Nova Scotia

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Nova Scotia is a Maritime province on the east coast of Canada.

It is the most populous province in the Maritimes, with its capital and major centre, Halifax, the largest city in all of Atlantic Canada.


The province's principal landmass is the Nova Scotia peninsula, bordered by the Bay of Fundy to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Cape Breton Island, a large island to the northeast of the Nova Scotia mainland, is also part of the province, as is the smaller Sable Island

Bay of Fundy

The highest tides on Earth occur in the eastern extremity of the Bay of Fundy, where the range approaches 17 metres (56 feet) when the various factors affecting the tides are in phase.

Cape Breton Island

Cape Breton Island is famed for its Cabot Trail, a highway and scenic route circling the island.


Aboriginal history

The Mi'kmaq First Nations are Nova Scotia's original inhabitants.

John Cabot

While there is some debate over where he landed, it is widely believed that the Italian explorer John Cabot visited Cape Breton Island in 1497. [1]

French settlement

The first European settlement was established in 1604, when the French, led by Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Monts established the capital for the colony of Acadia at Port Royal at the head of the Annapolis Basin. French fishermen established a settlement at Canso the same year.

A New Scotland

In 1620, the Plymouth Council for New England, under King James I (of England) & VI (of Scots) designated the shorelines of Acadia and the Mid-Atlantic colonies south to the Chesapeake Bay as New England.

On September 29, 1621, the charter for the foundation of a colony was granted by James I to William Alexander, 1st Earl of Stirling. In 1622, the first settlers left from the Scotland. However, this settlement initially failed due to difficulties in obtaining a sufficient number of skilled emigrants and in 1624, James I created a new order of Baronets. Admission to this order was obtained by sending six labourers or artisans, sufficiently armed, dressed and supplied for two years, to Nova Scotia, or by paying 3,000 merks to William Alexander. For six months, no one took up this offer until James compelled one to make the first move. In 1627, there was a wider uptake of baronetcies, and thus more settlers available to go to Nova Scotia.


In 1627, war broke out between England and France and the French re-established a settlement at Port Royal,where they had originally settled. Later that year, a combined Scottish and English force destroyed the French settlement, forcing them out.

In 1629, the first Scottish settlement at Port Royal was inhabited. The colony's charter, in law, made Nova Scotia (defined as all land between Newfoundland and New England) a part of mainland Scotland, this was later used to get around the English navigation acts. However, this did not last long: in 1631, under King Charles I, the Treaty of Suza was signed which returned Nova Scotia to the French. The Scots were forced by Charles to abandon their mission before their colony had been properly established and the French assumed control of the Mi'kmaq and other First Nations territory.

In 1654, King Louis XIV of France appointed aristocrat Nicholas Denys as Governor of Acadia, granting him the confiscated lands. English colonists captured Acadia in the course of King William's War, but England returned the territory to France in the Treaty of Ryswick at the wars end. The territory was recaptured by forces loyal to Britain during the course of Queen Anne's War, and its conquest confirmed by the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. France retained possession of Île St Jean (Prince Edward Island) and Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), on which it established a fortress at Louisbourg to guard the sea approaches to Quebec. This fortress was captured by American colonial forces, then returned by the British to France, then ceded again after the French and Indian War of 1755.

A British colony

Mainland Nova Scotia became a British colony in 1713, although Samuel Vetch had a precarious hold on the territory as governor from the fall of Acadian Port-Royal (Annapolis Royal) in October 1710. British governing officials became increasingly concerned over the unwillingness of the French-speaking, Roman Catholic Acadians, who were the majority of colonists, to pledge allegiance to the British Crown. The colony remained mostly Acadian despite the establishment of Halifax as the province's capital, and the settlement of a large number of foreign Protestants, mostly German, at Lunenburg in 1753. In 1755, the British forcibly expelled over 12,000 Acadians in the Acadian Expulsion.

The colony's jurisdiction changed during this time. Nova Scotia was granted a supreme court in 1754 with the appointment of Jonathan Belcher and a Legislative Assembly in 1758. In 1763, Cape Breton Island became part of Nova Scotia. In 1769, St. John's Island (Prince Edward Island) became a separate colony. The county of Sunbury was created in 1765, and included all of the territory of current day New Brunswick and eastern Maine as far as the Penobscot River. In 1784 the western, mainland portion of the colony was separated and became the province of New Brunswick, and the territory in Maine entered the control of the newly independent American state of Massachusetts. Cape Breton became a separate colony in 1784 only to be returned to Nova Scotia in 1820.

Ancestors of more than half of present-day Nova Scotians arrived in the period following the Acadian Expulsion. Between 1759 and 1768, about 8000 New England Planters responded to Governor Charles Lawrence's request for settlers from the New England colonies. Several years later, approximately 30,000 United Empire Loyalists (American Tories) settled in Nova Scotia (when it comprised present-day Maritime Canada) following the defeat of the British in the American Revolutionary War. Of these 30,000, 14,000 went to New Brunswick and 16,000 went to Nova Scotia. Approximately 3,000 of this group were slaves of African ancestry, about a third of which soon relocated themselves to Sierra Leone in 1792. Large numbers of Highland Scots emigrated to Cape Breton and the western part of the mainland during the late 18th century and 19th century. About one thousand Ulster Scots settled in mainly central Nova Scotia during this time, as did just over a thousand farming migrants from Yorkshire and Northumberland between 1772 and 1775.

Responsible government

Nova Scotia was the first colony in British North America and in the British Empire to achieve responsible government in January-February 1848 and become self-governing through the efforts of Joseph Howe. Pro-Confederate premier Charles Tupper led Nova Scotia into the Canadian Confederation in 1867, along with New Brunswick and the Province of Canada.


In the provincial election of 1868, the Anti-Confederation Party won 18 out of 19 Federal seats, and 36 out of 38 seats in the provincial legislature. For seven years, William Annand and Joseph Howe led the ultimately unsuccessful fight to convince British imperial authorities to release Nova Scotia from Confederation. The government was vocally against Confederation, contending that it was no more than the annexation of the province to the pre-existing province of Canada:

"...the scheme [confederation with Canada] by them assented to would, if adopted, deprive the people [of Nova Scotia] of the inestimable privilege of self-government, and of their rights, liberty, and independence, rob them of their revenue, take from them the regulation of trade and taxation, expose them to arbitrary taxation by a legislature over which they have no control, and in which they would possess but a nominal and entirely ineffective representation; deprive them of their invaluable fisheries, railroads, and other property, and reduce this hitherto free, happy, and self-governed province to a degraded condition of a servile dependency of Canada."

— from Address to the Crown by the Government (Journal of the House of Assembly, Province of Nova Scotia, 1868)

A motion passed by the Nova Scotia House of Assembly in 1868 refusing to recognise the legitimacy of Confederation has never been rescinded. Repeal, as anti-confederation became known, would rear its head again in the 1880s, and transform into the Maritime Rights Movement in the 1920s.


  1. Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia.