WINNIPEG - On May 12, 2018 Manitoba will be 148 years old. Quite the accomplishment! Our province was the fifth to join Canada and became a province through the Manitoba Act, passed by the Canadian Parliament in 1870. Manitoba began as a postage-stamp-sized province before growing into the Manitoba that we see today. We have a rich history to be proud of. The stories in Manitoba’s past are fascinating.
I think of Nellie McClung and the Political Equality League in the Walker Theater, the bustling trade at The Forks, and the building of the Manitoba legislature. All these important times in our history happened in places we would recognize today. We need only to look at the cobblestone streets of the Exchange, the vibrant terminals at The Forks, and our legislature, to see that these sites have been important to Manitobans throughout our history and will continue to be in the future.
It’s just one of the many things I love about our province, our ability to appreciate the past while looking forward. This is a theme I’ve reiterated throughout my career at the legislature. I love to show how far we’ve come by recognizing the works of those who came before us. It’s why I introduced a private members bill that allowed for a monument of the famous five to be placed on the grounds of the Manitoba legislature. It’s why I installed a Vote100 wall on the outside of the chamber in the legislature. Finally, it’s why, in 2017, I began the tradition to use the first mace on Manitoba Day.
Being Speaker of the legislative assembly is a role in which I feel particularly tied to the tradition and history in the house. After all, I wear the style of robes, the triangular hat, and the white gloves that have been worn by Speakers since our legislative sittings began in Manitoba. Every day that the house is in session I am led into the chamber by what is called the Speaker’s Parade. The parade begins in the Speaker’s gallery where I walk past portraits of former Speakers, then through the rotunda, and ultimately into the chamber to sit in the Speaker’s chair. I am humbled by this privilege and appreciate the tradition surrounding it.
This Speaker’s Parade is composed of the sergeant-at-arms, the clerks of the assembly, and the pages. The sergeant-at-arms is in charge of a ceremonial mace that represents the Queen’s authority in the chamber. During the Speaker’s parade the sergeant-at-arms carries the mace on their shoulder before placing it on the Clerk’s table in the Chamber. Once the mace is placed on the Clerk’s table, the house is officially in session.
The role of the sergeant-at-arms is an important one. This person is responsible for the security of the chamber and the committee rooms where the MLAs debate and discuss important issues of the day. Every legislature in Canada, including the Parliament building, has a sergeant-at-arms. In fact, Parliament has two; one sergeant-at-arms in the House of Commons and an usher of the black rod in the Senate chamber. These historic roles show the evolution of aged tradition mixed with practical reality. This is something we see all over our province, the respect for our roots and how we were formed, brought into the future.
The Manitoba legislature has used two separate maces throughout our history. The first mace was, fittingly, made from the hub of a Red River cart wheel. It was carved by a soldier from the Wolseley expedition. The first mace was used from 1871 until 1884 when the current mace began its long career. The first mace is wooden and light. It is much shorter than the current mace and far more understated. The difference between the two maces is notable and I think it speaks to the evolution of early Manitoba. Before the legislature was completed in 1920 the Manitoba assembly sat in homes in Winnipeg near where the legislature is now while debating and discussing the issues of the day. This rustic beginning is the prairie way and a commendable ode to Manitoba’s dedication to democracy.
Manitoba Day is a time to reflect on our great province. We have 148 years of vibrant history as the province of Manitoba. The people who came before us and the events that have shaped us make Manitoba the place it is today, a place I am proud to call home. Using the first mace to commemorate Manitoba Day serves as an important reminder of our heritage. It humbles me to know that the Speaker’s parade will walk past the portraits of some of Manitoba’s first Speakers who used the first mace. I am honoured to have started this Manitoba Day tradition, a tradition I hope to see continue.
By Myrna Driedger