Seventy Years of Civil Law at the University of Ottawa

On July 29, 1949, in the newspaper Le Droit : the Rector of the University of Ottawa, Father Jean-Charles Laframboise, announced the founding of a Faculty of Law at the University. Noting that “the University wishes to endow our Capital with a great school of civics at a time when our country foresees extraordinary developments”. The Rector then proposed the main aims of this future Faculty, including those to train enlightened leaders, to prepare them to face up to the major problems of national and international public life, and to contribute to the study of comparative law, in particular comparative civil law, at the junction of two cultures, where this heart and center penetrates two major heterogeneous legal systems.  

Four years later… September 1953, 28 students, including two women, attended the very first course at the Faculty of Law, held at the time in the former offices of the Catholic Centre. Could these students have imagined that, 70 years later, thousands of others would follow in their footsteps at this very Faculty?

Let’s take a look back. It was thanks to a Quebec legislative amendment in February 1953 that the Barreau du Québec recognized law studies at Ottawa’s new Faculty of Law. A few months later, the Chambre des notaires adopted the same position. The long-awaited start had finally been made!  

Under the responsibility of the Faculty’s first Dean, Supreme Court of Canada Justice Gérald Fauteux, and Associate Dean Paul Ste-Marie, the students in this first cohort were taught by 4 professors, including two from France, Pierre Azard and Jacques Flour, and their Quebec colleagues Rodrigue Bédard and Georges Caron. Other great French professors, such as Georges Levasseur and Henri Mazeaud, also came to teach during the Faculty’s early years. As did Justice Robert Taschereau, who would become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1963.  

June 1956: the Faculty’s first 22 law degrees were awarded, including to the two students who were part of the initial group. 

The following year, Germain Brière became the first graduate of the Faculty to become a career professor. Léo Ducharme, a graduate of the second class, also joined the young faculty in 1958. Both would shape large swathes of Quebec civil law doctrine over the course of their careers.  

 In 1957, the Faculty inaugurated a graduate program and launched the renowned Centre de droit comparé. At the same time, the Faculty of Common Law opened its doors, making the Faculty of Law a unique place in Canada where the two great legal systems, civil law and common law, would be taught under one roof.

Behind these many dates, the names of some of the Faculty’s pioneers deserve to be recalled, as well as those of others who have marked its evolution.

Starting with Pierre Azard, who is surely one of the Faculty’s main architects. Professor of civil law and prolific author,   

Jean-Paul Lallier, who graduated from the Faculty in 1960 and is a former minister and mayor of Quebec City, wrote of his former professor Azard that, for him, “law was above all a rigorous intellectual training”, and that he told them that the Faculty’s aim was “to make jurists of you, people who understand the law, its origins, its evolution, its nature and its meaning”. 

Pierre Azard succeeded Judge Fauteux as Dean of the Faculty in 1962. Esteemed by students, see how his arrival at the Faculty as the new Dean was greeted! 

Gérald Beaudoin, of the first graduate studies cohort in 1958, professor of constitutional law. Dean of the Faculty for 11 years. An outstanding communicator, he made the Faculty of Law known from coast to coast through his media appearances and his involvement in Canadian public life.

Viateur Bergeron, Professor of Civil Procedure. Director, among other things, of the multidisciplinary JURIVOC project to create a bilingual legal vocabulary using computerized means. Viateur Bergeron was Dean of the Faculty and Bâtonnier of the Quebec Bar.

Donat Pharand, renowned professor of international law and world specialist in the law of the sea. 

Alain-François Bisson, professor of civil law and philosophy of law.  Freethinker, man of ideas and fine analysis.

Louis Perret, professor of civil law, passionate about exchanges with South America. Co-founder of JuriGlobe with Professor Bisson. Former Dean of the Faculty. 

And, without falling into misplaced vanity, it should be noted that with the appointment of one of our graduates, Justice Richard Wagner, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, there are now, along with Justices Fauteux and Taschereau, 3 Chief Justices of that Court who have been closely associated with the Faculty of Civil Law.

From this hitherto all-male list, we must highlight the important contribution of women who have also left their mark on the Faculty:  

Francine Lefebvre-Landry, notary, who was the Faculty’s first female career professor, starting in 1965.

Jeanne-d’Arc Vaillant, who was the first female professor to hold an administrative position in the Faculty’s management.

