A Tribute to Justice W.A. Stevenson

A Tribute to Justice W.A. Stevenson

By Sonny Mirth

On July 7, 2021, Justice William A. Stevenson passed away. A retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Justice Stevenson was also a member of our firm until his appointment to the Bench.

Justice Stevenson graduated from the University of Alberta in Law in 1957. He joined the firm of Morrow, Morrow and Reynolds, and, after articles served under the late William G. Morrow, was called to the Bar in 1958. After a merger with the Kane Hurlburt firm in 1961, the firm became Morrow Hurlburt Reynolds Stevenson and Kane.

From our firm’s living history document:

During the period from 1961 to 1975, as well as engaging in a wide range of practice, he quickly established himself as senior counsel, with a great ability to penetrate the depths of difficult fact situations and illuminate solutions, as well as a great ability as counsel in litigation. He is remembered as a lawyers’ lawyer, “kind, generous, giver of good advice and knowledgeable”.

In his practicing years, Bill was a key mover in the development of continuing education programs for lawyers, working extensively with the development of the Legal Education Society of Alberta and serving often as a guest lecturer. That educator role he carried on, even after appointment to the Bench, in the development of education programs for judges.

In 1959, William Morrow and William Stevenson appeared as counsel before the Privy Council in the last case taken to that Court from Canada. A photo from that occasion (pictured in this post) sits in our main board room, the Stevenson Room.

Justice Stevenson was a mentor to many members of our firm, including others who have taken roles in the Courts as judges: Justice Jean Cote, Justice Rob Graesser and Judge Allan Lefever.

While in 1968, Justice Stevenson left the practice of law and joined the University of Alberta Faculty of Law as a professor, he returned to the firm in 1970 and continued to practise with us until 1975. In that time, he was also a special mentor and friend to current members of the firm, including Sonny Mirth and Allan Farmer (who have paid forward that mentorship to many partners and associates). He taught as a sessional lecturer at the University’s Law School for over 30 years as well: — a mentor to many law students.

In 1975 William was appointed a judge of the District Court of Alberta. In 1979, upon the amalgamation of the District Court with the Trial Division of the Supreme Court, he became a justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench. In 1980 he was appointed to the Alberta Court of Appeal. (He also served on the courts for Yukon and the Northwest Territories.) In 1990 he was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Justice Stevenson was awarded an honorary LLD from the University of Alberta in 1992 and the Order of Canada in 1996.

Justice Stevenson’s obituary as well as a piece from the CBC honour his legacy both in his career and outside of it. Not only an impressive jurist, he was a devoted husband, father, grandfather and friend.

Much of our reputation as a firm of lawyers with academic strength, a true love of the law, and with values which include legal excellence, strong work ethic, and a culture of respect and integrity, is a legacy to a substantial degree handed down by our valued friend and former colleague. He will be missed.