Emmett Hall's Family Legacy

By Bev Fast


To most Canadians, the Honourable Justice Emmett Hall, C.C., LLB'19, DCL'64 was one of Canada's most prominent jurists and civil libertarians. To Dr. John Hall Wedge, O.C., MD'69, BSc'73, the Hon. Madam Justice Catherine Wedge, LLB'80 and Dr. Charlotte Wedge, BSc'82, MD'87, he was simply grandfather - the man who supported their dreams and cheered their accomplishments.

"Grandfather completely influenced how all of us kids lived our lives," says Catherine, a judge on the B.C. Supreme Court. "He used to say, you're not put here to make money, you're put here to make a difference. That's been a source of inspiration for all of us."

Emmett Hall lived what he taught. He spent the first half of his career building a reputation as one of Saskatchewan's most astute legal minds, and the second half tackling some of the country's most contentious issues as a judge on the Supreme Court of Canada. Hall's place in the national consciousness is linked to his chairing of the royal commission on Canada's national health system. The Hall Report set the stage for adoption of public health insurance.

Hall's children and grandchildren have continued the family legacy of making a difference, particularly in the fields of health and law. Son John E. Hall (BA'48) was a respected orthopaedic surgeon and professor at Boston's Harvard Medical School; daughter Marian Wedge (LLB'61) was a judge on the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench. She married James Wedge, C.M. (BACC'44, LLB'48), a Queen's Counsel and long-time city councillor. Of the five Wedge children, John, Catherine and Charlotte are all University of Saskatchewan graduates.

"Grandfather was a great believer in the quality of education at the U of S and encouraged us to attend there," says John, who started medical school in 1964 - the same year the Hall Report was published. He went on to head the department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Royal University Hospital in the 1980s. He later moved to Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, where he was head of Orthopaedic Surgery and then Surgery.

"At one time, the chiefs of surgery, paediatrics and research at Sick Kids were all U of S grads," John says.

Today, John is an international authority on complex surgical hip reconstruction in adolescents. He continues to practice at Sick Kids, and is currently Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs at the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine.

John's career was well established by the time youngest sister Charlotte entered med school at the U of S. After graduation, she did her residency in ophthalmology in Toronto. A specialist in diseases of the front of the eye, her practice at Toronto East General is focussed on corneal transplants and cataract surgery.

"One of my fondest memories of the U of S is convocation," Charlotte says. "Grandfather was chancellor at the time. When I went up to get my diploma, he grabbed my hand and gave me a big kiss, right in front of everybody."

She cherishes her U of S degree all the more because it has her grandfather's signature on it. "It feels like something special, even now."

Catherine, meanwhile, took a longer route to a career in law. A world-class equestrian, she competed at the Pan American Games in '71, the Olympics in '76 and was part of the gold medal winning Canadian 3 Day Event Team at the '78 World Equestrian Games. Having reached the pinnacle of her riding career, she decided it was time for a new direction.

"Grandfather was always saying I should be a lawyer. He was determined, but at first I had no interest in it. After the Olympics and various injuries and having horses sold out from under me, I began to think maybe he was right," Catherine says. "I loved the U of S. The law school was amazing, the faculty were wonderful - I feel blessed I went there."

Wherever their careers have taken them, Emmett Hall's grandchildren say growing up with his legacy was never a burden. "We all knew what he had accomplished, but we viewed it in terms of pride," Charlotte says.

Among his many achievements, one case that weighed heavily on Justice Hall was the 1967 Supreme Court ruling to uphold the conviction of Steven Truscott. Hall was the lone dissenting judge.

"He wasn't ruling on Truscott's innocence or guilt, but on the trial being a gross miscarriage of justice. I remember him coming home and pacing up and down when he learned the other judges wouldn't agree. When I saw the Ontario Court of Appeal ruling earlier this year, I thought, it took them 40 years to come to his decision," Catherine says.

"I know the ruling would have made him very happy," Charlotte adds. "He felt so strongly, he really suffered for people."

Whether debating the issues at Sunday dinner or cheering them on at sporting events, Emmett Hall was a constant presence in his grandchildren's lives until his death in 1995 at the grand age of 97.

"I've always appreciated that there were few kids who had the intellectual and emotional support we did," Catherine says.

Charlotte agrees. "The main thing I learned from him was to try your hardest. If something was worthwhile, it was worth working for. We knew we could count on him if we needed anything, but we also knew it would be a good idea to try and figure it out ourselves. He taught us self-sufficiency."

The evidence certainly supports the ability of successive generations to excel. "We've had three generations of superior court judges - my grandfather, mother and sister. And we've had two generations of mother-daughter superior court judges. I think that might be a first," John says.

John himself is part of another notable legacy - he joins his grandfather and father in having been named to the Order of Canada. And while he jokes that his two other siblings, Brenda and David, had 'inferior' educations at other universities, they have also done well. And now David's son Tim, who's a native of Vancouver, is studying law at the University of Saskatchewan - making him the fourth generation in a growing family legacy.

"Tim has discovered what all of us knew, that Saskatoon is a great university city," Charlotte says.

Adds Catherine, "we all told him what a great school it is. Now he says it's the best advice he ever got."


Beverly Fast is a freelance writer in Saskatoon who has written for the Green & White, Western Living Magazine, and The Commuter.