Biography of Hon. Vice Chancellor Proudfoot

Prominent among the names of eminent men at present occupying the Judicial Bench in the Province of Ontario, is that of the subject of this sketch. William Proudfoot is a native of Perthshire, Scotland, where he was born in the year 1823, and is the third son of the late Rev. William Proudfoot, of London, Ontario. His mother was Isabella Aitchison from the vicinity of Edinburgh, Scotland. The Rev. William Proudfoot was one of the first missionaries to Canada, of the United Secession Church, and came to this country in 1832, settling near London, Ontario, in 1833. Here he organized a church, and later instituted several others in the adjoining neighborhood. These latter churches, as the population increased, obtained pastors of their own, but Mr. Proudfoot remained in charge of the one in London until his death in 1851. In Scotland he had been a Whig in politics, and after a short experience of the state of affairs in Canada, he adopted the views of the Reformers, to which he continued steadily though unostentatiously attached. During the troublous time of 1839, his well known opinions on public matters exposed him to some annoyances, but did not change his views. He was succeeded as pastor of the church in London, by his second son, now the Rev. Dr. Proudfoot.

The present Vice-Chancellor received his education at home from his father, in the intervals of other occupations, and in 1844, he entered the Law Society as a student, and studied in the office of Messrs. Blake and Morrison, the former of whom was the late Chancellor, and the latter is the present Mr. Justice Morrison of the Court of Appeal. He was called to the Bar in 1849, and practiced his profession in Toronto for about two years in partnership with the late Charles Jones. In 1851 he was appointed the first Master and Deputy-Registrar of the Court of Chancery in Hamilton; resigned this position three years later to enter into partnership with Messrs. Freeman and Craigie a connection which continued until 1872, after which he practised alone until he was appointed Vice-Chancellor, in the room of Mr. Strong, transferred to the Court of Appeal, in 1874: In 1872 Mr. Proudfoot was appointed a Queen’s Counsel with several others by the Ontario Government, but he was one of two who declined a confirmation of the appointment by the Dominion Government.

The Vice-Chancellor has been twice married, first in 1853, to Miss Thomson, daughter of the late Mr. John Thomson, of Toronto, by whom he has surviving five daughters and one son. She died in 1871, and he was married the second time, in 1875, to Miss Cook, daughter of the late Mr. Adam Cook, of Hamilton; she died in 1878 leaving him one son.

At the time of his appointment as Vice-Chancellor, Mr. Proudfoot was and had been for many years a Reformer in politics, but since then he is attached to no party. In religion he has adhered to the faith in which he was brought up, and has followed the secession church in its various unions and coalitions, being at present a member of the Canada Presbyterian denomination, and worships in Knox Church, Toronto.

Although enjoying a fair practice while at the Bar, it was chiefly confined to the Court of Equity, which does not give occasion in general for suits of much public or general interest, and therefore Mr. Proudfoot’s career as an advocate was not such a one as was calculated to bring him very prominently before the public as a great lawyer. He had an extensive knowledge of the law, being particularly well versed in that bearing upon his practice, and many of the cases in which he was engaged, were important enough to those concerned but not such as excite public interest and comment. From one well acquainted with his career, and capable of judging of his merits, we gather that he was a very diligent student of the laws, particularly devoting himself to the study of Equity and the Roman Civil Law. Although not so often before the Court as were many of his predecessors, yet no Judge in the Court of Chancery in Ontario, ever, while at the Bar, more thoroughly mastered the principles of Equity Jurisprudence. Being an excellent classical and French scholar, he read with as much ease as though printed in English, those treatises in the Latin and French languages, which deal with the principles which underlie every system of Law, but more particularly that which is called in question in Courts of Equity. His appointment to the Vice-Chancellorship was well received by those of the profession who knew the sterling qualities which characterized him while at the Bar, and since his ascension to the Bench, he has not given over the study of the laws, but has applied himself with renewed vigor to the perfecting of his knowledge of the many subjects with which he as Vice-Chancellor has to deal, and has quite justified the choice of the Hon. Edward Blake upon whose recommendation his appointment was made. While his want of experience as leading counsel sometimes leads him to hesitate in dealing with questions of fact, he is never at a loss to expound a legal proposition or to apply it to the facts, when these are ascertained. He is very careful in his examination of the authorities bearing upon a question, and the counsel engaged in a case before him know that their arguments will always receive the best consideration of the Judge, to whom they are addressed. His style in the writing of his decisions is excellent. Seldom in any country and from any Bench are heard more beautiful or lucid judgments. Indeed it is not too much to say, that, among the many masters of our language who have from time to time presided, and who still preside, in our Courts of Justice, Vice-Chancellor Proudfoot occupies a very high place. His manner upon the Bench is quiet, but dignified, and very courteous, and he is respected and honored alike by his associates and the members of the Bar.



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