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The Will of Nova Scotians

For the week of February 3, 2014

On February 3, 1758, the Board of Trade and Plantations – the British department responsible for colonial development – sent a final notice to the Governor of Nova Scotia, Charles Lawrence, to establish an elected legislative assembly in the colony. This time, the Governor complied, creating the first government with elected representatives in what was to become Canada.

This stamp issued in 1958 commemorates 200 years since the fouding of the Nova Scotia Assembly
© Canada Post Corporation / Library and Archives Canada / POS-000432

Since the British takeover of Nova Scotia in 1713, and the deportation of the Acadians beginning in 1755, settlers coming from British holdings in Europe and America felt it was their right as British subjects to have some form of representative government.

With the founding of Halifax in 1749, these settlers had been promised an elected assembly. However, as more arrived over the years, they found that the legislative power remained solely in the hands of the Governor and his appointed council.

In 1754, Chief Justice of Nova Scotia Jonathan Belcher decided that Governor Lawrence did not need an elected assembly, because the colony was won in battle and not originally established by the British. Governor Charles Lawrence agreed. He also thought an assembly would be pointless since only Halifax was large enough to be considered a municipality and elect its own representatives. Thus, Lawrence opposed repeated orders from the Board of Trade and Plantations, on whose behalf he administered Nova Scotia, and refused to establish an elected assembly.

The first meeting of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly at a court house in Halifax
© Library and Archives Canada / Charles Walter Simpson / Acc. No. 1991-35-21

Outrage built up in Nova Scotia after years of postponing elections for a House of Assembly. Political opponents of Governor Lawrence circulated petitions and pamphlets denouncing his mismanagement of the colony and refusal to establish the assembly. They even sent letters directly to the Board of Trade and Plantations. Finally, following the Board’s orders of February 3, 1758, the Governor yielded. In July of that year, Nova Scotia held its very first election, though only land-owning men could vote. Halifax had four representatives, the next largest town of Lunenburg had two, and the remainder of the 22 members were elected by the colony at large.

The First Canadian House of Assembly has been designated a National Historic Event, marking Nova Scotia as a frontrunner in the development of Canadian democracy. You can read sequels in Nova Scotia’s political journey here: The Father of Responsible Government in Canada, Joseph Howe: the tribune of Nova Scotia, and "An Able and Wise Woman".

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