Five things you didn't know about the Schulich School of Law

A "Know Your Dal" feature

- September 9, 2015

The law school's commemorative stamp, issued in 1983.
The law school's commemorative stamp, issued in 1983.

For more than 130 years, Dalhousie University’s law school has been known for being the first university-based common law school in Canada, and for its reputation for high academic and professional standards and commitment to unselfish public service.

But did you also know…

* number includes JD and grad students
** number includes employees at the Sir James Dunn Law Library and Dalhousie Legal Aid Service

1) The law school has its own postage stamp

The law school’s 100th anniversary celebrations in 1983 were marked in part by the release of a 32-cent commemorative stamp. Designed by Denise Saulnier of Halifax, Canada Post printed 18 million of the brilliantly blue lithographed stamps, which came out on October 28, 1983. That same day was a special Dalhousie convocation attended by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (who received an honorary degree at the ceremony), Chief Justice of Canada Bora Laskin, and Law grad and Chief Justice of Nova Scotia Constance Glube (who also received an honorary degree that day).

2) The law school has been called a “brain-export factory”

In describing the influence of the law school on Canada over the years, commentators have called it: “the training school of a nation," a “training ground of premiers” and, as described by Maclean’s in 1954, "the brainiest school in the country." Wrote David MacDonald: “So many prime ministers, provincial premiers, chief justices, MPs and millionaires been turned out by Dalhousie Law School that it’s become famous as Nova Scotia’s biggest brain-export factory.”

More recently, legal scholar Wesley Pue writes that: “‘Dalhousie’ serves as a sort of code-word among legal educators in Canada, much as ‘Harvard’ does in the United States of America. It invokes a vision of intellectually ambitious, rigorous, and scholarly approaches to education for the profession of law.”

Flattering labels aside, the lifeblood that that runs through the school is professors’ and students’ commitment to participating in the national life of Canada. Many Canadian leaders have studied at the Schulich School of Law, including prime ministers and elected officials, a few of which include: RB Bennett, Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark, Anne McLellan, John Crosbie, Danny Williams, Darrell Dexter, Peter Milliken, Jim Prentice, Megan Leslie, Geoff Regan, Peter MacKay and Elizabeth May.

3) The faculty, students, and staff who work and study in the Weldon Law Building are commonly called “Weldonites”

The name is an affectionate tribute to the law school’s first dean, Richard Chapman Weldon, who co-founded the Faculty of Law at Dalhousie in 1883 and made an enduring impression on his students and on the school.

In his years as Dean (1883-1914), Weldon was also a Member of Parliament (1887-96), and out of his idealistic approach to public affairs, his elegant and rigorous legal teaching, and his easy-going, open-door policy with students emerged what became known as “The Weldon Tradition.” The Law Student Handbook of 1975-76 (at pp 4-5) described it this way:

The Weldon Tradition is one of public service. It implies that graduates of this law school are more than ordinarily willing to work and serve to improve the communities in which they practice as lawyers. It implies that one of the essentials of being a lawyer is the ability to make an effort to improve the system under which s/he lives. It is, in brief, a tradition of concern, of change, and of humanity.

4) The law school is the sixth “Schulich” school

Known for his philanthropy, Sir Seymour Schulich is a champion of higher education in Canada, and his donations have led to the creation of the Schulich schools in Business (York), Medicine & Dentistry (Western Ontario), Engineering (Calgary), Music (McGill), Education (Nipissing) and, in 2009, the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie (with the support of a gift that was, at the time, the largest of its kind ever made to a Canadian law school). Speaking to Dal News in 2009, the Toronto-based billionaire explained that he doesn’t give money for buildings; he gives money to students with the aim of making higher education more accessible.

5) The law school has long worked to be a place where everyone feels they belong

The law school’s path to creating a collegial, diverse, and inclusive culture includes stories that are both inspiring and difficult, and encourage us to keep working to “improve the system under which [we] live”. Among many others, these stories include:

  • James Robinson Johnston, a brilliant student who, at 16, enrolled at Dalhousie, and later, Dalhousie Law School. Graduating in 1896 with a Bachelor of Letters and in 1898 with a Bachelor of Laws, he was the first member of Nova Scotia’s Black community to earn a law degree and graduate from university. (Dal now hosts a Black Canadian Studies Chair in his name.)
  • Frances Fish, who was the first woman to enter the law school in 1915 and the first woman to graduate in 1918. She was also the first woman to be admitted to the Bar of Nova Scotia.
  • George Tamaki, who applied to the law school in 1938. At that time, British Columbia prohibited Japanese-Canadians from being members of the Bar, and he looked to Dalhousie to study law. A meeting was planned with the Dean and members of the Nova Scotia Bar to discuss the matter. Standing on principle, two Dalhousie law school professors threatened to quit in protest if Tamaki wasn’t allowed to enroll. The meeting never happened. George was admitted, graduated at the top of his class in 1941, and went on to become one of the foremost tax practitioners in Canada.
  • The Indigenous Blacks & Mi’kmaq (IB&M) Initiative, which was created in 1989 to increase access to legal education and the legal profession and address racism in the justice system. Donald Marshall Jr. was wrongly arrested, charged, convicted and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit in 1971. His story became a catalyst for addressing systemic racism in the justice system — via the Marshall Inquirty: The Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall Jr. Prosecution and the creation of the IB&M Initiative. Over the years, the initiative has won many accolades for its work to promote equality in the legal community in Canada, including the Canadian Bar Association’s Touchstone Award, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation’s Award of Excellence, and the Canadian Bar Association’s Law Day Award.

Learn more about the Schulich School of Law at its website.

This article is part of "Know Your Dal," a 13-week series highlighting Dal's academic community. For more, including additional content from this week's profiled faculty, the Schulich School of Law, visit



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