Advocates’ Society Retirement Party For Chief Justice Winkler

Chief Justice Warren K. Winkler
Toronto Convention Centre

December 4, 2013

Lieutenant Governor Onley, Chief Justice McLachlin, Chief Justices, Judicial colleagues, Treasurer, President, members of the legal profession, friends and family.

What a night, what an overwhelming evening! I feel surrounded by warmth and love on this happy and special occasion. I would be totally speechless if it were not for my prepared notes.

For me, tonight marks both an end and a beginning. It is the end of a twenty-year judicial career. It is the beginning of the next chapter of my life.

But tonight is also very much about my family and my friends and what I owe them. It is about love and hope. It is about what life holds in store for us. It is about what life can expect from us. It is about gratitude for the blessings we have received and the richness of the lives that we have enjoyed.

But before I get to that, there are a some special people that I must thank:

  • To Their Honours, Lt. Gov. David Onley and Mrs. Ruth Ann Onley — you have added a very special quality to the last almost seven years for Ruth and myself. We have shared many wonderful times with you, developed a strong bond of friendship which we will cherish for many years to come. Thank you for coming this evening and for your very special words.
  • To Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin — you are the leader of the legal profession and the judiciary in Canada. You are held in the highest esteem by all of your judicial colleagues and by the members of every Bar. Thank you for your wise leadership and your valued friendship. Thank you for attending this evening and for your warm words.
  • To my friends and colleagues on the Canadian Judicial Council — for travelling so far to be with me and my family on this memorable occasion.
  • To my colleagues on the Court of Appeal — for your guidance and support during my tenure as Chief Justice. Your friendship I will cherish always.
  • To my colleagues on the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice — for your assistance and collegiality both while I was a trial judge and during my tenure as Chief Justice of Ontario.
  • To the Attorney General, The Honourable John Gerretsen – for the cooperative relationship we have maintained to support the administration of justice in Ontario, and to you and the staff of the Ministry of the Attorney General for your daily commitment to the people of Ontario.
  • To Thomas Conway, Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada — for your helpful guidance during your term as Treasurer, for your warmth as a friend and the enlightened guidance you provide to the legal profession in Ontario. Thank you for your kind words this evening.
  • To the Advocates’ Society President Allan Mark and Executive Director Alex Chyczij — for hosting this marvellous event to honour me and all of my family. And a special thank you to former President Peter Griffin, a valued friend and co-inhabitant of Grey County, for your wonderful words here tonight.
  • To Osgoode Hall Law School for establishing the Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution. This tribute will endure with me forever and more importantly it will work for the benefit of our legal institutions and the citizens of Ontario.
  • To the members of the legal profession — with whom I share a strong bond and immense fondness for your unstinting support.
  • To all of our friends who have overcome geographic and financial obstacles to be here this evening.
  • To my family, and as you would expect, I will return to speak of them at greater length shortly.

As a small boy growing up in Pincher Creek, Alberta, I spent endless hours in the dark of night gazing up into the skies at a myriad of stars, not dreaming as much as wondering, just what the future held in store for me. Life there was insular in many respects. Modern communications of the type we take for granted didn’t exist mid-way through the last century. My thoughts and dreams about the future were vague at best and nonexistent at worst. I did know that I wanted to do something interesting and make a difference in the world. But I never imagined being a lawyer: I certainly never imagined one day becoming a judge.

Life has a limited number of pivotal, life altering events, events that define who you are or may become. Looking back, I think the pivotal moment that started me on the trajectory toward law took place a few miles from my home.

The summer following my graduation from University, on a day off from my oilfield construction job, I sat high on a mountain side looking out over a hundred miles of distant prairie. Beverley McLachlin lived on the other side of that mountain, only a few miles from where I sat that day. Given my age, and hers at that time, I have no doubt that she would have been at home that day. I found myself preoccupied with a much overdue concern: what should be the next step in my life? I considered a career as a professor and rejected it. I couldn’t get out of my mind’s eye those disturbing images of tweed jackets and of dust mites gleaming in the sun. Then I thought of biology. No, that wouldn’t do: biology was always and only going to be my hobby, not my life’s work. Finally, my mind turned to law.

I didn’t know any lawyers, judges or anyone involved with the law. I had seen a movie with a glamorous lawyer as the main character. So, law it was. I hand-wrote letters to all of the law schools in Ontario, because I wanted to go east, and was accepted at all four. You may have concluded, quite correctly, that I was a callow and feckless youth. Well, I was shallow too. I chose Osgoode Hall Law School because it had the glossiest calendar.

After graduation, I was articling at a prominent Toronto law firm. I was helping on a major labour case involving the St. Lawrence Seaway. One morning the senior partner picked up the phone and told the switchboard to “get me the Prime Minister.” In seconds he was demanding of “Lester”, Prime Minister Lester Pearson, to establish a public inquiry. He did so. A couple of days later I walked up to Osgoode and into Professor Harry Arthurs’ office and asked if I could do an LL. M. with him in labour law. He seemed surprised. I hadn’t taken labour law in law school. Nevertheless, he took me on. A few hours later I quit my articling job. In a flash, I had made a choice to pursue a career in the field of labour law as a specialty. All of this happened without any real thought or reflection and with no advice from anyone. As I think back upon it now, it was an impetuous choice. I had quite by accident found the area of law that was to be my passion. And as all of you know there is no substitute for passion. In the words of E.E. Cummings, “I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing.” As it turns out this choice was also life altering.

