John A. Weir - portrait at University of Alberta
John A. Weir Memorial Scholarship Essay 2001

CanonsOfConstruction Law Students
Web Publication
Univ. Alberta

Dedication and Introduction


This essay is dedicated to the innocent thousands who died on September 11, 2001 in the United States.  May we mourn these tragedies with the reminder of our first dean's deep convictions that - as civilized global citizens, our best defence against arbitrary acts of men is the function of codified law such that we seek amelioration of our loss by actively advancing the human welfare of all, even families of ones at whose hands we may have suffered. 

Author's note by Mona Chan

At the beginning of this undertaking, I found it useful both as a medium through which I could practice my writing skills and for the purpose of learning more about the Faculty of Law with which I will associate myself hopefully for a very long foreseeable future. From the start, my rewards benefited me beyond my expectation and I would encourage other first year law students to engage in such an activity whether or not they need the academic exercise as much as I found I needed. 

My first lesson came in the form of searching out resources on the world wide web and on the electronic catalogue.  This was a relatively lazy sort of search even though it engaged many hours of my time sorting through the nearly 250 hits returned through a search for John A. Weir.

M.Chan, at Legislature buildings, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

I was rewarded for the lack of industry and imagination with great articles on a John Antony Weir, a law professor at Cambridge, who specializes in economic torts. 

A flight up to Edmonton on an August weekend confirmed my suspicion about his middle initial at the Reserve desk.  Thank-you Valerie for telling me the first Dean's middle initial stood for Alexander.  I will always remember what treasures librarians are, especially when researching.  The thick folder of information about Dean Weir presented itself like an exhaustive set of information about him.  It is by no means a complete biographical file on the first Dean of Law, especially if one uses their imagination.

The Lawyer

The history of Law teaching in Alberta would be incomplete without tribute to the lawyer, jurist, John Alexander Weir, the incomparable teacher. One year after arriving at the University of Alberta, John Weir was hired as a lecturer in 1922. He was quickly promoted each year and within two years, went from Associate Professor to a full professorship by the 1924/1925 academic year. Some of his esteemed colleagues were Honorary Professors Frank Ford and H.H. Parlee.

As Dean, he did not shy away from taking heavy teaching loads. Instead, his art of teaching was well regarded by his highly qualified group of colleagues, some of whom were also Rhodes scholars.

A well-respected legal educator, J. A. Weir passed away prematurely at the age of forty-seven, on June 3, 1942. He insisted on carrying such an enormous teaching load that if there were critical comments about John Weir, it would be that his physical condition caused family and friends no small amount of anxiety. However, he was determined to persevere till the end of the school term despite major health issues. Students and administration alike grieved the loss of a dear friend and teacher.

Inscribed under the portrait painted by Alberta artist Nicholas de Grandmaison, the words "Incomparable teacher, wise counsellor and friend."

Teacher - Education Professional

As one of six children born to Reverend Richard and Margaret Moir Weir, John A. Weir was from all indications encouraged in his pursuit of education and a professional career that served the public good. It seems that despite moving from place to place, the Weir children were instilled with an early respect for academic success and a very robust work ethic. Like his brother George, who was nine years his senior, the young John Alexander, displayed a distinctive level of academic competence. Both John Alexander and George Moir excelled in their chosen fields. George Moir became the Minister of Education in British Columbia. John Weir was selected for the distinguished Rhodes scholarship in 1914, only two years after entering the University of Saskatchewan.

Court System

Dean Weir was a knowledgeable, well travelled and a well-read jurist. He was blessed as a gifted researcher and writer. To honour him, a compilation of his collective works is included in a special edition of The Alberta Law Quarterly available in the Reserve section of the John A. Weir Memorial Library. Within this volume are his extensively researched publications on various subjects such as Contracts, Contributory Negligence, Frustration and many of his other areas of expertise. They serve fittingly to show those of us who dare to fathom the depth and scope of legal research what a dedicated and brilliant researcher can accomplish. Although some of minutiae of Dean Weir's well thought out legal theory may be beyond the scope of understanding for an average first year law student, clarity and insight of critical thought , such as in Dean Weir's works, should be the goal of every student of law.

