When the Acadians were deported from Nova Scotia in 1755, “planters” from New England were brought in to take their place. As a result, Nova Scotia opened the first Parliament in what is now Canada on October 2, 1758.
Governor Cornwallis,the builder of Halifax, had been given instructions to “summon and call general assemblies of the Freeholders and Planters according to the usage of the rest of our colonies and plantations in America”, but had done nothing about it. He was succeeded by a tough soldier, Colonel Lawrence, who might also have done nothing except that his hand was forced by the settlers from the American colonies. They were accustomed to self-government and demanded it for Nova Scotia.
On February 7, 1758, Governor Lawrence and his council passed resolutions providing for the election of sixteen members for the province at large, with four from Halifax and two from Lunenburg. As soon as any community had a population of fifty, it could elect two members. Nobody could complain about lack of representation when there was a Member of Parliament for every twenty-five people!
The first Parliament in Canada met in the Court House at the corner of Argyle and Buckingham Streets in Halifax on October 2, 1758. It remained in session until April 11, 1759, with breaks for the usual holidays. The members voted to serve without pay. The total cost of the first session was £250, of which £100 went to the clerk.
The Church of England was formally established, but Protestant dissenters were allowed freedom of worship and conscience. The same privileges were denied “members of the popish religion.” the British criminal code was adopted, including penalties of the stocks pillory, flogging, branding, cutting off ears and hanging. As late as 1816, a man was sentenced to have his ears cut off. For instance, the use of profane language was a criminal offence.
Nova Scotia’s Parliament was conducted with great ceremony. Charles Dickens, who visited Halifax in 1840, said it was like looking at the British Parliament through the wrong end of a telescope!
October 2, 1758, was commemorated by the Canadian Club of Halifax which erected a memorial tower along the picturesque Northwest Arm of the city.