Faculty of Law: Stories and Snippets

We’re excited to announce a new exhibit at the Law Library. Some of you may have noticed, our exhibit tables have been relocated next to the stairs to make it easier for everyone to stop and peruse as you go about your days of studying.

McGill University has recently reached its bicentennial and while the faculty of law was founded a few years later, it was the first law school in Canada and has contributed greatly to McGill’s notoriety and prestige over the last (almost) 200 years. In honor of this impact, we have curated an exhibit highlighting the Law Faculty through the ages. One half of the exhibit focuses on notable faculty members, graduates, and organizations, of which there are too many to do justice in a 3×5 exhibit case! In the other we have dredged up some often forgotten contributions and snippets of student life.

Take a moment to learn about some notable figures in the faculty’s history, like 1891 Graduate Robert Stanley Weir who wrote the lyrics to our national anthem. Or Quebec’s first female law graduate Annie MacDonald Langstaff; and of course, John Humphrey, McGill professor and Canadian Human Rights icon, just to name a few.

Student life of the past is often elusive. While we keep records of publications like the Quid Novi or student theses, often the memories of student groups, unofficial activities and just daily life are lost. This is why we dug deep into local news publications and our Head Librarian’s collection of memorabilia (thanks Daniel!). We were able to put together snippets of the life of law students; from 1920’s sports stars and student plays to environmental activists’ groups of the 70’s. We even discovered that McGill Law was featured in a short run Quebecois 70’s sitcom! So, join us for a walk down the Law Faculty memory lane and learn a few fun facts about our history.

75th anniversary of Viola Desmond challenging racial segregation

On November 1946, Viola Desmond, an African-Nova Scotian businesswoman, challenged racial discrimination when she refused to leave the segregated whites-only section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. After being forcibly removed from the theatre by police, arrested and charged, she refuses to accept the charges against her and takes her case to Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court, where she loses her appeal. To commemorate the 75th anniversary of Viola Desmond challenging racial segregation, the Nahum Gelber Law Library presents an exhibition on her life and her struggle for rights in Canada. The exhibition was curated by Sonia Smith. On display until December 2021.

Legal dictionaries through the centuries

A new exhibition is on display at the Nahum Gelber Law Library. Legal dictionaries through the centuries.

It presents items from its Wainwright and Canadiana Rare Books collections published between 1616 and 1882.

A very unique dictionary is the Vocabvlarivm ivrisprvdentiae romanae from 1718, a handwritten small book that provides a quick and simple reference guide to the principle terms and concepts of Roman civil law. Aspects covered are from inheritance and property rights through to contracts and martial law. A section also deals with “Iuris Primordia”, detailing the structure and development of the Corpus Iuris Civilis.

Another interesting work is the Dictionnaire de cas de conscience : ou, Décisions des plus considérables dificultez touchant la morale et la discipline ecclesiastique. Tirées de l’Ecriture, des Conciles, des Decretales des papes, des peres, et des plus célebres théologiens et canonistes. A three volumes set published in Paris in 1730 donated to the Library by Paul-André Crépeau.

A work dedicated to the French King and dealing with feudal Law in France is the Dictionnaire des fiefs et des droits seigneuriaux utiles et honorifiques : contenant les définitions des termes, & un ample recueil des décisions choisies, fondées sur la jurisprudence des arrêts, la disposition des différentes coutumes, & la doctrine des meilleures feudistes … by Joseph Renauldon, published in Paris, in 1788.

A recent donation to our Rare Books also presented in this exhibition is the New law-dictionary: containing the interpretation and definition of words and terms used in law… by Giles Jacob, published in London, in 1782. It was donated and restored thanks to the generosity of Penny Polk and Gordon Echenberg.

The exhibition was curated by Sonia Smith.