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House of Assembly Coat of Arms

House of Assembly

Newfoundland and Labrador

History of the House of Assembly

Video: History of the Governance of Newfoundland and Labrador

Representative/Responsible Government

As a result of a reform movement in the 1820s, the Colony of Newfoundland was first granted representative government in 1832. The Assembly consisted of 15 Members from nine electoral districts. The Governor and Legislative Council (Upper House) were appointed by the Crown. In 1855, Newfoundland was granted responsible government. The House of Assembly was increased to 29 Members (from 15 electoral districts), and the Cabinet became responsible to the Assembly. Prior to this, the appointed Legislative Council was the Cabinet and was not responsible to the Assembly.

The Dominion's first prime minister was Philip Francis Little.

Prime Ministers from 1855 to 1934

Commission of Government

The deteriorating financial situation of the Dominion in the 1930s resulted in a commission of inquiry (Amulree Royal Commission), which recommended that responsible government be suspended and governance be given over to an appointed commission. In December 1933, after 78 years of responsible government, the Newfoundland House of Assembly effectively voted itself out of existence. The arrangement was meant to be brief, but it lasted for 15 years.

Official Inauguration of the Commission of Government of Newfoundland, 16 February 1934. The Rooms Provincial Archives Division, A 2-141.

National Convention and Confederation with Canada

In 1946, Newfoundlanders went to the polls to elect Members of a National Convention who would assemble at Colonial Building in St. John’s to debate options for governance.

Members Elected to the National Convention

By 1948, the preferred options were recommended; two referenda later, Confederation with Canada was chosen by a small majority of the population. On March 31, 1949, Newfoundland (renamed Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001) became Canada's 10th province.

The first Premier following confederation was Joseph R. Smallwood.

Premiers from 1949 to present

The Newfoundland National Convention, 1946. Archives and Special Collections Division, Memorial University of Newfoundland, COLL-075, 5.05.272.

Locations of the House of Assembly

The first House of Assembly met on January 1, 1833, at a tavern and lodging house located on Duckworth Street in St. John's. It met at three more locations (the former Court House on Duckworth Street; a building on Water Street and the former St. Patrick’s Hall on Queen’s Road) before moving to the Colonial Building in 1850, Newfoundland’s first purpose-built Legislature. The House of Assembly continued to meet there until 1960 when it moved to the 9th and 10th floors of the Confederation Building. In 1991, the House of Assembly opened for the first time in its present location, on the main floor of the Confederation Building.

Map of the various locations of the House of Assembly

Female Members

The female right to vote (and to run for public office) was granted in 1925 in the Dominion of Newfoundland. Lady Helena Squires was the first woman elected to the House of Assembly, in a by-election on May 17, 1930. Hazel Newhook and Lynn Verge were the first women to serve as Cabinet ministers, both appointed in 1979. Kathy Dunderdale, sworn in on December 3, 2010, was the province’s first female Premier.