The Spirit of Democracy
History of




On October 2, 1758, the Nova Scotia House of Assembly met for the first time in a modest wooden building at the corner of Argyle and Buckingham streets in Halifax.

Nova Scotia - Province House
Province House of Nova Scotia

It was an assembly of twenty-two men, four for Halifax Township, two for Lunenburg Township and sixteen at large. Of this number five had come from Britain with Governor Edward Cornwallis in 1749, one was a German and more than half were from New England. They were entrusted to deliberate as a parliament on questions affecting the land in which they lived. It was an important beginning as the first elected assembly of its kind in what is now Canada.

Our Democracy

In 1776, the American War of Independence broke out. In a number of proclamations during the war, slaves, former slaves and free blacks were asked to fight on the side of the British Government against the United States. In return they were promised freedom, free passage to Canada and elsewhere, grants of land and farm implements and rations to have a better life. When these first black settlers came to Canada, they were settled in several government designated spots throughout Nova Scotia: Birchtown, Shelburne County, Brindley Town, Digby County, Little Tracadie, Guysborough County, Halifax and Preston.

In the early days of the first black settlers to Nova Scotia, the essence of democracy was functional in their everyday lives. With the establishment of communities there were also rules and regulations that were created to govern these new societies. Everyone within the community had a say in decision making, much like the model their ancestors used back in Africa.

Church Gathering early 1900's
Early Church Gathering -Circa 1950

Although black men in Canada received the right to vote on March 24, 1837, it did not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that they were equally involved or fully engaged in the electoral process. Due to this feeling of isolation and rejection from the decision making process, the black community started to develop their own leadership in hopes of addressing some of the inadequacies which they were faced with on a daily basis. One of the major differences in the selection of leadership within the black community was that leadership was not based on a political government sanctioned election but by the community and the hierarchical structure, process and regulations.

These communities organized and created their own forms of political structure, with the church being the focal point. There were structures: religious, secular and political.

For more information be sure to visit the full exhibit at the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia.


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