654 V O L . 7 5 P A R T 5 S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 7 THE ADVOCATE
Begbie Award because in June 2017 the Law Society announced three new
awards to celebrate excellence in the legal profession: the Law Society
Excellence in Family Law Award, the Law Society Award for Leadership in
Legal Aid and the Law Society Diversity and Inclusion Award. Implicit in
this announcement is the removal not only of the statue of Begbie but also
of the Begbie Award.
When the Honourable Martin R. Taylor, Q.C., received the Begbie Award
in 1998, he had a few things to say about Begbie and the statue he was presented
This splendid statue of Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, conducting a trial on
horseback, is a reminder to us all that the common law did not come to
British Columbia behind the iron horse up the band of steel from central
Canada; it came here many years earlier, before Canada was born,
through the Roaring Forties and around the Cape, directly from its birthplace
in the person of this enlightened and most adventurous judge.
Soon after my appointment I was sent to Nelson on my first assize. I
checked into a hotel in a converted garage and asked the way to the dining
room. I was told it was closed on Sundays, but I might find something to
eat up the street at Mr. Mike’s. While munching on fast food, I wondered
what an English judge would think—no trumpeters or pikemen, no judicial
lodgings, cook or butler, claret or port. Then I thought of Matthew Baillie
Begbie, riding through the rain along ridges less than two feet wide,
cooking, sleeping and conducting trials in the open. What would Judge
Begbie have said of my situation, I wondered. “Pretty soft,” I thought.
Later I read the splendid biography of Chief Justice Begbie by David
Williams, a contemporary account of Begbie conducting a trial just as he
is shown here—on horseback. While he was so doing, the enterprising
folk who brought camels to the Cariboo hove into view with their ornery
beasts. Horses, understandably, hate camels, and Begbie’s mount took
off, precipitating an unscheduled adjournment and carrying the judge
deep into the bush. The author mentions, too, an occasion when commissioners
sent out to find the 49th parallel met Begbie returning from
assize. All proceeded down the Fraser in canoes, the judge leading them
in rending the peace of the primeval forest—to the astonishment of the
First Nations on the bank—singing such songs as “Ever of Thee”, “Uncle
Ned” and “Who’s That Knocking at the Door?”!
Were Matthew Begbie to learn how assizes are conducted here today, I
rather think now his reaction would be: “How dull!”
How dull, in our view, that the Law Society did not choose to contextualize
Chief Justice Begbie in its lobby. In Begbie’s story is the origin of the
province itself and the introduction of the English common law to British
Columbia. In his story are the attempts of a 19th-century adventurer to reconcile
his own world with that of the Indigenous cultures he encountered.
At times he succeeded and at other times he appears to have failed. Is this
not a foundation upon which to build the ongoing story of reconciliation?