A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #3: TOC
The Road To Being Canada
Chapter 35, Reform

"Rise, like lions after slumber,
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth, like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you!
Ye are many - they are few."
Masque of Anarchy, 1819, Shelly

The American Revolution drove thousands of those, who continued to be loyal to the British Crown, out of the new United States. They were called loyalists. They fled back to Great Britain and into the remaining British provinces of America. Nova Scotia was to receive more than her share; however, a significant number went to Canada. While the eastern territory, now defined as the Province of Quebec, received a number of loyalists, most headed to the western territory which we have come to know as the Province of Ontario. The Constitution Act of 1791, opposed by the British inhabitants of that part which was to become Lower Canada, divided Canada into two parts; with the intended effect of creating harmony. The French would be left in the majority in the one province, Lower Canada; and the English would be left in the majority in the other province, Upper Canada. "The British parliament reserved to itself the right of providing regulations, imposing, levying and collecting duties, for the regulation of navigation and commerce to be carried on between the two provinces, or between either of them and any other part of the British dominions or any foreign country."

The Constitution Act of 1791 did not have the intended effect, especially in Lower Canada. Disharmony between the French and English populations continued, and was further soured by those political problems naturally arising when a representative government is coupled with an irresponsible executive. This acerbity was "aided by the want of good municipal institutions; and the same constant interference of the imperial administration in matters which should be left wholly to the provincial governments."1 "The Constitution of 1791 thus provided in each of the Canadas for a governor, executive council, legislative council and assembly, which would be the colonial counterparts of the British institutions of sovereign, cabinet, Lords, and Commons."2

The idea that there should be a change in the manner, or at least the extent, by which the North American British colonies should be governed was first proposed by the Duke of Kent. The Duke, who had considerable experience in the subject, suggested that there be but two legislatures; the one for a combined Upper and Lower Canada (Canada), and the other for the three Atlantic colonies (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland). No one acted on this suggestion.3 Decades were to pass before any concrete steps of reform in Nova Scotia were to take place, as we will see. In the early decades of the 19th century: "The Reformers were preoccupied with the crisis in Upper Canada and they commented very seldom on the seemingly peaceful and relatively content state of the Atlantic provinces."4 In time, reforms did come to Nova Scotia; but before looking at these reforms, we must return to the events in England for a proper background.

NEXT: [Chapter 36, The British Reform Act Of 1832]


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Peter Landry