Law Society marks end of J.S. Denison Fund

Posted: 12/02/2014


John Shirley Denison, KC (1870-1951) / Photographer: T.J. Leatherdale

A bequest from a former Law Society Treasurer has met its mandate after decades of helping hundreds of in-need law students, lawyers and their families.

The last grant from the J.S. Denison Fund was approved at November Convocation. All the money has been distributed and the Fund is now closed.

The bequest

The J.S. Denison Fund was established under the terms of the will of John Shirley Denison, KC, who served as Treasurer for three terms from 1944 to 1947. His will contained the following provision:

“my Trustee shall…pay to or deliver to the Law Society of Upper Canada the residue of my estate the same to be applied from time to time by the Treasurer and Benchers and both as to capital and income as they may see fit for the relief of impoverished or indigent members of the Law Society and of their wives widows and children, including among such wives widows and children those of any member of the Law Society who may have been disbarred or suspended.”

The generous provisions of Mr. Denison’s bequest provided financial support for many lawyers in the years prior to the development of a reliable social security safety net.

In the modern era of government provided social programs, the resources of the Denison Fund were often used for lawyers in crisis in conjunction with the member assistance programs maintained by the profession. For instance, people with substance abuse issues were assisted with treatment and have been able to resume their careers.

Denison’s life and work

Born in Montréal in 1870, Denison attended Upper Canada College in Toronto, and then Osgoode Hall Law School. He was called to the Ontario Bar in 1892 and was made King’s Counsel in 1910, under George V. He was elected a bencher of the Law Society in 1931, and was re-elected in 1936, ‘41 and ‘46. Denison served as chairman of the Legal Education Committee from 1936 until 1944, when he was elected Treasurer. He was made a life bencher in 1946.

Mr. Denison practised law in Toronto with Angus MacMurchy, K.C., under the name of MacMurchy & Denison, for more than 40 years. They were solicitors for the Canadian Pacific Railway and jointly produced a number of volumes on railway law. Denison was also on the staff of Osgoode Hall Law School from 1910 to 1925, lecturing on wills, property and conveyancing.

Death and tribute

Mr. Denison died in 1951. Convocation’s Special Committee on Memorial paid tribute to him, saying:

“Convocation records with sincere regret the death, on the 28th of June 1951, at Toronto, of Mr. John Shirley Denison, KC. … Mr. Denison gave long and useful service to The Law Society of Upper Canada, he won the respect and esteem of his fellow benchers, his clients, his associates and the large number of students-at-law who sat under him during the many years he lectured at the Law School. [He] enjoyed a high and enviable reputation as a Counsel, and was actively engaged in the practice of his profession until a few days before his death…

“His devotion to his profession and The Law Society of Upper Canada is evidenced by the fact that under the terms of his Will the residue of his estate…passes to The Law Society for the relief of indigent Barristers and Solicitors and their families, and this to include the families of those persons who may have been struck off our Rolls.

“By his death, the profession lost a valued and esteemed Member and one who typified its highest traditions.”

Mr. Denison’s Treasurer’s portrait is hung in the corridor outside the north entrance to the bencher’s quarters, with a plaque describing his bequest.

Since 2000, the Fund has paid a total of $432,000 to 134 applicants.