Nathalie DesRosiers, the first woman to become Dean of the Faculty, and who, during her deanship, breathed new life and energy into the Faculty. 

A source of inspiration for the two deans who succeeded her: Céline Lévesque, herself a graduate of the Faculty and a woman of action and conviction. And current Dean Marie-Ève Sylvestre, whose visionary talents are well known. As proof, she was the driving force behind the conception of the recent Certificate in Indigenous Law and, above all, the recognition of these legal orders within the faculty, which has thus moved from bijuralism to multijuralism. In all, 13 deans have guided the Faculty’s evolution over the past 70 years.

We could add the hundred-plus career professors who, promotion after promotion, have taught cutting-edge courses and published research that has advanced the law. As well as the even greater number of lecturers, jurists from the region and beyond, who have shared their professional expertise with students.  

And, let’s not forget, a competent and dedicated administrative and support staff who have always been at the service of the entire Fauteux community.  

But we can’t conclude this brief history of the Faculty without mentioning what has been, and remains, at its heart: its friendly, even festive atmosphere, which has enabled thousands of students from all parts of Quebec, Ontario and abroad to forge lasting bonds of friendship, even love, during their years at the Faculty.

Whether it was at the first Law Faculty Ball, held at the Château Laurier on October 25, 1956, then presented as “a gathering (…) where each would prove to be a ‘master’ in the very subtle art of sociability and fraternization”, or during the famous PBH, which for many years brightened up the student carnival, revealing the imagination and undeniable artistic talents of our students, or, more recently, at the Gala du grand Maillet, a grandiose ceremony that, in the final analysis, comes close to the Bal du Château Laurier in the elegance of its participants, student life has always infused the Faculty of Civil Law with an incomparable dynamism, which every graduating class recalls with pleasure.   

And, it’s true, students of all generations have to…study, especially as exams approach, when the Faculty Library becomes the perfect place to dissipate stress and nervousness. 

On a more serious note, we can say it loud and clear…Fauteux students are the best! 

In 1949, former Rector Laframboise wrote that one of the main objectives in founding the Faculty of Law was “to ensure for the University of Ottawa the prestige and preponderant role to which it is entitled by right and tradition”. On the occasion of the Faculty’s 70th anniversary, it is clearly not for us to assess whether this bold goal has been achieved.

However, we can say that the tireless work of our founders and foundresses has inspired thousands of talented jurists who, year after year, and in as many fields and countries as one can imagine, give us the pride and emulation to continue the adventure begun in 1953.

We are all grateful to them. 

Exactly 70 years ago, in September 1953, an extraordinary event left an indelible mark on the academic landscape of the Canadian capital: the birth of the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa. This prestigious institution was the culmination of the shared vision of Father Jean-Charles Laframboise and Supreme Court of Canada Justice Gérard Fauteux, who, as early as 1949, worked to establish Canada’s capital as the home of a “great school of civics” dedicated to teaching and researching civil law. The establishment of the Faculty took five years of relentless effort, and this year, we celebrate the 70th opening of a new academic year.

The history of the Civil Law Section at the University of Ottawa is punctuated with remarkable figures, including eminent professors and 13 visionary deans. Their dedication and audacity have played a pivotal role in shaping the exceptional institution we know today. Furthermore, generations of students from all regions of Quebec and beyond have infused the Faculty with a friendly and energetic atmosphere, marked by memorable events such as the very first Faculty Ball, the unforgettable Student Carnival, and more recently, the prestigious Grand Maillet Gala.

This slideshow, authored and narrated by Professor Denis Nadeau and produced by Étienne Trépanier, was presented during the 2023 formal opening of classes. In this 70th-anniversary year, we warmly invite all friends of the Faculty of Law, Civil Law Section, to celebrate its essential role within the University of Ottawa and Canadian society. The founders of the Faculty, along with all those who have carried on their legacy, have over the years contributed to the education of talented legal professionals whose impact on the evolution of the law remains tangible.

Together, let’s celebrate 70 years of excellence within the Civil Law Section at the University of Ottawa as we eagerly look forward to writing the next 30 years of its illustrious history.

Official opening of the 2023 school year

Watch the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Civil Law’s 2023 Official Opening Ceremony, during which the slide show on the Faculty’s history was presented.

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