Faculty of Law alumni have history of thriving in Newfoundland and Labrador

Two U of A graduates discuss how education helped them succeed in a province all the way across the country

Doug Johnson - 17 November 2023

There’s more than 5,000 km and a great deal of history and culture separating Alberta from Newfoundland and Labrador. However, people from the Atlantic province often make the trek inland to study at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law. And, conversely, a good number of alumni, from both in and outside of Alberta, have found green pastures — or the marine equivalent — working in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Notable graduates include Jack Harris, KC, who was previously leader of the Newfoundland and Labrador NDP and a federal NDP member of parliament for St. John's East; and Tanya Carter, who worked as a crown prosecutor in the province and was involved with many high-profile cases. But there are many others. 

Judge Rolf Pritchard of the Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador is one such alumnus. From the time he started his career to his appointment as a judge in 2019 and beyond, Pritchard has met many colleagues who studied at nearby schools, such as Dalhousie. But he’s also frequently encountered fellow U of A graduates as well, he says. 

rolf-pritchard.pngPritchard wasn’t born in either province, but, rather, the United Kingdom. His family immigrated to Canada in 1965 and, in 1977, he began an undergraduate degree in the U of A’s Faculty of Arts. After working for a few years, he decided to enroll in the Faculty of Law in 1992. 

A few years after graduating in 1995, Pritchard received a job offer to start articling for a law firm in Newfoundland and Labrador. The province had some surprises in store for Pritchard, even beyond the dramatic shift in the environment and differences in colloquialisms. 

For instance, maritime and industrial fishing laws aren’t quite as developed in Alberta, comparatively. Pritchard recalls his early career involved many cases about fishing regulations. 

Also, the legal community he encountered out east was quite small. He recalls there was a saying that, at the time, there was maybe just one lawyer per community in the province. However, this led to a strong sense of comradery. “There was a real sense of community,” he says. 

“Everywhere you go in Canada, there are nuances,” he says. 

‘A lovely community’

The Honourable Gillian Butler, a former justice who retired from Newfoundland and Labrador’s Court of Appeal on Sept. 30, was born in the province and graduated from Memorial University. But her decision to give up her place at the University of New Brunswick and study law at the U of A in 1977 was based upon her boyfriend, now husband’s, desire to study oil and gas law in western Canada.

At the time, Butler had wanted to stay closer to home and family. Now she looks back on her time in Alberta fondly. 

She says that her evidence, civil procedure, family law and labour law professors shared her passion for the law, and they inspired her to dedicate her career in civil and family litigation. Butler recalls the beauty of the school’s campus and the first-class law school facility supported by a large, generous and active alumni community that supported the school.

Butler’s studies at the Faculty were fortuitously timed. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, each province and territory was addressing the reform of family law and considering the two models of matrimonial property division that were emerging: Alberta’s and Ontario’s. Alberta proclaimed its legislation while Butler was a student and thus she had instruction on the legislation and emerging jurisprudence. 

In the spring of 1980, she returned to her home province to continue her articling. At the time, Newfoundland and Labrador enacted its matrimonial property act, which was very similar to Alberta’s, rather than Ontario’s. While many practitioners were reluctant to take on these new claims, Butler was quite comfortable with them, which helped her pursue a successful career in family law, she says. 

Butler was appointed to the province’s Supreme Court in 2007 and to the Court of Appeal in 2020. She worked in the latter court until her retirement this year. (However, she is still finishing some decisions before she is formally done) 

Her time at the U of A made a mark on her life both professionally and personally, she says. In particular, the richness of the campus and Faculty communities and the remarkable “Fun Day at the Farm” and year-end galas. As a long-time resident of the east coast, she recalls being struck by the very “interesting experiences,” Butler says. 

But she also recalls her cohort being a close, welcoming community. She and her husband are still in touch with many of the lifelong friends they made at the university. 

“You became quite close with the kids in your section,” she says. “It was a lovely experience.”

For Pritchard, who began working in a time when there weren’t a lot of lawyers and judges in the province, the transition from the Faculty of Law’s tightly knit community to Newfoundland and Labrador must have seemed quite natural. 

While Pritchard began his life on another continent and cut his teeth on the other side of Canada, he’s happy his education and his experience have taken him here. He ended up meeting his wife, having three kids and making a name for himself in the practice of law in the province.

“Newfoundland and Labrador has been very good to me,” he says. “It’s a lovely community.”