First Black Lawyer in Canada
The sense of freedom gained by Blacks in
the Amherstburg region has led to major achievements by an impressive
list of individuals and stellar contributions to our entire nation.
The Walkerville Times examines the lives of some of these individuals
in an occasional series. This story is courtesy of The North American
Black Historical Museum in Amherstburg, Ontario.
James Davis, a former
slave from Virginia, relocated to Colchester Township in 1850. Determined
that his children not be enslaved by ignorance, Davis hired a private
teacher to instruct his children until a school could be built.
In order to further his
education, his son Delos worked as a deckhand on the steamer Forest
City and as a fireman on the tug Castle. Obtaining a teaching certificate,
he taught school in Gilgal, Michigan for four years before he pursued
his ambition to enter the legal profession.
In 1871, Davis was appointed
commissioner for taking affidavits. Two years later he was appointed
a notary public. But racism prevented Davis from becoming a lawyer.
It was a requirement of the Law Society of Upper Canada that individuals
studying law must article for a period of time with a lawyer prior
to taking the entrance exams for admission to the bar of Ontario.
However, no lawyer would
hire Delos Davis to article under them. For eleven years, Delos
Davis studied and practiced law at the level of legal clerk
he was prohibited from handling most legal matters not having
been admitted to membership in the Ontario bar, a "catch 22".
Versed in the law and
certain to pass the final examination of the Law Society, Davis
applied to the Ontario Legislature to pass a private members
bill to authorize him to practice as a lawyer.
The bill was introduced
by W.D. Balfour, M.P.P. for Amherstburg. On May 25, 1884, "an
act to authorize the Supreme Court of Judicature for Ontario to
admit Delos Rogest Davis to practice as a solicitor" received
This act provided that
Davis be permitted to take his final law examination in order to
obtain admission to the Law Society of Upper Canada, notwithstanding
the fact that he had not complied with the articling requirements
of the Law Society. On taking the examination, Davis stood first
in the class of thirteen candidates and was admitted to the Ontario
bar on November 15, 1886.
In the spring of 1892,
Davis and his wife, the former Nancy Jane Mitchell, moved to Amherstburg
where Davis established a law office on Ramsay Street. He also opened
an office on Goyeau Street in Windsor and soon became a noted criminal
lawyer. During his career, he was counsel in six of the leading
murder cases in the county, defending five and prosecuting one,
winning every case. Davis was also solicitor for the Town of Amherstburg
and the Townships of Anderdon and Colchester North.
On November 10, 1910,
his merits were recognized by the Ontario Government, which appointed
him a Kings Council, "the first Black so appointed in
the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the British
The eldest son of Davis
followed in his fathers footsteps. Frederick Homer Alphonso
Davis (1871-1926) became the second Black lawyer to be called to
the Ontario bar when he graduated from Osgoode Hall in 1900, joining
his father in the Amherstburg law firm of Davis and Davis. Another
son, Delos Rogest Davis, Jr. (1875-1921), became a conveyancer and
While still a law student,
assistant Crown Attorney, Lloyd Dean, great grandson of Delos, was
instrumental in establishing the Delos Rogest Davis, K.C. Memorial
Scholarship in 1990, a permanent fund available for any deserving
3rd year law student attending the University of Windsor.