PATERSON, JOHN ANDREW, lawyer, social reformer, and author; b. 22 June 1846 in Stornoway, Scotland, son of John Paterson and Jane Balfour Allison; m. first 5 Jan. 1876 Christina Dick Riddell in Toronto, and they had three sons and a daughter; m. secondly Mary Allan; d. 13 May 1930 in Toronto.
John Paterson’s father was a Presbyterian minister and teacher in Scotland and England and he continued in the ministry after immigrating to Canada with his family in 1858. John was then enrolled at Upper Canada College in Toronto, where he became head boy in 1861. The next year he entered the University of Toronto on a double scholarship in classics and mathematics; he consistently stood first or second in his class. He graduated in 1866 and the following year received his ma while teaching mathematics at Upper Canada College, a post he held for three years. He then decided to use his analytical skills in the study of law. Called to the bar on 26 Nov. 1872, he would practise in Toronto for 57 years.
Throughout his life, Paterson was clearly influenced by his Presbyterian upbringing. He served his congregations, Bay Street (Erskine) in 1872–98 and Bloor Street in 1899–1930, as manager, elder, and Sunday school superintendent. Within the Presbyterian Church in Canada, he attended several general assemblies and sat on many committees and as a senator of Knox College between 1892 and 1925. He was the college’s solicitor as early as 1909, when land was being acquired for its new building on St George Street. Active in interdenominational work, he was president of the Ontario Sunday School Association in 1895–96, president of the Ontario Lord’s Day Alliance in 1897 (and chair of its committee on law for several years), and chair of the Canadian council of the Laymen’s Missionary Movement in 1916. A firm temperance advocate, he took part in the campaign leading up to the Prohibition referendum in Ontario of December 1902 [see Francis Stephens Spence*] and in attempts in 1903 to curb liquor sales. At Bloor Street Church he and assistant pastor Clare Melville Wright prepared a statement for their congregation on the Prohibition plebiscite of 1924. These and other organizations and causes benefited from Paterson’s quiet but persuasive legal expertise. Notwithstanding the strength of his Presbyterian roots, he was a leader in the movement to form the United Church of Canada in 1925. He had been vice-president of the General Board of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and had acted as chair when Daniel Robert Drummond, an opponent of union, resigned shortly before it became a reality.
In politics Paterson identified himself in 1923 as a Liberal in the mould of George Brown*, “as my father was before me, and I have never seen any reason to change my allegiance.” One can find evidence that his political, educational, and religious connections helped him in his career. In 1885 a prominent Liberal, James Kirkpatrick Kerr, became the head of his law firm (Kerr, Macdonald, Davidson, and Paterson). From 1900 Paterson was the University of Toronto’s solicitor. Named a provincial kc on 27 May 1902, he was soon appointed by John Morison Gibson, the Liberal attorney general of Ontario, to appear before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England to argue the constitutionality of an 1897 act prohibiting the profanation of the Lord’s Day, which had been challenged by the Hamilton Street Railway Company and others. The JCPC found that, in so far as violations of the act were considered criminal, the statute was unconstitutional since criminal law was a dominion responsibility. Although Paterson was on the losing side, the judgement was an important step in the passage of the federal Lord’s Day Act of 1906, for which he had lobbied on behalf of the Lord’s Day Alliance. Paterson’s abilities were recognized by other administrations as well. In 1912, on behalf of the Conservative government, he successfully had the London and Lake Erie Railway prosecuted under the Ontario Railway Act; the attorney general, however, refused to pay his full bill. In 1921 the United Farmers government called on him to form a commission to inquire into slipshod enforcement of the Ontario Temperance Act by the police magistrate of Dunnville, David Hastings, who resigned as a result. In the private sector his work included many years (1907–25) as lawyer to the North American Life Assurance Company, of which he was also a director. In all his efforts, including his advocacy of life insurance, Paterson saw the goals he sought as steps to alleviate misery brought about by drunkenness, overwork, and poverty.
