Aspiring lawyers whose careers were cut short by war called to the bar

HALIFAX — Maj. Edward Alexander Chisholm was one of the most decorated Canadian soldiers of the First World War. But on Friday he was honoured for his life before the war, when the young man from Linwood, N.S., was a law student.

With Remembrance Day only days away, the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society and the provincial judiciary formally recognized Chisholm and 10 other law students or articled clerks whose careers were cut short by the First World War, calling them to the bar posthumously.

Chisholm enrolled at Dalhousie University in Halifax to study law in 1913. However, in November 1914 he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force as an officer with the Canadian Field Artillery, heading overseas in February 1915.

During the war, he was awarded the Military Cross three times for “acts of exemplary gallantry.”

While serving with the 161st Brigade, Royal Field Artillery in France, he was killed during the last week of the war, on Nov. 7, 1918, while leading a platoon to take an enemy machine-gun post. He was 26 years old.

“He put everything on the line for what he thought was right,” his nephew, Ambrose Chisholm, said after the ceremony.

“He was born on the farm where I live today …. He got to university, then volunteered (to join the war) …. He knew what he was getting into.”

Patrick Shea, a lawyer with Gowling WLG in Toronto, has helped organize tributes similar to the Halifax ceremony across the country.

“Being called or admitted is a significant event for law students and their families,” Shea said. “It is the fulfillment of a dream …. They put aside hopes and dreams to do something that few of us can fathom today and never came back.”

Of the 650,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who served during the war, 66,000 lost their lives. About 550 of them were members of the legal profession.

Shea said he wanted to give the many would-be lawyers what the war denied them so many years ago — admission to the profession and “a final bit of closure.”

Families of seven of the men were on hand for the ceremony at the Law Courts. Some of them came forward to read each man’s oath of admission to the bar before their names were added to the roll of the Barristers’ Society.

The four other men were represented by lawyers or law students who are also members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Local organizer Rebecca Hiltz LeBlanc, a lawyer and former army reservist, said she was eager to help when she learned about Shea’s mission.

“The sacrifices that these people made — not just the 11 we’re honouring — but all these young men who were overseas, were profound,” said Hiltz LeBlanc, who served with the 36th Canadian Brigade Group in Nova Scotia.

“I have the ability to do what I do (as a lawyer) because of the sacrifices that others have made …. And their stories need to be known.”

The other men posthumously called to the bar were from towns and villages across the province, including Yarmouth, Truro, New Glasgow, Boularderie Island, Bridgewater, Granville Ferry, Londonderry, Digby and Cumberland County.

Chief Justice Deborah Smith of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court presided over the ceremony, which was part of an ongoing national tribute.

“These brave men gave up their lives so we could live in a free and democratic society,” Smith said.

Similar ceremonies were held in Ontario in 2014, Alberta in 2018 and Newfoundland and Labrador in 2016 — and one is planned for next year in Manitoba.

A less formal event was held in British Columbia, where a memorial was re-dedicated, and another event is planned for Saskatchewan.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2019.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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