Halton Region Heritage Services Insider's Look

Judicial Chair

Judicial Chair

The Chair of Today by Julia Zungri

This judicial chair (1962.12.1) was used in the Halton County Court House in Milton, Ontario from 1855 until circa 1974. The chair is 92 cm high and 64 cm wide and made of varnished hardwood, likely walnut. The seat has red leather upholstery, which has been reupholstered with a leather-like red canvas. Carvings decorate the arms and legs of the chair. Notably, there is a carving of a crown at the top of the artifact, which resembles St. Edward’s Crown. The image of this crown is often used in heraldry throughout the Commonwealth to signify the monarch’s authority: permission from the British monarch is necessary in order to use this image.[1] A similar crown is depicted on the Lieutenant Governor flags throughout the provinces to symbolize the Sovereign’s provincial representatives.[2]

 The historical significance behind the object captured the attention of Curatorial Assistant, Julia Zungri. At first glance, the grander size of the chair compared to the rest of the collection at Halton Heritage Services, as well as the visually appealing aesthetics of the sophisticated carvings are most noticeable. However, knowing it was a judicial chair and being aware of our legal system, a much more nuanced story could be told. Upon further examination, the designs on the chair represent the history of Canada, particularly the evolution and implementation of common law. Using a Canadian object from a local heritage collection to connect with contemporary Canadian society was the deciding factor in choosing this object to celebrate Canada 150.

As the districts in southern Ontario were abolished in 1849, local county governments were established and charged with administering the law.[3] The Halton County Court House, where this chair was used, was constructed in 1854 and opened in 1855. To accommodate all of the trials in Halton County, a wing in the ‘high Victorian” style was added in 1877 together with a jail and prison yard.[4] Not only was the courthouse built in Anglo-Norman style, but the building also reinforced the values of the British judicial system.[5] Today, the Canadian legal framework still operates on the foundations of the British common law system. Upon celebrating Canada 150, it is striking to consider the impact that common law has had on Canadian culture and society.

The artifact is important to a contemporary audience as it embodies the Canadian judicial system that has remained throughout the evolution of Upper Canada to Canada West and to the ultimate inclusion of Ontario as a province in Confederation. Canada remains linked with an international community that shares a similar legal system. The country’s common law framework has thus become part of its national identity that inspires Canadians to act fairly and justly.