Graduates Honour the Founder of the Modern Law School

From the Spring 2000 issue of Nexus.

Cecil "Caesar" Augustus Wright, first dean of the modern law school, was no ordinary man. Brilliance of mind is sterile without character, but Caesar Wright brought a full measure of fire and intelligence to his chosen mission. As was noted by Prof. Albert Able in Faculty Council at the time of Dean Wright's death:

"Placidity was not his style. Wherever he saw smugness, wherever he saw obscurantism, wherever he saw unfairness, he was ready to lead a charge against it.... He devoted his energies, first to bringing the law back to life as a university discipline in Ontario, then to expanding its meagre beginnings and obtaining resources to do the quality job he envisaged for the Faculty, and all along to making both the university and the wider community realize the importance of what was at issue...

He was a lawyer. Keen to maintain the dignity of his, and our, profession, he would neither tamely let it be downgraded by others, nor let it degrade itself to either a mechanic trade or arid pedantry. He insisted that it respect itself and that others respect it.

While intensely serious, he was anything but solemn. What fun it was to be with him - listening to his irreverent sallies in his office, enjoying his hospitality ... wherever he was, the air sparkled. In the legal and university circles of Canada, his enduring imprint probably will rest on the quality of his intellect. We, his associates, remember him for that, but equally for the quality of his spirit."

Dean Wright founded the modern law school in an act of principled rebellion against the   benchers of the Law Society of Upper Canada. Wright believed passionately in the importance of a full-time legal education centred in a university.  In contrast, the Law Society of Upper Canada wanted a system of apprenticeship for law students, who were to spend only two hours a day at lectures.

By 1949 Wright could neither agree to deliver the kind of training that the Law Society thought appropriate nor convince the benchers to adopt the model be believed in. Resigning his position as dean of Osgoode Hall's law school, he came to U of T with colleagues Bora Laskin and John Willis. Together, the defiant faculty members created a brave, new law school that would transform the teaching of law in Canada.

"Cecil A. Wright charted the course of the law school and established its core values and traditions: scholarly excellence, societal relevance, institutional leadership, and risk-taking," says Dean Ron Daniels. "He is a towering figure in Canada's legal history."

In 1997, with the help of U of T's matching-gift programme, an endowed academic chair was established to honour this formidable leader. This permanent memorial to the founding dean was created by the Cecil A. Wright Foundation, a group of alumni and friends of the Faculty of Law that has raised a million dollars to endow the chair. Members of the Cecil A. Wright Foundation include the law firms Davies Ward & Beck; Goodman Phillips & Vineberg; McMillan Binch; and Torys; as well as the Law Foundation of Ontario; Maritime Law Books; the classes of 1954, 1960 and 1965; James C. Baillie, Q.C.; and individual alumni. The presence of the Cecil A. Wright Chair will help to ensure that the Faculty continues the traditions established fifty years ago by Dean Wright and his colleagues.