Nova Scotia, one of the three Maritime Provinces and one of the four Atlantic provinces of Canada, bordered on the north by the Bay of Fundy, the province of New Brunswick, Northumberland Strait, and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and on the east, south, and west by the Atlantic Ocean.

Nova Scotia consists primarily of a mainland section, linked to New Brunswick by the Isthmus of Chignecto, and Cape Breton Island, separated from the mainland by the Strait of Canso. On July 1, 1867, Nova Scotia became one of the founding members of the Canadian Confederation. The province’s name, which is Latin for New Scotland, was first applied to the region in the 1620s by settlers from Scotland.

Physical Geography

Nova Scotia can be divided into four major geographical regions-the Atlantic Uplands, the Nova Scotia Highlands, the Annapolis Lowland, and the Maritime Plain. The Atlantic Uplands, which occupy most of the southern part of the province, is made up of ancient resistant rocks largely overlain by rocky glacial deposits.

The Nova Scotia Highlands are composed of three separate areas of uplands. The western section includes North Mountain, a long ridge of traprock along the Bay of Fundy; the central section takes in the Cobequid Mountains, which rise to 367 m (1204 ft) atop Nuttby Mountain; and the eastern section contains the Cape Breton Highlands, with the province’s highest point.

The Annapolis Lowland, in the west, is a small area with considerable fertile soil. Nova Scotia’s fourth region, the Maritime Plain, occupies a small region fronting on Northumberland Strait. The plain is characterized by a low, undulating landscape and substantial areas of fertile soil.


The area now known as Nova Scotia was originally inhabited by tribes of Abenaki and Micmac peoples. The Venetian explorer John Cabot, sailing under the English flag, may have reached Cape Breton Island in 1497.  Colonial Period    The first settlers of the area were the French, who called it Acadia and founded Port Royal in 1605. Acadia included present-day New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

The English, rivals of the French in Europe and the New World, refused to recognize French claims to Acadia, which they called Nova Scotia (New Scotland) and granted to the Scottish poet and courtier Sir William Alexander in 1621. This act initiated nearly a century of Anglo-French conflict, resolved by the British capture of Port Royal (now Annapolis Royal) in 1710 and the French cession of mainland Acadia to the British by the Peace of Utrecht in 1713. Thus, the bulk of the Roman Catholic French-Acadians came under Protestant British rule. In order to awe their new subjects, the British founded the town of Halifax as a naval base and capital in 1749.

Distrusting the Acadians’ loyalty in the French and Indian War, however, in 1755 the British deported them. This ruthless action was described by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Evangeline (1847). The British replaced the Acadians with settlers from New England and, later, from Scotland and northern England. In 1758 the British conquered the French fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton, which was joined to Nova Scotia and ceded to them in 1763.

During the American Revolution, the British colony of Nova Scotia was a refuge for thousands of Americans loyal to Britain, including many blacks. In 1784 the colony of New Brunswick was carved out of mainland Nova Scotia to accommodate these United Empire Loyalists. Cape Breton also became separate.

The remaining Nova Scotians, augmented by some returned Acadians and many Scots and Irish immigrants, lived by fishing, lumbering, shipbuilding, and trade. Some attained great wealth as privateers during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812.  After a prolonged political struggle, Britain granted Nova Scotia (which included Cape Breton after 1820) local autonomy, or responsible government, in 1848.

Economic uncertainty and political unease at the time of the American Civil War stimulated some interest in associating with the other British North American provinces, but many tradition-minded Nova Scotians distrusted the Canadians of Ontario and Qúebec. In 1867, without consulting the electorate, the Nova Scotia government took its reluctant people into the Canadian Confederation.

Post-Confederation Period

Although joining the union failed to arrest Nova Scotia’s economic decline, it resulted in rail connections to the west and a federal tariff that encouraged local manufacturing. An iron and steel industry developed in Pictou County and on Cape Breton, near extensive coal mines. Agricultural areas found export markets, especially for apples.

From the end of World War I through the depression of the 1930s, Nova Scotia suffered industrial decline and accompanying unemployment and labor unrest. Thousands migrated to central and western Canada or immigrated to the United States. The Maritime Rights Movement of the 1920s, protesting Nova Scotia’s unfavorable economic position in relation to the rest of Canada, accomplished little.

After a revival of shipbuilding in World War II, Nova Scotian industry faced problems of obsolete equipment, heavy freight costs, and dwindling resources. Local government attempts to reverse the trend through investment and diversification were disappointing. In 1956 the electorate ended 26 years of Liberal rule by returning the Conservatives to power.

Although the government-subsidized industrial development to rejuvenate the local economy, the initiatives were unsuccessful, and failures in the electronics and nuclear energy industries proved to be very expensive. In 1967 the government took over a failing steel plant in Sydney, which added steadily to the provincial debt.

Later governments-first Liberal (from 1970-1978) and then Conservative (since 1978)-have been unable to bring the local economy up to parity with the rest of Canada. Despite a rate of economic growth that exceeded the national average from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, Nova Scotia, like other Maritime provinces, remains one of the less advantaged areas in the Canadian union.

Historical Sites

Nova Scotia has preserved or reconstructed a number of historical sites. These include Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Park, in Baddeck, with exhibits relating to Bell’s inventions while he lived here; Fort Anne National Historic Site, in Annapolis Royal, including the remains of a French fort built from 1695 to 1708; Fort Edward National Historic Site, in Windsor, containing the remains of a mid-18th-century earthen fortification; and Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, near Louisbourg, including a partial reconstruction of a large French fort (built 1720-45; destroyed by the English, 1760).

Grand Pré National Historic Site, near Grand Pré, encompasses the site of a former Acadian village; York Redoubt National Historic Site includes a defense battery (begun in the 1790s) guarding Halifax Harbour; and Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, in Halifax, contains a massive 19th-century stone fortress. Also of interest is Sherbrooke Village Restoration, in the Sherbrooke area, a restoration of a lumbering and mining community of the 1860s.

1 Comment

  1. I see references to “you’re never further than 35 km from the ocean in Nova Scotia, where exactly are the point or points on the map?

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