During my travels I often find myself visiting sites of government. Not sure why this is so because, as a rule, most governments really annoy me. Perhaps it’s because the buildings in which they’re housed are often grand and opulent and their landscaping beautiful, covering many acres of prime real estate.
So a visit to Province House in Halifax was a pleasant change from the norm. When we first spotted the building during our exploratory walk through the city, I thought it must be of some significance because it was old and looked important, but it is not at all large, occupying only a small city block. Perhaps, I thought, it was a courthouse or library? Turned out this was Province House, home to the province of Nova Scotia’s governing legislative body. It is the smallest and most modest governing building I’ve ever visited in a major city. Which is not to say that it isn’t nice and doesn’t have character, because it certainly does.
Province House is where the Nova Scotia legislative assembly gathers, as it has for almost 200 years since 1819. It is the oldest house of government and the longest serving legislative building in Canada. Standing three stories tall, its style is considered a fine example of Palladian architecture. When it opened in February 1819 it was home to the all branches of the colony’s government — executive, legislative and judicial. In 1848, Province House became the first site of responsible government in the British Empire outside the United Kingdom.
Perhaps the most famous trial held in Province House was in 1835 when Joseph Howe, a journalist who later became Premier of Nova Scotia, was put on trial. Howe had published an anonymous letter accusing Halifax politicians and police of pocketing £30,000. Whether it was true or not (likely it was), the politicians charged Howe with seditious libel. Howe’s passionate speech in his own defense swayed the jury who acquitted him in a landmark case for a free press in Canada. Sadly, these liberties have been losing ground in recent years.
Province House was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1996. It is also recognized as a Provincially Registered (Heritage) Property.
As it is not large, it’s easy to explore Province House. After airport-style security clearance, you’re allowed to wander the building at your leisure. There are number of beautiful and stately rooms, some obviously used for entertaining, others for meetings.
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