Saturday Night… Live

  • April 01, 2015
  • Tony Wilson

BarTalk Nothing Official By Tony Wilson

UVic Law’s 40th was more fun than a Bassomatic

It all started with a cryptic note rather than a voicemail. I was in a hurry. My assistant was in a hurry. Everybody had deadlines. I was frazzled. “Can you give a speech… 40th anniversary... Saturday Night… Live.” Finally, I thought… Lorne Michaels has read my BarTalk columns! Maybe he saw my article in Canadian Lawyer about Conrad Black and the Carter decision (and Lord Black’s public takedown of me). Maybe Lorne saw me play The Black Knight in Spamalot a few years back and erroneously decided I was way funnier than Advocate Editor Michael Bain.

Tony WilsonA millisecond later, my dreams of performing Bassomatic with Dan Aykroyd, King Tut with Steve Martin, the Killer Bees, and other sketches that may or may not have involved cheeseburgers, Pepsi, sharks and more cowbell for SNL’s 40th Anniversary evaporated in a puff of reality.

In fact, I was asked to speak at the 40th Anniversary of the UVic Law School at that “other job” I very happily do. (And yes, I was embellishing the above story for comic relief.)

The speech caused me to reflect on what a great place it was to get a law degree from, and how memorable my own experience was there. When the UVic Law School was established in 1975, the university itself had around 6,000 students. The new Law School operated from the McPherson Library. When I moved back to Victoria in 1980 after getting my BA in Ontario, UVic Law had undergone a huge transformation. A big faculty. A fabulous reputation. Clinical terms like “The Law Centre.” New teaching methods. In many ways it was (and still is) one of Canada’s most innovative law schools; boldly going where none had gone before. Indeed, UVic Law regularly comes out on top of law school surveys, ranking it among Canada’s finest.

Fast forward 40 years. By 2015, UVic had close to 20,000 full-time and part-time students. It’s become one of Canada’s leading universities and widely recognized for leadership in research, inspired teaching and community engagement; all while being less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean. That’s a big attraction for people in all sorts of disciplines from across Canada, even law students.

When I entered UVic Law School in 1982, a brand-new building had been built, subsequently renamed The Murray and Anne Fraser building in honour of our wonderful founding Dean, Murray Fraser and his wife Anne. Murray passed away, sadly, in 1997. His bad ties were the stuff of legend.

Before my time at UVic Law, I had never heard the terms Reductio ad absurdum or mutatis mutandis until Hamar Foster used them in first-year criminal law. I use them all the time thanks to him, frustrating some lawyers who have to look the terms up. The late great Terry Wuester, who everyone knew as “The Woo,” may have made the most memorable comment I recall from law school: “I don’t own any life insurance,” he said in his best Kansas drawl. “I want it to be a sad day for everybody when I die.” And for some reason, I remember Donovan Waters talking about “a Rose on Lady Day.” After 33 years, I still don’t know when Lady Day is or why a rose is given out that day.

In its 40 years, UVic Law has produced some great lawyers, great judges, great legal educators and above all, lifelong friends for me and the majority of those I knew there. In fact, there’s an old story from Harvard Law School: “Look to the student on your left. Now look to the student on your right. One of them won’t make it.” At UVic Law, it was a little different. “Look to the student on your left. Now look to the student on your right. You’ll probably marry one of them.” (As I did). And of course, the odds doubled after the Civil Marriage Act of 2005.

So, after 40 years of “boldly going where no Canadian law school had gone before,” may UVic Law live long and prosper.


The views expressed herein are strictly those of Tony Wilson and do not reflect the opinions of the Law Society of British Columbia, CBABC, or their respective members or their desire for spam, spam and more spam.