Memorial Library

entrance to John A. Weir Memorial Library
John A. Weir - portrait at University of AlbertaDedicated friendly librarian at J.A.Weir Memorial Library

At the entrance of the John Alexander Weir Memorial library, a portrait celebrates and honours J.A. Weir, the man who sacrificed many lifetimes in laying the foundation of our distinguished Canadian law school.   Spanning over two decades of persistent efforts, Dean Weir functionally bore the burden of sustaining the Faculty of Law through his relentless commitment to his visionary insights about how law affects the lives of ordinary citizens. 

The library, is a testament to remember his distinctive qualities of keenly pursuing solutions for the needs of humanity by means of the law and his industry applied to achieving such an end through the training of thousands after him.

Legal studies

Days before the first Dean's fatal lapse into unconsciousness from his lifework, the Royal Air Force had made a second crushing attack of Nazi centres by bombing Essen with 1036 planes.  Things were starting to turn around for the Allies.  Dean Weir envisioned the dawning of a new international order, a postwar world based on law. 

Just twenty-four hours before, the front-page of the Edmonton Bulletin splashed announcements of colleague H. H. Parlee K.C. 's reappointment to the Chair of the Board of Governors.  Significant changes to the Board were named by an order of the Alberta Provincial government.  Under the University Act provisions were amended by the previous sessions of the legislative assembly.  Justice Frank Ford and university President G.B. Sanford and Chancellor Robert Newton were also named. Had the Dean's health been better, he would undoubtedly have been appointed as well. Legal studies at the University of Alberta became quite different because the varsity board now had fuller overall control of the university.

The University session was out and the fair moderate day of June 3, 1942 boldly touted Canada's war efforts. However, the yellowed archival copies of the Edmonton Bulletin kept at the Legislature library shows, on that day, a tiny humbling obituary marks the quiet exit of a man whose intellectual prowess greatly surpassed his need for excesses in public profile.

Not surprisingly, the legacy of Dean John Alexander Weir has led the University of Alberta's law library to become one of the most comprehensive collections of Canadian legal materials.


The Alberta Law Quarterly, Volume V, 1942-1944, Faculty of Law, University of Alberta

Canadian global almanac 2001, CDG books Canada Inc., Toronto, 2001

Canadian who's who, volume III, 1938-39, University of Toronto Press, 1985

"In memoriam", in Evergreen and Gold, VOL. XXIII, 1943 University of Alberta publication, in Faculty of Law Library temporary clippings file for J. A. Weir

"Our hall of fame: John Alexander Weir", Gateway XXV, 4, p.3, Faculty of law, University of Alberta, October 16, 1934, photocopy of article in Faculty of Law Library temporary clippings file for J.A. Weir.

J.A.Weir: photocopy of photograph Law school 1926 graduation portrait, in Faculty of Law Library temporary clippings file for J.A. Weir, University of Alberta

"Present portrait to university", The Edmonton Bulletin, December 23, 1947 , in Faculty of Law Library temporary clippings file for J. A. Weir

"Present portrait to university", The Edmonton Journal, December 23, 1947, in Faculty of Law Library temporary clippings file for J. A. Weir

Edmonton Bulletin: an independent newspaper in public service, Edmonton, Alberta, Wednesday, June 3, 1942 original bound copies in Alberta legislature library. Front page headline articles (on day of J.A. Weir's death)

  • "R.A.F. to double scope of raids: day attack made after Essen Raid" by Edward W. Beattie
  • "British circle to rear of Nazis in Africa" by Edward Kennedy
  • "Canada's war effort lauded by N.Y. Paper" CP article
  • "Chinese pierce Jap's flank" CP article
  • "7,700 sweeps in month: 250 planes daily over France"
  • "7 allied ships sunk off India" AP article"

A history of the faculty of law, University of Alberta, 1978

2020 anniversary celebration program, Faculty of law, University of Alberta, Edmonton 1992

This essay was originally submitted to the John A. Weir Memorial Scholarship Committee, at the University of Alberta, Law School in 2001 by Mona Chan, the publisher of this web magazine.  and is republished here in the web site as war is being waged in Iraq, in March 2003.  Headlines on the Web and in newspapers today in 2003 reminds us of the 1942 Second World War headlines on the day of Dean Weir's death in 1942.

© 2001 Mona Chan