'A piece of closure:' Law students killed in WWI called to bar 100 years later

CALGARY — John William Gow Logan had one course and some articling to complete before becoming a lawyer, but his death in the First World War left his dream unfinished.

The son of Manitoba homesteaders enlisted as a private in the 50th Battalion in 1915 and within months was promoted to corporal. He was killed on the last day of the Battle of the Somme in France on Nov. 18, 1916 — a month shy of his 30th birthday.

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Logan is one of 37 aspiring lawyers to be posthumously admitted to the bar in a ceremony Friday at the Calgary Courts Centre ahead of the 100-year anniversary of the armistice ending the conflict.

Logan's great-niece Leslie Lavers, along with her daughter and some cousins, planned to be in the ceremonial courtroom for his bar call.

"It's a piece of closure," she said. "It brings him back and it puts him to rest all at the same time."

Lavers never knew her "great-uncle Gow," but she learned a lot about him from his eight siblings who lived into their 80s and 90s.

"The shadow of his death lasted with them until their own deaths."

Letters Logan sent during the war were witty and cheerful, always seeking to ease the worries of his loved ones, she said. In one, he complains to his sister: "There are far too many lice and they are far too affectionate for my liking."

Keith Marlowe with the Legal Archives Society of Alberta said that every November the profession recognizes members who died serving. But when law students' names are read, there has always been the caveat that they were "never called."

"But for the war, all of these students would have gone on to become lawyers and they would have given back to the Alberta legal community," said Marlowe, a partner at Blakes, Cassels and Graydon.

"We wanted to make sure they were treated in the same way, on the same footing, with the same recognition as the Alberta lawyers who also perished in the war."

The families of 13 students have been tracked down. Of those, relatives of six planned to attend, Marlowe said.

The gallery in Calgary's ceremonial courtroom seats 350, but Marlowe said he was expecting so many people that he was looking into an overflow room days before the ceremony.

Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Mary Moreau, associate chief Justice John Rooke and Justice Blair Nixon are to preside as the would-be lawyers are called in two groups of 12 and one group of 13.

Relatives and current law students are to take oaths and sign certificates on their behalf.

Organizers credit Patrick Shea, a partner at Gowlings in Toronto who was in the reserves, with making the ceremony possible.

Shea has devoted much of his spare time to digging through historical records and amassing details on the 550 Canadian lawyers and law students killed during the First World War.

"The sacrifice they gave is well worth the sacrifice and time that I gave," he said.

A posthumous bar call was held in 2014 for Ontario law students killed in the First World War and there was one for the Second World War dead last year. Newfoundland and Labrador has had a similar tribute, and Shea said he hopes law societies in other provinces follow suit.

Shea said one law firm in Ontario had to close during the Great War because everyone there enlisted. He said so many Canadians in the profession signed up to fight overseas because it was seen as the right thing to do.

"That's what lawyers do. We defend causes."

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