Studying with Harry had many benefits, one of which was being invited to lunch with one or the other of his several thousand friends. One day he invited me to join him, and his acquaintance this time was a man from Alberta by the name of “Peter Lougheed”. Peter became interested in me as soon as he found out that I came from Pincher Creek. He asked me to visit him at Christmas time at his new law firm Lougheed, Ballem and McDill in Calgary. I seized the opportunity, and when I went for the visit, the conversation was positive and moved along at electric speed. To my joy and surprise, Peter invited me to join the firm as an associate. Then he asked what kind of work I wanted to do. “Labour Law,” I said. His face fell. “There isn’t any labour law in Alberta,” he replied. “There are no unions in Alberta”. Then there was a kind of deathly silence. He looked at me like someone had stolen his dog. When the silence finally lifted, he said: “My advice to you is to stay in Ontario.”  I was shocked, and very disappointed. In the moment, I thought I was a failure. I felt rejected. It was a long dejected drive back to give this sad news to my anxious parents. It was not the choice I had hoped for or expected. But I took Peter Lougheed’s advice.

Fast forward almost fifty years. I was now in my current role as Chief Justice of Ontario. One evening after a speaking engagement in a downtown hotel, I was waiting in the lobby to be picked up. I noticed an airline limousine pull up and out got Peter Lougheed. He entered the lobby and was standing a few feet from me getting his bearings when our eyes met. We hadn’t seen each other since that fateful lunch in 1962 in Calgary. Being the great politician he was, he thrust out his hand, smiled at me and said: “Best advice I gave you was to stay in Ontario.”  “You are right, Premier,” I replied. Little did I know that he had any idea what I’d been doing all those many years and could recognize me in an instant.

Until the day that he died, Peter Lougheed thought that he was responsible for my returning to Ontario, and eventually becoming Chief Justice. He was right in one sense, but that is not what kept me here. That was another chance meeting, a meeting with a young graduate of the U of T nursing school– a meeting which altered my life like nothing else. That meeting was with Ruth Wilson, who is seated at the front table with my family tonight.

Ruth and I were married in 1967, the year of Expo 67 and Canada’s centenary. Our first acquisition was a black Labrador retriever named Pete. Ruth was employed as a public health nurse by the City of Toronto. We reasoned that Pete the dog would be safe at home in an expensive outside dog run during the day while we were at work. So far so good but big surprise — Pete didn’t like to be left alone. He howled and barked all day until our new neighbours, hardly known to us, reported us and Pete to the police. After that encounter, each day Pete went to work with Ruth. When her boss found out, a hasty disciplinary meeting was scheduled, but rather than admonishing Ruth and outlawing Pete from work, her supervisor chose the option of bringing her own dog to the office.

Soon new additions to the family arrived. First Julia, and then Janet appeared on the scene. I recall vividly the first night that Julia was in our house and the clear realization that I was now responsible for another person. That was my first step in growing up. (Now that they have their own families, perhaps I can return to being that callow and feckless youth.)

After our children were born, we soon began to spend every weekend at our farm near Markdale. The girls amused themselves by picking wild strawberries, catching frogs and accumulating a menagerie of animals:  an abandoned mother farm cat named Candy; a Shetland pony who appeared one Friday grazing untethered on our lawn with a note attached to the door saying they hoped we enjoyed Sheba. To this day we do not know who left the little pony.

Julia graduated in modern languages and became a French teacher. A dedicated and gifted teacher, she achieved miracles with children in very adverse circumstances. She and her Labrador Rosie met David Elliott, an entrepreneurial businessman, and now we thankfully have two beautiful granddaughters, Emily and Sarah. Emily, age eleven, is here tonight and Sarah, who is unable to be here, is at home watching on TV.

Janet also graduated in modern languages and has her own translation business. If I had a choice she would be selected entrepreneur of the year. With no help from anyone she built a very successful business from scratch. She met Gordon Jermane, a lawyer, and they have blessed us with our newest grandchild, and first grandson, Joshua, who is here also. (Joshua, who is eight months old, is getting fly fishing gear for Christmas.)

My family has given me the strength to follow my professional dreams. I consider it a great privilege to have lived the life of a lawyer for 28 years, and then of a trial judge for 14 years. And for the past six and a half years it has been an enormous honour to be Chief Justice of Ontario. I have been one lucky man.

Returning to that small boy gazing up at the night sky in the hope of envisioning what lay ahead for him on his journey through life, no matter how prescient, could not have foreseen this wonderful and splendid evening that you have provided for us on this, the culmination of a fifty year career in the law. But would he have wanted to see into the future with anything approaching clarity? No he would not and I am grateful that he could not: Because the mystery and excitement of this life-long adventure through time would have been lost. As I now know, it is the twists and turns, the surprises and uncertainties, the triumphs and the disasters, that make life worth living.

At the beginning of these remarks I said that this evening represents both an end and a beginning. The beginning is the first day of the rest of my life. I feel a little bit like that small boy, staring up at the stars speculating on what the future might hold. In doing so, to borrow a phrase from Tennyson, I hope that “some work of noble note, may yet be done”. Looking at our grandchildren, I realize that most importantly and unapologetically, our goal should be to make the world a better place. That is the obligation, the sacred trust, that we all share. As I said at the beginning of these remarks, it’s all about the passion.

To conclude, this has been an especially wonderful last twenty years on the bench and for this I thank all of you for this honour and privilege.

Most of all, I want to thank my family, and Ruth most prominently, for her patience, support and guidance, above all, for her unfailing love over the past forty-six years. Through “the thunder and the sunshine” you have been a constant comfort to me.

To all of you gathered here tonight on this very special and happy occasion, thank you for releasing me from the responsibilities of public service and for returning me to the hospice of my family. For this I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And from me to you:

“May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the hollow of His hand.”

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