“A Cold-Blooded Effort to Bolster up the
Legal Profession”: The Battle Between
Lawyers and Notaries in
British Columbia, 1871–1930
Notaries in British Columbia have managed to retain authority to offer to the public legal services that, in other Canadian jurisdictions (except for Quebec), have been arrogated to the exclusive domain of lawyers. A conceptual framework of professionalization and inter-professional rivalry developed by Anne Witz can be applied to the battles that took place between lawyers and notaries in British Columbia from 1871 to 1930. By the late 1920s, it appeared as though lawyers were winning the battle, when they moved the dispute from the Legislative Assembly to the courts. Les notaires de la Colombie-Britannique ont réussi à conserver l’autorité sur l’offre de services juridiques que les avocats se sont arrogés ailleurs au Canada (sauf au Québec). Un cadre conceptuel de professionnalisation et de rivalité inter-professionnelle mis au point par Anne Witz peut être appliqué aux batailles que se sont livrées les avocats et les notaires de la Colombie-Britannique de 1871 à 1930. À la fin des années 20, les avocats semblaient remporter la bataille lorsqu’ils transportèrent le conflit de l’assemblée législative aux tribunaux.
DESPITE THEIR LOW numbers,1 notaries in British Columbia have managed to maintain the right to provide services which have, in many other 1
* Joan Brockman is professor in the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University. An early version of this paper was presented at the Canadian Law and Society meetings in Calgary, June 13, 1994. The assistance of staff at the British Columbia Archives and Records Service and of Bernice Chong at the Legal Archives of British Columbia is gratefully acknowledged. The author is also grateful to Shelly Devon (Cook), Rita Karajaoja, Valeria Rubinyi, Kerry O’Flannagan, and Andrea Wareham for their research assistance, Dr. Bernard Hoeter for sharing his experiences as a notary, and V. Gordon Rose and two anonymous reviewers for their comments. 1 The number of possible notaries in British Columbia was fixed by statute in 1981 at 322, at a time when there were 4,500 lawyers in the province. However, in 1929 Edmund C. Senkler, secretary of the Law Society, swore an affidavit In the Matter of the Application for Enrollment as a Notary Public by Mr. John Alexander Stewart stating that there were 1,000 notaries, compared to 600 lawyers, in British Columbia. British Columbia Archives and Records Service (hereafter BCARS), MSS 948, series VIII, vol. 43, file 43, affidavit sworn June 25, 1929. It is possible that the number of notaries was exaggerated. Bernard Hoeter discovered that the 1950 list of 800 notaries was
210 Histoire sociale / Social History
jurisdictions, been arrogated to the exclusive domain of lawyers.2 Today, notaries in British Columbia, following a Notary Preparation Course of 15 to 18 months by distance education and statutory examinations,3 are allowed to conduct real estate transactions, prepare mortgage and refinancing documents, draft wills, attest signatures, administer oaths and affidavits, take statutory declarations, authenticate copies of documents, draft business contracts and builders’ liens, and prepare powers of attorney.4 In other meaningless because the “registrar duly recorded all new commissions but the list implied that notaries neither retired, resigned nor died”. Bernard Hoeter, “Signed, Sealed and Delivered: A Short History of Notaries, Scribes, Tabellios and Scriveners and other Learned Men of Public Faith Together with a Practical Review of the Evolution of Law and Notarial Procedure in Particular in Connection with the Development of Western Civilization as we Know it Today for the Benefit of Notarial Candidates and Other Interested Readers” (unpublished manuscript, Vancouver, 1991), p. 198. How the number of notaries came to be fixed at 322 in 1981 is discussed elsewhere: Joan...
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