act of 1890, Taylor sided with the majority and dismissed the argument that the legislation was ultra vires. In this case, as in others which were appealed to the Judicial Committee, Taylor took enormous pleasure in being sustained.

Although reticent and dignified in public, Taylor enjoyed a happy family life. A member of Knox Presbyterian Church, he served as chairman of the board of Manitoba College. He steadfastly refused, however, to be named to the council of the University of Manitoba because of differences with the chancellor, Archbishop Robert Machray* of Rupert’s Land. As chief justice, Taylor acted as administrator of the province in 1890 and again in 1893. Earlier, in 1886–87, he had served as a one-man royal commission of inquiry into the activities of judge Jeremiah Travis, stipendiary magistrate in Calgary. After Taylor found that Travis had been imprudent and recommended his dismissal, he earned Travis’s continuing enmity. Further unpleasantness surrounded the commission of inquiry he chaired in 1895 at Mowat’s personal request into the management of discipline by the president and councils of the University of Toronto. The report, which left the university authorities, including president James Loudon, triumphant, did not please Taylor because of its highly political nature. When the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria was celebrated in 1897, Taylor was among those created a knight bachelor.

Retiring to Toronto in 1899, Taylor received appreciations of his service from the legal profession that were full of genuine praise. A judicial model of tolerance, studious nonpartisanship, and gentlemanly considerateness and restraint, he had been businesslike in court, actively discouraging what he termed “silver-tongued oratory.” Sometimes criticized for his light criminal sentences, Taylor, through lucid although rarely brilliant decisions, sought to interpret the law plainly, but not to alter it substantially. This approach did not set him apart from the formal judicial conservatism common among his Canadian peers.

In retirement Taylor remained active. He had served as president of the Permanent Mortgage and Trusts Company and after it was absorbed in 1897 by the Central Canada Loan and Savings Company of Ontario he became a member of that firm’s board. He was a member of a provincial commission which compiled imperial statutes then in force in Ontario and published them as an addendum to the revised statutes. Counting John Mark King*, principal of Manitoba College, among his dearest friends, Taylor edited after King’s death a manuscript published as The theology of Christ’s teaching. The appearance of Historical sketch of Saint James Square Presbyterian Congregation, Toronto, 1853–1903 completed his publishing efforts for the church.

Having moved to Hamilton in 1906, Taylor was elected president of the Citizens League of Hamilton and he campaigned unsuccessfully for three years to eradicate gambling, prostitution, and the liquor traffic. The controversy among Presbyterians over church union in 1913 drew Taylor, who was opposed, into the national committee for the preservation of the church. He remained a staunch opponent of union until his death from pneumonia in 1917. Wardlaw Avenue in Winnipeg, which was named in his honour, and a portrait commissioned by the Law Society of Manitoba are visible reminders of his career in the province; the estate of $57,000 he left to his heirs was the balance of an orderly life.

Richard A. Willie

The first edition of Sir Thomas Wardlaw Taylor’s Orders of the Court of Chancery for Upper Canada, with notes appeared in Toronto in 1860; the expanded second edition was issued as The orders of the Court of Chancery for Upper Canada, and of the Court of Error and Appeal; with the provincial statutes relating to the practice of these courts, notes and forms (1863); and the third appeared in 1868 under the title The statutes and orders relating to the practice and jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery; and of the Court of Error and Appeal, with notes. Taylor’s publications also include The investigation of titles to estates in fee simple (Toronto, 1869; 2nd ed., 1873); Commentaries on equity jurisprudence, founded on Story (Toronto, 1875); The public statutes relating to the Presbyterian Church in Canada: with acts and resolutions of the General Assembly, and by-laws for the government of the colleges and schemes of the church (Toronto, 1879; 2nd ed., Winnipeg, 1897); and Historical sketch of Saint James Square Presbyterian Congregation, Toronto, 1853–1903 (Toronto, [1903]). With J. S. Ewart, he prepared The Judicature Act and rules, 1881, and other statutes and orders relating to the practice of the Supreme Court of Judicature for Ontario, with notes (Toronto, 1881).

AO, MU 475, file 23; RG 22-205, no.9874; RG 80-27-2, 66: 26. Law Soc. of Upper Canada Arch. (Toronto), 1-5 (Convocation, rolls), barristers’ roll; T. W. Taylor, “A sketch of the life of Sir Thomas Wardlaw Taylor by his son” (typescript). NA, MG 26, A: 77444; MG 30, E484. UTA, A70-0005/002, May 1873; P87-0046, 1856. Globe, 12 Sept. 1866, 3 March 1917. Hamilton Spectator, 18 Dec. 1907, 15 Feb. 1908, 6 March 1909. Manitoba Free Press, 1883–99. Harry Shave, “A judge who performed outstanding service: the story of Wardlaw Avenue,” Winnipeg Free Press, 24 April 1965: 23. J. D. Blackwell, “William Hume Blake and the judicature acts of 1849: the process of legal reform at mid-century in Upper Canada,” in Essays in the history of Canadian law, ed. D. H. Flaherty (7v. to date, Toronto, 1981–  ), 1: 132–74. Canadian annual rev. (Hopkins), 1900–17. The Canadian law list (Toronto), 1890–1917. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898 and 1912). Dale and Lee Gibson, Substantial justice; law and lawyers in Manitoba, 1670–1970 (Winnipeg, 1972). Manitoba Reports (Winnipeg), 1887–95. Ont., Commission on discipline in the Univ. of Toronto, Report (Toronto, 1895). 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). Paul Romney, Mr Attorney: the attorney general for Ontario in court, cabinet and legislature, 1791–1899 (Toronto, 1986). Standard dict. of Canadian biog. (Roberts and Tunnell). M. C. Thomson, The colonial ancestry of the honourable Sir Thomas Wardlaw Taylor . . . chief justice of the province of Manitoba, 1887–1899 (Dumfries, Scot., 1937). Univ. of Toronto, Reg., 1873 (copy in UTA). R. A. Willie, “‘These legal gentlemen’: becoming prominent in Manitoba, 1870–1900” (phd thesis, Univ. of Alta, Edmonton, 1989).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Richard A. Willie, “TAYLOR, Sir THOMAS WARDLAW,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 18, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/taylor_thomas_wardlaw_14E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/taylor_thomas_wardlaw_14E.html
Author of Article:   Richard A. Willie
Title of Article:   TAYLOR, Sir THOMAS WARDLAW
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   June 18, 2024