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Tradition of Notaries

The tradition of Notaries is really far reaching and goes back over 2000 years right to the advent of recorded history. We know that Notaries laid down the famous Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, the oldest evidence of recorded law, consisting of 282 laws, with scaled punishments such as ‘an eye for an eye’ and ‘a tooth for a tooth’.  Notaries were also employed by the Catholic Church as the guiding light of civilization through the Dark Ages.

Canadian (Ontario) Notary

A Canada Notary’s duties generally include administering oaths, taking affidavits, affirmations, and declarations. In addition, they may issue deeds, contracts, and other commercial transactions and attest to commercial instruments. Canadian notaries usually act as notaries on a part-time basis.

Canadian notaries perform many tasks similar to a US notary. The main difference is the ability of the Canadian notary to issue deeds, contract and other commercial transaction. In the US only a licensed attorney can perform these tasks.

A Canadian notary public is usually, is appointed by the provincial government through the Minister of Government and Consumer Services. An application is typically made to the Minister and after a vetting process, the notary is appointed by the provincial government. Each province has its own vetting procedure. On the whole, the appointment procedure may take up to 2 to 2.5 years.

Lawyers on the other hand become automatic notaries public once they are licensed by their respective provincial licensing authority. There is no other vetting process. The lawyer makes an application for registration to the Minister and upon payment of a stipulated fee, becomes registered as a notary public. In the US, attorneys are not necessarily notaries but may also apply to become a notary public. In Alberta, this automatic procedure applies to every law student, judge, MLA, MP, and Senator. Also, in Nova Scotia all officers of the Canadian Forces are authorized to act as notaries public. In the US, military officers above the rank of O-3 can apply to become notaries.

The process is quite different in British Columbia. The province is divided into notarial districts. There are a fixed number of notaries that can be commissioned at any particular time for each district. They are all full time notaries. B.C. notaries are licensed to perform a wider range of transactions than other Canadian notaries. British Columbia notaries can engage in a number of transactions including sale of real estate. British Columbia notaries are the only notaries in Canada that are self-regulated.

Notary History

From National Notary Association, NNA

The origins of Notaries can be traced to ancient Egypt — a time when making records official transactions became important to humanity. The following are a few snapshots of how Notaries and notarization played a key role in the development of governments, commerce and organized society:

Ancient Egypt: 2750-2250 B.C.

Ancient Egyptian “sesh,” or “scribes,” were established in the Old Kingdom and were the earliest known chroniclers of official communications in recorded history. Scribes made up an entire level of the ancient Egyptian bureaucracy. Personal letters, official proclamations, tax records, and other documents all went through their hands. The recording of events was so highly valued that Pharaoh Tutankhamen even included writing equipment in his tomb for the afterlife.

Roman Empire: 535

The true ancestors of Notaries were born in the Roman Empire. Many regard history’s first Notary to be a Roman slave named Tiro, who developed a shorthand system which he called notae for taking down the speeches of the famed orator Cicero. Other witnessing stenographers came to be known as notarii and scribae. As literacy was not widespread, the Notary, or “Notarius” as they were called, served to prepare contracts, wills, and other important documents for a fee. As the Roman Empire grew and literacy increased, demand for the Notary also increased.

Order of the Knights Templar: 1099-1307

The Knights Templar were a monastic military order formed at the end of the First Crusade with the mandate of protecting Christian pilgrims on route to the Holy Land. From humble beginnings, within two centuries they had become powerful enough to defy all but the Papal throne, and created the modern system of banking, mortgages and loans. The Clergy of the Order were highly educated and became the critically important Notaries for all Templar business, official documents, orders and proclamations.

Notaries Public in England: 13th and 14th Centuries

Notaries were not introduced into England until later in the 13th and 14th centuries as English common law developed separately from most of the influences of Roman law. Notaries were often appointed by the Papal Legate or the Archbishop of Canterbury, and in those early days many were members of the clergy. Over the course of time members of the clergy ceased to involve themselves in secular business, thus laymen in towns and trading centers began to assume the official character and functions of a modern Notary.

Notaries and the Conquests of Columbus: 15th Century

Notaries accompanied Columbus on all of his voyages to ensure to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that all discovered treasures were accounted for. They witnessed noteworthy acts, like when Columbus first beheld the New World in 1492 by landing on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas.

Notaries in Early America: 1600-1800

In Colonial America, only persons of high moral character were appointed as public Notaries to certify and keep documents safe. Their contributions to colonial life are largely seen as the reason American business became a huge success. For example, in colonial times Notaries were invaluable to trans-Atlantic commerce, as parties on both sides depended on them to be honest third parties in reporting damage or loss to a ship’s cargo. While Notaries were held in very high regard during this time, life for Notaries in early America was anything but easy. Some were even killed for their involvement in authenticating official documents and recordkeeping as conflicting factions fought for control of the New World.

Other Fascinating Historical Facts

Notary Of The Bedchamber – In the Middle Ages, Notaries were sometimes asked to witness the consummation of marriages involving royalty or members of the peerage.

To Be Or Not To Be – There is considerable evidence that Shakespeare once worked for a Warwickshire Notary and later had repeated contact with other English Notaries. It is felt that he drew on these experiences to write such plays as “The Merchant of Venice.”

They Didn’t Trust Columbus – Notaries accompanied Columbus on all his voyages just as they accompanied nearly all early Spanish explorers. The reason: King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella wanted to ensure that all discovered treasures were accounted for. On October 12, 1492, when Columbus first beheld the New World, a Notary named Rodrigo de Escobedo was on hand to document the landing on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas.

Papal Notaries – Notaries were once church officials appointed by the Pope. After Henry VIII separated England from the Church of Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury commissioned Notaries in England and her American colonies.

First American Notary A Forger – The American Colonies’ first Notary, Thomas Fugill, appointed in 1639 in the New Haven Colony, miserably failed to live up to his duties and was thrown out of office for falsifying documents.

Oui! Je Suis Un Notaire! -With the purchase of Louisiana in 1803, an outpost of the French legal system was absorbed into the United States. To this day, Louisiana’s legal system — and its Notaries — are unique, modeled in large part on the Napoleonic Code. Louisiana Notaries have powers similar to those of attorneys.

Suffering Suffragettes – Not only could women not vote, but, until the early 1900s, women in America were also prohibited from becoming Notaries. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. held that since there was no record of women holding the office in England, it could not be affirmed that women were capable of being Notaries. Today, more than two-thirds of America’s Notaries are women.

Oh, My Papa! – Artist-inventor Leonardo da Vinci was also the son of a Notary. To safeguard his ideas, da Vinci perfected the skill of writing backwards; one must use a mirror to read his thoughts. Good thing he didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps.

Notarygate – Frank DeMarco, Jr., a California tax attorney/Notary was accused of fraudulently backdating forms relating to former President Richard M. Nixon’s donation of papers to the National Archives to beat a tax deduction deadline. After months of controversy, DeMarco resigned his Notary office in June 1970 to forestall an investigation by the state. Evidence of the alleged transaction was sent to the Watergate Special Prosecutor and was but one more incident eroding Nixon’s political support and leading to his resignation from office.

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