By Karen Gross

From the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Nexus

Justice Jack Major, LLB 1957The legal landscape in Ontario looked very different back in the 1950s, when Justice Jack Major CC, QC, LLB 1957, became a law student. Cecil “Caesar” Wright— renowned and respected jurist and professor—had broken ranks with Osgoode Hall over reforms to the legal education system, and went to U of T as the first dean of its revamped Faculty of Law. Major, who enrolled in 1953, got caught in the political power struggle between the two institutions after his father died unexpectedly and he had to forfeit a year of tuition. Licensing requirements established by the benchers at the time required U of T graduates to take an extra year at Osgoode. So when he returned in 1954, Major told the dean he could no longer afford to attend the fledgling program, with its annual cost of $450.

“That’s when the dean suggested he could make a bursary available,” Major recalled. “It covered the cost of tuition for three years, and I decided that was enough for me to come back.”

Dean Wright’s investment more than paid off. Major went on to a long and distinguished career as a private litigator, Appeals Court justice in Alberta, and a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, a seat he occupied from 1992 until his retirement in 2005. Shortly after, he was named commissioner of the federal public inquiry into the Air India bombing, which produced its seminal report in 2010.

Over the years, Major has maintained his relationship with the law school, which he says is now a much bigger institution than it was when his class of 30 graduated. “I have very fond memories of the school and the faculty who were there when I was there.”

And one in particular he’ll never forget: the generosity extended to him by Dean Wright, which enabled him to stay at U of T, and which he is now reciprocating, with a $25,000 gift to the Student Experience Bursary Fund.

“I always thought I should do something,” Major says, adding with characteristic modesty. “This seemed to be appropriate. I’m not going to make that much of a difference, but the idea is a good one.”