Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick
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Part 5 - Historical Perspective

The first European settlers were the French, who began arriving early in the 17th century. They encountered members of two First Nations, the Micmacs and Maliseets, who had been established here for countless centuries before.

As part of Acadia, New Brunswick was involved in that epochal conflict between English and French, chronicled by the great historian Francis Parkman in a series of books which have been called the Illiad of North America.

The French settlers in Acadia were few and far apart, and the authority of their homeland country was represented only by a handful of widely-scattered soldiers. Consequently, as has been pointed out by Parkman and subsequent historians, the Acadians were unique in the modern world. They lived in peace with one another, despite the fact that for all intents and purposes they had no government. While Old France was an absolute monarchy, Acadia was a libertarian republic. The Acadians' fervent love for their land was demonstrated by the lengths to which so many of them went to return here after the expulsion of 1755, when they were driven from their homes by the New England militia and scattered along what is now the Atlantic Seaboard of the United States. French settlement in New Brunswick was also increased by an influx of settlers escaping from the rigid seigneurial system of government then existing in Quebec.

While First Nations and the French long preceded them, it was the Loyalists, arriving with comparative suddenness and in relatively large numbers in the 1780s, who initiated the movement for local government. The Loyalists brought about the organization of New Brunswick as a distinct political unit. Their aim, they said, was to make this "the most gentleman-like province on earth."

The first meeting of the legislature was held in the port city of Saint John, but the first governor, Thomas Carleton, insisted Fredericton should become the capital -- primarily, it is said, because Fredericton was less vulnerable to attack from the United States. As it happened, New Brunswick and New England treated each other virtually as neutrals when war again broke out in 1812 between Britain and the United States, although somewhat paradoxically, the 104th Regiment of Foot, recruited in New Brunswick, marched from Fredericton to Quebec City on snowshoes to fight in Ontario.

The form of government common to British colonies in the late 18th century was granted to New Brunswick. In addition to the governor, who represented the King, there was a legislative council selected by the Crown's representative from the more substantial segment of society, and an elected general assembly representative of the broad mass of the people. Concentration of control in the hands of a relatively small elite became an increasing cause of dissatisfaction.

Responsible government was achieved in 1847. Twenty years later, under the British North America Act of July 1, 1867, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario became the four original provinces of the united Canada.

A note of educational opportunity was sounded in the Free Schools Act of 1871.

An Act Relating to the Legislative Council, dated April 16, 1891, provided for the abolition of the provincial upper house. Under the terms of the act, the legislative council held its last meeting on April 7, 1892.

Since French is the first language of nearly 34 per cent of its population, New Brunswick comes closer than any other province to the English-French ratio of the country as a whole. The Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick was the first in Canada to install a simultaneous translation system, and it was the first province to proclaim itself by legislative act to be officially bilingual.

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