Paterson’s long-standing interest in mathematics had led him in 1890 to join the Astronomical and Physical Society of Toronto (later the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada). In 1892 he published his first paper in its Transactions, on stellar evolution, and was elected second vice-president. In this office he accepted many presidential duties owing to the illness or age of incumbents Charles Carpmael* and Larratt William Violett Smith; he served as president in his own right in 1896-97. In 1897, at the Toronto meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, he spoke on the “unification of time.” The hope was to get international nautical, civil, and astronomical authorities to agree that the day should start at midnight. The idea appealed to common sense and was promoted by Sir Sandford Fleming*, well known for his efforts to introduce standard-time zones, but traditional practices would prevail until 1925. All told, over a period of 32 years, Paterson wrote 24 reports and popular papers for the astronomical society, most based on lectures he gave. Seven of these were accounts of the lives of well-known astronomers and three concerned astronomy in the work of Tennyson, Shakespeare, and Milton. As Paterson said in 1909, “The muses of Poetry and Urania her sister clasped hands and have in all ages sung to the world the sweet rhymes of mother Nature.” He consistently saw the hand of a divine creator in nature, even when he delved into the theory of life on Mars and elsewhere.
Paterson’s personal life was marked by several tragedies. His first wife, Tina, died in 1908 after being struck by a cyclist. They had shared many of the same ideals; as well, she had been a recording secretary of the Toronto Local Council of Women and a vice-president of the Women’s Art Association of Canada. Two of his sons died young, Harold John in 1904 and Ernest Riddell (the first Rhodes scholar from the University of Toronto) in 1912, and his son-in-law, Saxon Frederick Shenstone, passed away on Christmas Day, 1915, at the age of 37. The last two or three years of his own life were marked by illness.
John A. Paterson was very much a man of his time and circumstances. The causes he championed – missionary work, temperance, and sabbath observance – were all part of the movement to improve morality in Canadian society.
Lectures that were given by John Andrew Paterson and reported in the press include “Astronomy and devoutness,” Evening Telegram (Toronto), 26 Nov. 1924; “Astronomy has no quarrel with spiritual devotees,” Globe, 26 Nov. 1924; “Discusses theory of life on Mars,” Globe, 14 Nov. 1923; and “Supposition,” Globe, 30 Nov. 1921. Articles written by Paterson include “The Privy Council and the Lord’s Day Act,” Presbyterian (Toronto), new ser., 3 (July–December 1903): 379, and “Simon Newcomb – his life and work,” Royal Astronomical Soc. of Canada, Journal (Toronto), 7 (1913): 389–403.
AO, RG 4-32, 1903, file 1585; 1904, file 911; 1905, file 458; 1908, file 691; 1911, file 716; RG 22-305, nos.7260, 23502, 64760; RG 80-5-0-62, no.12849. Presbyterian Church in Canada Arch. (Toronto), 101/0008 (Knox College, Toronto, legal documents (mortgages, etc.)), 1887–1927; 102/0008 (Knox College, senate, minutes), 1908–27; 1989-4002-1-3 (Erskine Presbyterian Church, Toronto, board of managers and congregational meetings, minutes), 1837–83. UCC-C, 1777, 92.029L, 5-1, 5-2, 7-14, 9-5, 17-2; Biog. file. UTA, A1970-0024/008, vol.10; A1973-0026/357 (69, 79, 82); A1974-0018. Astronomical and Physical Soc. of Toronto, Trans., 1892. Attorney-General for Ontario v. the Hamilton Street Railway Company and others,  Law Reports, Appeal Cases (London): 524–30. Canadian annual rev., 1902–3, 1907, 1921. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898 and 1912). Presbyterian Church in Canada, General Assembly, Acts and proc. (Toronto), 1891–1925. The roll of pupils of Upper Canada College, Toronto, January, 1830, to June, 1916, ed. A. H. Young (Kingston, Ont., 1917). Royal Astronomical Soc. of Canada, General index to the publications of the Astronomical and Physical Society of Toronto, 1890–1899, comp. W. E. Harper (Toronto, 1931).
© 2005–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Peter Broughton, “PATERSON, JOHN ANDREW,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 24, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/paterson_john_andrew_15E.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:
|Author of Article:||Peter Broughton|
|Title of Article:||PATERSON, JOHN ANDREW|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||2005|
|Year of revision:||2005|
|Access Date:||March 24, 2023|