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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 member’s 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 Royal Assent.

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 King’s Council, "the first Black so appointed in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the British Dominions".

The eldest son of Davis followed in his father’s 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 notary public.

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.



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