From the harbor, the Sessions House (21 Parliament St., tel. 441/292-7408, fax 441/292-2006, 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 2–5 p.m. daily, admission free) is the landmark Italianate-style building that defines Hamilton ; like Toronto’s C. N. Tower or Chicago’s Sears Tower, the impressive structure identifies the city’s skyline.
The Sessions House was built in 1819, and the tower was added decades later to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee. Today, sitting atop Parliament Street, the Sessions House contains Bermuda’s Supreme Court on its ground floor, and the House of Assembly—one of the oldest parliaments in the world—upstairs. Parliament sits every Friday throughout the winter and spring, breaking for the summer and reconvening after November’s ceremonious Throne Speech—when the Governor reads the government’s to-do list to members of Parliament (MPs), dressed in their formal finest.
Like the British House of Commons, members of Parliament are seated according to political party, with opponents facing each other across the floor. A speaker, sporting a traditional black robe and a wig, oversees the proceedings, which count at least a couple of all-nighters every year—probably due to the fact there is no strict cutoff for debates, nor time limits on speeches. Heckling opponents while they are speaking is termed “interpolating,” and allowed within reason, provided hecklers do it from their appointed seat.
Famous debates have covered everything from whether to allow motor cars onto the island back in the 1940s (the “yes” vote finally held sway in 1946), to the Golden Arches in 1995 (a move to bring in McDonald’s and other fast-food franchises was voted down). Feel free to watch the frivolity from the public gallery during parliamentary sessions (10 a.m. Fri., Nov.–June).
You can also visit the empty gallery to inspect its cedarwood, portraits, and the speaker’s silver mace on weekdays, when Sergeant-at-Arms Albert Fox is happy to talk about the House of Assembly and show visitors around. Winter walking tours (Nov.–Mar.) organized by the Cultural Affairs Department (tel. 441/292-9447) also stop in here.