Nolan quickly became known for his humour, acting talent and courtroom skills. Paddy lived life with gusto. Always ready for one or more drinks of whiskey he was a convivial companion with an abundant collection of jokes and stories.
One of his best friends was Bob Edwards, the founder of the Calgary Eye Opener, who wrote columns in a breezy intimate style that still reads well over 100 years later.
My favourite parts of the book were the courtroom scenes where his wit and fierce determination to win every case made him a formidable opponent.
Often appearing against him was Prime Minister, R.B. Bennett, some decades before he became Prime Minister. Where Bennett would arrive in court loaded with books of learned precedents Paddy would rely on his extensive memory of the law and passion. One memorable day Bennett was, rather officiously, calling out for the boy to get texts for him as he made his argument. When he was done Paddy called on the boy to get him Bennett on Bluff.
Doubting the alleged victim in a fight suffered a injury that prevented him lifting his arm above his shoulder Paddy asked him how high he could lift his arm since being injured and groaning the man lifted it to his shoulder. Paddy quickly followed up with how high could he lift it before being hurt and he raised his arm significantly higher to the amusement of all present.
It was a time when rustling cattle or horses occupied much of the criminal dockets. While ranchers looked down upon and aggressively pursued cattle rustlers the lines were blurred with regard to mavericks, unbranded cattle, found on the range. Rancher roundups usually kept mavericks instead of seeking out owners.
Where most humour in our current era is focused on sex and swearing, Paddy’s humour concentrates on national caricatures (Irish and Scottish). At the same time he was a master of the quick retort. He loved word play and puns.
Paddy lived in Calgary as the town became a city at the end of the 19th Century. Then, as now, Calgary was filled with energy. Oil had not yet become dominant. At its heart the city had a cowboy culture.
In the 21st Century it is hard to think of a lawyer in Western Canada renown for wit in court. Occasionally there is a funny story or a well said remark but there are fewer characters in the courts. We are the worse for not having modern Paddy Nolan’s to enliven and create interest in court proceedings.
Shortly before his unexpected death it was reported that he advised his fellow Knights of Columbus to “seek justice, hurt no living creature needlessly, and plant the seeds of laughter.
MacEwan, provided with clippings from a Paddy Nolan file, quotes a fitting farewell for a man such as Paddy in “I shall not wholly die. What’s best of me shall surely ‘scape the tomb”.
The author, a prolific chronicler of pioneer Western Canada, actually grew up in Melfort. He is a solid writer content to let characters tell their stories. There are no dramatic embellishments. It does not really flow but MacEwan was 85 when he wrote the book. (May 28/11)