Legal Street Produced Greats

Author: Unknown

Publication Date: 1965

Edited: 2021


K.W. Record, Feb. 16/62 Contributed by Russell Daly.


Tucked away in the heart of Guelph is a tiny street on which the legal and political careers of several famous Canadians grew and blossomed. And even today Douglas Street – named for Jon Douglas, a 19th century Guelph Brewer, houses the offices of 20 of Guelph’s lawyers of the 26, as well as the Wellington County Registry Office and the Crown Attorney’s Office.

Editor's Note: Douglas Street was named for Hugh Douglass, lawyer and County Crown attorney. On many maps, the spelling was Douglass Street until the conventional spelling became more widely used, as it is known today.

Within a stone’s throw are the six other lawyer’s offices, the county’s 120-year-old Jail and Courthouse.

Angus C. Dunbar, who began law practice in 1923, has been on the street longer than any other lawyer. Mr. Dunbar is not Guelph’s senior, however. Mr. J. H. McElderry, who moved around the corner to a Woolwich Street office a couple of years ago, set up a practice shortly after the First Great War.

The oldest building on the 400-foot-long street is occupied by the legal firm of Hungerford, Gamble and Guthrie; The Guelph Provincial detachment is on the second floor; Hugh Guthrie of the law firm is the third generation of his family to practice here.

Son of Hugh C. Guthrie, Wellington County Registrar: Mr. Guthrie’s grandfather, also named Hugh, represented the Liberals, Conservatives, and Unionists for Wellington South in the House of Commons for 35 years as well as doing legal work. He retired undefeated in 1935 after serving in various Cabinet positions including Solicitor General, Defense Minister, and Justice Minister.

Donald Guthrie, the latter’s father, was Solicitor for Guelph and the County for 42 years. He was also Wellington South’s Liberal M.P. for eight years and its M.P.P. for eight years.

Adam Ferguson Blair, the founder of Fergus, was associated with Donald Guthrie’s firm at one time, as was Walter Hoyt Cutten, father of Arthur W. Cutten, who became known as the North American 'Wheat King.'

Two of the best known 'graduates' of Douglas Street are the Honourable George Drew, former Guelph Mayor and Ontario Premier and now Canada’s High Commissioner to Great Britain; and Chief Justice Patrick Kerwin of the Federal Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Kerwin was associated with Hugh Guthrie, the Registrar’s father, until 1932 when he was appointed to the Ontario Supreme Court and later to the Federal Court.

Mr. George Drew had offices on Douglas Street for a short time after the First World War. His father, John J. Drew, set up practice in Guelph in 1892 after coming from Elora, where he had been in partnership with his father, George A. Drew, who later became Judge Drew. John Drew, while in Guelph, was associated with Col. A. H. MacDonald, County Crown Attorney for 15 years. Col. MacDonald was succeeded by Jon M. Kearns, who came to Guelph from a practice in Arthur in 1920 and still holds the post.


Arthur Kearns is in partnership with his father in the firm of Kearns, McKinnon, Clare and Kearns. C. L. McKinnon follows in the footsteps of his father, the late R. L. McKinnon, a Wellington Judge for many years and a former partner of the late J. R. Howitt, one time President of the Guelph, Ontario Investment and Savings Co., now the Huron and Erie, Canada Trust Co.

George Goetz succeeds his father, the late Leo W. Goetz, a Walkerton native, who was associated with the late C. L. Dunbar and his son, Angus.

Judge Hugh McMillan, a native of Erin, practised with C. L. Dunbar and became a County Judge; the late E. A. Dunbar practised with his brother C. L. before he went West.

The late Frederic Watt, a Magistrate in Guelph for over 40 years, practised on Douglas Street with his father, the late Jas. Watt who was at one time in the Guthrie, Watt and Cutten law firm.

The present County Judge, R. Stewart Clark, had a law practice on the Street until succeeding the late Judge McKinnon in 1947. Judge Clark’s partner was the late Ontario Supreme Judge Honourable Nichol Jeffrey.

Guelph Township offices have been on Douglas Street since moving from Marden at a Hotel around the turn of the century.

The first County Registry office was built on Douglas Street in 1847 and five years later the records show the United Counties of Wellington, Waterloo and Grey first met in the nearby Courthouse. Wellington County Council first met as an independent body in 1854.

The present Registry Office was built in 1953.

- Russell Daly.