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REEVE, WILLIAM ALBERT, lawyer, jp, and educator; b. 4 Jan. 1842 in Toronto, son of William Reeve and Sarah Bielby; m. June 1866 his first cousin Sarah Theresa Bielby in Little Falls, N.Y., and they had nine children; d. 2 May 1894 in Toronto.

William Albert Reeve’s parents met and married in York County, Upper Canada, in 1832, shortly after they had immigrated from England. William Sr took up farming but soon turned to the manufacture of farm implements in Toronto. The family was nonconformist in religion and reform-minded in politics. William Reeve died in 1846, leaving his widow with a large family and a meagre estate.

Like his closest siblings, Richard Andrews and John, who became prominent physicians and medical educators, William Albert attended Victoria College, Cobourg. He studied there from 1856 to 1858, graduated from the University of Toronto in 1861, and then enrolled as a student of the Law Society of Upper Canada. He was apprenticed to Stephen Richards of Toronto, but later shifted his articles to Byron Moffatt Britton of Kingston. Admitted to practice as a solicitor on 24 Nov. 1864, he was called to the bar in Michaelmas term 1865. Reeve commenced practice that year in Napanee in association with William Henry Wilkison, crown attorney for Lennox and Addington and a jp. He succeeded Wilkison in these positions in 1869, but in 1882 resigned to return to Toronto.

Shortly before his return Reeve had become counsel to the prestigious law firm of Beatty, Chadwick, Thomson, and Blackstock, but that association was short-lived. He spent time in the mid 1880s practising criminal law on his own and as a partner of James A. Mills, and occasionally served as counsel to the Law Society in disciplinary matters. Perhaps most important, he became a part-time lecturer and examiner in criminal, maritime, and tort law at Trinity College and at Osgoode Hall in 1882, and was renewed by the Law Society as one of its nominal instructors in each of the next six years. He was appointed qc in October 1885.

In February 1889, by resolving to reinstitute at Osgoode Hall a program of mandatory lectures to complement law-office apprenticeship, the society’s benchers brought to a temporary conclusion a controversy about the place of classroom instruction in legal education in Ontario. The principalship of the school, at least the fourth operated out of Osgoode Hall since its opening in 1832, was first offered to Samuel Henry Strong* of the Supreme Court of Canada, who declined. It was then offered to the relatively unknown Reeve, who accepted. The reasons for his appointment, on 3 July, remain obscure. His former Kingston principal, B. M. Britton, and two of Reeve’s contemporaries at Toronto’s closely knit criminal bar, Britton Bath Osler* and D’Alton McCarthy, were among the benchers who hired him. Reeve’s first assignment was to spend two months that summer touring Columbia, Harvard, Yale, and Boston University with benchers Edward Martin and Charles Moss*. Reeve’s favourable observations about the renaissance in legal education in the United States were blended with his understanding of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the laws of England to form the basis for his diplomatic inaugural address on 7 Oct. 1889.

Unlike his successors, Newman Wright Hoyles, John Delatre Falconbridge*, and Cecil Augustus Wright*, Reeve met with a favourable reception in most relevant constituencies during his four years as principal. The prevailing interpretation of his tenure is that much of the backwardness sometimes said to have characterized legal education under the Law Society’s auspices in the 20th century might have been avoided had Reeve’s administration not been cut short by his sudden death in 1894 from heart failure at age 52. The developments upon which this assessment are based include the casting of the first-year curriculum along the lines of Christopher Columbus Langdell’s pioneering efforts at Harvard in the 1870s to emphasize such aspects of private law as contracts and real property, the tentative introduction of American Socratic teaching and the case method of instruction, the gradual doubling of the school’s part-time teaching staff and tripling of the number of lectures offered annually, the creation of a well-stocked library for students, and extensive alterations to accommodate an expanding student body.

The placing of instruction on a secure footing was orchestrated by Reeve under the scrutiny of the Law Society’s legal education committee, chaired by Charles Moss. Reeve’s academic freedom was limited by its control over staff appointments, curriculum, examination questions, textbooks, admissions, and discipline as well as its structuring of the school’s timetable around the exigencies of apprenticeship. Reeve was thus more like a salaried steward than an academic dean. His school, however, proved to be the society’s first permanent one. Reeve himself was the society’s first full-time educator, and apparently the second in post-confederation Canada after Richard Chapman Weldon* of the Dalhousie law school. Yet unlike such prominent part-time teachers of criminal law in 19th-century Canada as John King, Sir Henri-Elzéar Taschereau*, William Badgley*, or Jacques Crémazie*, Reeve neither participated in law reform projects nor published in his field. Except for his inaugural address and a couple of reported judicial decisions he argued as counsel, he does not seem to have written so much as a letter to an editor. But the inaugural address is an eloquent and intriguing 12 pages of scholarship that stand out for their perceptive and non-parochial character in the context of Ontario’s uninspired legal culture of the late 19th century.

Reeve’s reputation must therefore be based upon his essay and upon his implementation of a monopolistic, hybrid régime of apprenticeship and non-university classroom training, which pre-empted or undercut the teaching of law in Ontario’s universities and remained intact until 1957. He also appears to have figured significantly in his family’s transition over three generations from local, non-conforming cottage industrialists to internationally established doctors, educators, and Anglican clerics.

G. Blaine Baker

No Reeve papers are known to have survived, but there is a large private collection of family records and memorabilia in the possession of William Frederick Reeve of Port Hardy, B.C.

Law Soc. of Upper Canada Arch. (Toronto), Barristers’ roll; Common roll; Legal Education Committee, records; Minutes of the Convocation of Benchers, 1882–94. Canada Law Journal (Toronto), new ser., 30 (1894): 292. Canadian Law Times (Toronto), 9 (1889): 162, 241–55. Law Soc. of Upper Canada, Convocation of Benchers, Journal of proc. . . . [1879–1904] (3v., Toronto, 1885–1904), 1–2. Globe, 3 May 1894. Toronto Daily Mail, 3 May 1894. The Ontario law list and solicitors agency book . . . , comp. J. L. Rordans ([6th–9th eds.], Toronto, 1870–82). The Upper Canada law list . . . , comp. J. L. Rordans ([5th ed.], Toronto, 1866). G. B. Baker, “Legal education in Upper Canada, 1785–1889: the law society as educator,” Essays in the history of Canadian law, ed. D. H. Flaherty (2v., Toronto, 1981–83), 2: 49, 107–12. C. J. Cole, “A learned and honorable body: the professionalization of the Ontario bar, 1867–1929” (phd thesis, Univ. of Western Ont., London, 1987), esp. 166–226. C. I. Kyer and J. E. Bickenbach, The fiercest debate: Cecil AWright, the benchers, and legal education in Ontario, 1923–1957 (Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1987), esp. 28–34. B. D. Bucknall et al., “Pedants, practitioners and prophets: legal education at Osgoode Hall to 1957,” Osgoode Hall Law Journal (Toronto), 6 (1968): 137, 157–72. W. F. Reeve, “William Albert Reeve, Q.C.: the first principal, 1889–1894,” Continuum (North York [Toronto]), 15 (1987), no.1: 3–4.

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Cite This Article

G. Blaine Baker, “REEVE, WILLIAM ALBERT,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 25, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/reeve_william_albert_12E.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/reeve_william_albert_12E.html
Author of Article:   G. Blaine Baker
Title of Article:   REEVE, WILLIAM ALBERT
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1990
Year of revision:   1990
Access Date:   May 25, 2024