Robert Sutherland, lawyer, benefactor (born c. 1830 in Jamaica; died 2 June 1878 in Toronto, ON). Sutherland was the first university student and graduate of colour in Canada, as well as its first Black lawyer.
Robert Sutherland, lawyer, benefactor (born c. 1830 in Jamaica; died 2 June 1878 in Toronto, ON). Sutherland was the first university student and graduate of colour in Canada, as well as its first Black lawyer. He endowed his estate to Queen’s University, his alma mater, saving the institution from financial straits.
Student at Queen’s University
Born in Jamaica, Robert Sutherland came to Kingston, Canada West, to study at Queen’s University in 1849. While at Queen's, he won 14 academic prizes, and was distinguished for his skills as a debater. One such award was for general merit in Latin, which was awarded to Sutherland by his peers. In 1852, he graduated with honours in classics and mathematics. This made him the first university graduate of colour in Canada. He then pursued law through apprenticeship and examination, a common practice at the time. Sutherland was called to the Bar in 1855.
Law and Later Life
He served as a lawyer in Canada from Berlin (now Kitchener) — where he became Canada’s first Black lawyer — then in Walkerton (near Owen Sound), where he practiced for over 20 years. He also held municipal office in Walkerton, as a reeve. Upon his death, Sutherland, who had never married, left his estate of $12,000 to Queen's University. This bestowment equalled the university’s annual operating budget. It also allowed Queen's to remain separate from the University of Toronto, which sought to annex the university after the school had lost a substantial amount of money in a bank collapse. As one of the most important benefactors of Queen's University — his endowment was the largest sum the school had ever received — a campus building (the Policy Studies Building) was renamed for Sutherland in February 2009. Numerous academic prizes and bursaries at Queen’s University honour his legacy.