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MacLachlan, Judge Jean Ethel

Teacher, Social Worker, Superintendent, Juvenile Court Judge, Justice of the Peace

The first woman to hold 2 high-placed positions in Saskatchewan’s judicial system was not a lawyer. However, her background working with children made Jean Ethel MacLachlan the perfect choice for Regina’s first Juvenile Court judge.

Jean Ethel MacLachlan, who was usually referred to as Ethel, was born in 1875 in Nova Scotia. MacLachlan was a schoolteacher for 15 years in Nova Scotia. She came to the new province of Saskatchewan in 1909, gave up her career in education in favour of a career in social work and became an inspector of foster homes in 1910. In 1913 she became the assistant superintendent of neglected children and by 1916 she was the superintendent of neglected children. MacLachlan’s background as a school teacher made her perfectly suited for these positions.

Her efforts in helping troubled children were well known in legal and political circles, so much so that in 1917 she was appointed Juvenile Court judge for the province of Saskatchewan. She was the first person, male or female, to hold the position. She was also appointed a justice of the peace at the same time, the first woman to receive that honour in Canada.

Lack of a law degree would seem to be a major impediment to becoming a judge, but in the early 20th century in Canada a law degree was not a prerequisite for being a judge. In later years, Saskatchewan would appoint a provincial magistrate to deal with juvenile cases, but MacLachlan’s appointment was not unusual in early Canadian jurisprudence.

MacLachlan’s instincts were very good and her judgements were fair and balanced. In fact, while she heard better than 5,000 cases during her term, only 13 of those were ever appealed and only 6 of the 13 were overturned. MacLachlan logged a lot of hours in the back of a buggy during her term as judge – she travelled over 25,000 miles annually as a travelling judge based in Regina!

In her spare time, MacLachlan was very involved with sports, playing golf, tennis and badminton. She donated a cup for the Girls’ Under-18 tournament at the Lakeshore Tennis Club where she was a member of the executive in 1932. She also belonged to a number of organizations, including the United Church, the Women’s Canadian Club, the Regina Orchestral Society, the Saskatchewan Social Service Council and the Canadian Association of Child-Protection Officers. She was made a life member of the Regina Council for Women, the Daughters of the Empire and the Blue Cross Society.

In her retirement, MacLachlan travelled extensively before settling in Vancouver. Her life ended on the opposite coast where it began, only one day before her 88th birthday.

Regina remembered her achievements by naming MacLachlan Crescent in her honour.