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  • Writer's pictureMyrna Driedger

The 150th Anniversary of the first sitting day of the Manitoba Legislature

By Myrna Driedger

Published in the May, 2021 issue of Lifestyles 55

Manitoba has a rich and vibrant history. 2020 was the 150th anniversary of Manitoba becoming a province, the 100th anniversary of the Manitoba Legislature Building, and recently we celebrated yet another milestone. March 15, 2021 was the 150th anniversary of the first sitting day of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. As Speaker, I took the opportunity to honour this occasion in the Legislature. I’d like to share with you what I said to my fellow MLAs. The following is my statement to the legislative assembly.

Speaker's Statement

I would like you to join me in celebrating a special anniversary, as today, March 15th, 2021, marks the 150th anniversary of the first sitting day of this Manitoba Legislature.

The first Manitoba Legislature sat from March 15th, 1871, to December 16th, 1874. During those sessions, 43 bills received royal assent, most of them dealing with initial administrative and judicial matters for the new government.

The first sitting day saw the election of the first Speaker, Joseph Royal, Esquire, who was immediately tasked with reading the first Speech from the Throne. This speech had been written by Lieutenant-Governor Adams George Archibald, who was appointed by the federal government and essentially served in the role of premier. Among other matters, the speech introduced instructions for members to draft laws covering the most basic of government functions. Several specific bills were mentioned in the speech, including a bill to establish the Supreme Court and Courts of General and Petty Sessions, and other bills laying the foundation for municipal governments.

Referring to the MLAs as the gentlemen of the Legislative Assembly–the first woman would not be elected to the Legislature for another 50 years–the speech also instructed members to take over responsibility for the expenditures of the government from the federal ministers. In those early years, the ability of the Legislature to tax was limited, and 90 per cent of provincial expenditures were covered by the federal government.

It is fascinating to peruse the Estimates of Expenditure for the year ending December 31st, 1872. Members may be interested to know that the total budget for the Province of Manitoba that year was $81,425. Line items in the budget included the following: $10,000 for roads and bridges; $6,000 for public buildings; $7,000 for education; $2,000 for immigration and agriculture; $500 for the Hospital of St. Boniface; $9,330 for the operation of the 24-member Legislative Assembly, including allowances for the Speaker, the Clerk and the Sergeant‑at‑Arms; $3,395 for the seven-member Legislative Council.

From 1871 to 1873, the Assembly met in a modest log house in the Red River settlement owned by A.G.B. Bannatyne, near the current corner of Main Street and McDermot Avenue. The Assembly met on the main floor, while the upper chamber, the Legislative Council, met upstairs.

The first sitting day occurred in that House, and we are fortunate to have in our presence an artifact which was also present on that sitting day and many others. This would be our first mace, which members can see sitting on the Clerk's table today.

I have related to members previously that this mace was replaced by our current mace in 1884. Being so fortunate as to still have it safely in our possession, though, we bring it out for use in the House every year on Manitoba Day and other special occasions such as today.

The 150-year-old artifact you see on the table today provides a vivid and visceral connection to that first sitting day 150 years ago. I encourage you to imagine it sitting on a rustic table in a small, smoky room filled with several dozen men attempting to conduct the business of that first sitting day.

I find that thought compelling and fascinating, and I hope members can appreciate this moment for that reason. I felt it was important to mark this day in the House, and I ask you all to take a moment to reflect on the 150-year legacy of our Legislature.

Our predecessors could scarcely have imagined what the future would hold in store for our province, nor could they have imagined the complex technological world in which we live.

I would encourage members to reflect on the solemn responsibility we all share to serve our constituents- the same responsibility faced in 1871- and recall that whatever heated debates we have here are part of a long legacy of service to the citizens of this province.


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