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About CBA


In 1982, the Calgary Bar Association, at the urging of the then Chief Justice W.A. (Bill) McGillivray, took steps to proceed with the assembling of an oral history of the Southern Alberta Bench and Bar. This project led to the commissioning of book and the selection of noted historical writer James H. Gray as its author. In 1987, Talk to My Lawyer! - Great Stories of Southern Alberta & Bar and Bench (Hurtig Publishers) was published and copies provided to all members of the Calgary Bar Association. In his preface to Talk to My Lawyer!, James Gray describes the process leading up to his selection as follows:

The project began with a series of dinner meetings hosted by leaders of the bar at which efforts were concentrated on recalling some of the more hilarious misadventures of the professions eminent, and not-so-eminent, practitioners - tales, for example, of hunting trip misadventures and court-room collisions. As meeting followed meeting, the same stories kept resurfacing in varying guises. Like the one about the leading barrister who doubled as a pig farmer and occasionally brought a pig to market in the back seat of his car. Once, at an Eighth Avenue traffic light the pig escaped and the barrister's appearance in court was both delayed and significantly disarranged by his long and frustrating chase after the absconding porker. And then there was the saga of the judge’s hunting dog that was left unattended in the judge’s office over a long weekend with outrageous consequences, both to the dog and the office furnishings...

The reminiscences of the profession’s senior citizenry gradually altered the focus of the oral history project, from lawyer interrelationships to the influence southern Alberta lawyers have exerted on the growth of Calgary and Alberta. It was a Calgary lawyer, for example, who almost single-handedly converted Eighth Avenue Calgary from a crude strip of frame shacks into a commercial rialto of brick and sandstone. It was a group of Calgary lawyers who launched the first successful oil company. Later on, Calgary lawyers and a Calgary judge devised the first comprehensive plan to regulate the production and distribution of crude oil and natural gas. It was in a Calgary police court where the first skirmish was fought in the national crusade for equal rights for women. And, it was in the Calgary court house where the conscription crisis of 1918 brought the military authority into near-violent confrontation with the civil authority.

James Gray’s description of the project is consistent with the character of the Calgary Bar Association. The undertaking started with “dinner meetings” at which stories were told. Those present at the “meetings” appeared to have great difficulty remembering and recording the tales recounted at these events, making it necessary to hire a professional to capture these vignettes before the memories of the attendees faded altogether.

The Calgary Bar Association was established on May 12, 1890 by Peter McCarthy, J.B. Smith, E.P. Davis, T.B. Lafferty, Patrick J. (Paddy) Nolan, Arthur L. Sifton, J.R. Costigan, E. Cave, Nicolas Beck, T.C. West, John C.F. Bown, John P.J. Jephson and W.L. Bernard. The stated purposes of the Association were to cultivate a feeling of professional brotherhood, discuss various matters affecting the interests of the profession, and take united action thereon.

The earliest incorporating documents that have been located are"The Constitution", dated December 4, 1916, in which the following seven Calgary lawyers created “The Calgary Bar Association” under the Ordinance Respecting Benevolent and Other Societies (being Chapter 66 of the Consolidated Ordinances of the North West Territories): Edgar Alexander Dunbar, Henry Phipps Otty Savary, Alexander Hannah, George Abram Walker, Charles Frederick Adams, Walter Donald Gow and Henry Darney Mann.

The Constitution appointed these seven gentlemen as the first Council of Trustees of the Association, set annual dues of One Dollar and required the Association to meet annually in the month of November at such time and place as the Council may select. Article 9 provided that the President shall open each annual meeting with “an address upon such topic as he may select”.

Article 2 declares that:

The objects of the Association shall be to advance the interests of the legal profession, uphold the honour of the profession of law and encourage cordial intercourse among its members.

While the membership dues have steadily increased over the last century, the Association has carried on the tradition of having its Annual “Meeting” each November. In keeping with the nature of the Association, business is efficiently conducted from 4:00 to 4:02, with the remainder of the time devoted to socializing. The requirement that the President address the assembled members died a merciful death decades ago and any President attempting a speech that extends beyond “Ladies and Gentlemen, the bar is now open” risks serious bodily injury.