Dartmouth in the Legislature, Public Acts 1789-1867

Dartmouth has a long legislative history, more than 110 years before “Confederation”. Several bills specify “Dartmouth Town”, “Dartmouth Township” or the “Dartmouth Town Plot” long before it was incorporated. Nova Scotia actively dissuaded local self government for much of its colonial history, so these bills formed the regulatory flavor of Dartmouth township until Dartmouth was incorporated as a town in 1873.

The “Dartmouth Town, Act to enable the inhabitants of the Town Plot to use and occupy the common field as they may think fit” of 1789 seems to be an earlier incorporation in everything but name. It allowed proprietors to meet quarterly, to choose a Clerk to enter and record votes and orders relative to the Common and to sue or defend suits for proprietors respecting the Common.

It allowed for the same mode of raising taxes to defray expenses of “law suits, etc”, “as the collectors in the Town of Halifax are empowered”, it included a repugnancy clause, the same kind of clause Nova Scotia operated under in regards to the crown, and finally a limitation of powers in respect to the common that taxes could only be levied on those who use it.

Can Dartmouth’s incorporation be traced back to 1789, or was the Dartmouth Common a separate entity? Was the Town of Dartmouth incorporated in 1873 the successor body or did the Dartmouth Common operate as a kind of Imperium in Imperio within the township of Dartmouth, within the future Town and City of Dartmouth?

Dartmouth township was defined on January 3rd 1757, whether it had been defined previously at the very beginning of the settlement is unknown to this author. “That the township of Dartmouth comprehend all the lands lying on the east side of the harbour of Halifax and Bedford Basin, and extending and bounded easterly by the grant to the proprietors of Lawrencetown, and extending from the north easterly head of Bedford Basin into the country, until 100,000 acres be comprehended.”

This township was initially just a vessel for the Sessions and Grand Jury, a number of regulations were passed, powers were delegated to appointees.

Between becoming a township and gaining its incorporation as a town proper in 1873, 23 bills (and 10 amendments) were passed in Dartmouth’s name in the Provincial legislature.

The Initial Royal Instructions that called for two townships “at or near” the harbor of Chebucto. Much of the same verbiage can be found in later instructions, such as the inducements to New England Settlers as found in the 1759 “Charter of Nova Scotia”.

For more details on Dartmouth’s legislative history you can refer to Dartmouth in the Legislature, Public Acts 1789-1996.