Newton Rowell

Newton Wesley Rowell, PC KC (November 1, 1867 November 22, 1941) was a Canadian lawyer and politician and leading lay figure in the Methodist church. Rowell led the Ontario Liberal Party from 1911 to 1917 and put forward a platform advocating temperance. Rowell's Liberals failed to oppose the Whitney government's passage of Regulation 17 which restricted the teaching of the French language in schools alienating the province's French-Canadian minority.

The Hon.

Newton Rowell
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Durham
In office
Preceded byCharles Jonas Thornton
Succeeded byFred Wellington Bowen
Ontario MPP
In office
Preceded byAndrew MacKay
Succeeded byJohn Alexander Calder
ConstituencyOxford North
6th President of the Canadian Bar Association
In office
Preceded byLouis St. Laurent
Succeeded byIsaac Pitblado
6th President of the Ontario Bar Association
In office
Preceded byWallace Nesbitt, K.C.
Succeeded byDalton Lally McCarthy, K.C.
Personal details
Newton Wesley Rowell

(1867-11-01)November 1, 1867
London Township, Ontario
DiedNovember 22, 1941(1941-11-22) (aged 74)
Toronto, Ontario
Political partyOntario Liberal Party
Unionist (federal)

Life and career

He was born in London Township, Ontario. Rowell ran for the House of Commons of Canada in the 1900 federal election but was defeated in York East.

Returning to his law practice, he was made King's Counsel in 1902 and became senior partner in his law firm, Rowell, Reid, and Wood and had a prominent legal career.

He returned to politics in 1911. Though not a candidate, he was a prominent campaigner supporting the government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier during the 1911 federal election speaking across Ontario to promote both Laurier's plan for a Canadian navy and the trade reciprocity agreement negotiated between the federal government and the United States, against the opposition of prominent Liberal business leaders who feared free trade would be extended to manufacturing.

Later that year, he was chosen to lead the Ontario Liberal Party, despite not having a seat in the legislature, after incumbent leader Alexander Grant MacKay was forced to resign shortly before the beginning of that year's election campaign. He was elected to the legislature in the 1911 provincial election representing Oxford North and became Leader of the Opposition.

In 1917, Rowell, a supporter of conscription during World War I left the Ontario legislature and broke with Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the Liberal Party of Canada to join the national Unionist government of Sir Robert Borden as a result of the Conscription Crisis of 1917 and was appointed to Borden's government as President of the Privy Council of Canada in October 1917 and was also made vice-chairman of the government's War Committee giving him primary responsibility for organizing the war effort and enforcing conscription. He went on to win a seat in the House of Commons as the Unionist MP for Durham in the December 1917 federal election. Rowell attended meetings of the Imperial War Cabinet in London, England, along with other senior Canadian ministers. In 1919, he was given added responsibilities as Canada's first Minister of Health.

Rowell declined to join the government of Borden's successor, Arthur Meighen, in 1920, and did not run for re-election to parliament in 1921. After the war, Rowell served as a Canadian delegate to the League of Nations and became involved in international affairs. He also helped lead the Methodists into a merger with Presbyterians to form the United Church of Canada.

As a lawyer, he had one of the strongest litigation practices in Toronto, arguing many cases before the Supreme Court of Canada and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, including Edwards v. Canada (Attorney General), better known as the Persons' Case. In 1903, he had founded the firm that is now known as McMillan LLP. In 1929, he argued and won the Persons case, concerning whether women were eligible for appointment to the Senate of Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada said they were not, but Rowell took the case to the Privy Council in London and won. It was a foundation case for female equality in Canada. He served as President of the Ontario Bar Association from 1927 to 1930,[1] and as national President of the Canadian Bar Association from 1932 to 1934.[2] In 1936, he was appointed Chief Justice of Ontario.

He is also noted for being the first chair of the 1937 Rowell–Sirois Commission into Dominion-Provincial economic relations and for being a founding leader of the United Church of Canada.

Asked how to say his name, he told The Literary Digest it had ow as in now: row-ELL. (Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.)

Rowell was the maternal grandfather of former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Hal Jackman and current Senator Nancy Ruth. His daughter Mary wed Harry Jackman in 1930.


  • Newton Rowell – Parliament of Canada biography
  • Member's parliamentary history for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario
  • "Newton Wesley Rowell". The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  • "Newton Rowell". Dictionary of Canadian Biography (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. 1979–2016.
Party political offices
Preceded by
Alexander Grant MacKay
Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party
Succeeded by
William Proudfoot
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