Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia, one of the three Maritime 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, are 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 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 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 Qebec. 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 Pr National Historic Site, near Grand Pr, encompasses the site of a former Acadian village; York Redoubt National Historic Site includes a defense battery (begun 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.

Provincial Government Government and Politics

Nova Scotia has a parliamentary form of government.


The nominal chief executive of Nova Scotia is a lieutenant governor appointed by the Canadian governor-general in council to a term of five years. The lieutenant governor, representing the British sovereign, holds a position that is largely honorary. The premier, who is responsible to the provincial legislature, is the actual head of government and presides over the executive council, or cabinet, which also includes the attorney general, minister of finance, minister of education, and about 15 other officials.


The unicameral Nova Scotia Legislative Assembly is made up of 52 members, each popularly elected to a term of up to five years. The lieutenant governor, on the advice of the premier, may call for an election before the 5-year term has been completed.


Nova Scotia’s highest tribunal, the supreme court, is composed of an appeal division with eight justices (including the chief justice) and a trial division with 15 justices. Supreme court justices are appointed by the Canadian governor-general in council and serve until the age of 75.

Local Government

Nova Scotia is divided into 18 counties. Other units of local government include 3 incorporated cities and 39 incorporated towns, most of which are governed by a mayor and council.

National Representation

Nova Scotia is represented in the Canadian Parliament by 10 senators appointed by the Canadian governor-general in council and by 11 members of the House of Commons popularly elected to terms of up to five years.


Since Nova Scotia became a province in 1867, the Liberal party has been most successful in obtaining control of the provincial government. From 1956 to 1970, however, the Progressive Conservative party held a majority in the Legislative Assembly, and it regained this position in 1978.

Industries Economy

In the 19th century Nova Scotia was known for trading, shipbuilding, and fishing. During the 20th century the province’s economy was expanded and diversified, in part through the establishment of war-related industries in the two world wars. In the early 1990s services constituted the leading economic activity; manufacturing, fishing, mining, and farming were also important.


About 8 percent of Nova Scotia’s land area is devoted to crops and pasture, with some of the best farmland located on the Isthmus of Chignecto (connecting the province with New Brunswick) and the Annapolis Lowland. The province has about 4000 farms, which have an average size of some 100 hectares (247 acres). Annual cash receipts from sale of crops and of livestock and livestock products totaled nearly Can.$300 million in the early 1990s, with livestock and livestock products accounting for about three-fourths of the income. The leading farm commodities are dairy products, poultry, hogs, beef cattle, eggs, fruit (especially apples grown in the Annapolis Lowland), greenhouse products, potatoes and other vegetables, and wheat.


Nova Scotia has a substantial forestry industry, with about 4.2 million cu m (about 148 million cu ft) of wood harvested per year. Most of the wood is used for making paper, and the rest is chiefly sawed into lumber. In addition, many trees are cut for use as Christmas trees.


Nova Scotia and British Columbia have the largest fishing industries in Canada. In Nova Scotia the yearly fish catch in the early 1990s exceeded Can.$500 million, with most of the income derived from sales of shellfish, especially scallop and lobster. Next in value was cod; herring, shrimp, haddock, pollock, hake, flounder, crab, and redfish also were important. Leading fishing ports include Digby, Liverpool, Lunenburg, Shelburne, and Yarmouth.


Coal, the most important material mined in Nova Scotia, had a total yearly value in the early 1990s of Can.$238 million, some 12 percent of the Canadian total. The main coal mines are on Cape Breton Island. Approximately three-fourths of the gypsum mined annually in Canada is produced in the province. Other important mineral products of Nova Scotia include tin, stone, salt, sand and gravel, clay, peat, lead, zinc, and barite.


A leading sector of Nova Scotia’s economy, manufacturing employs about 49,000 persons. The annual value of shipments by manufacturing establishments in the province is some Can.$5.3 billion. Principal manufactures include processed food (notably fish products), paper and paper items, transportation equipment (especially ships, aerospace supplies, and motor vehicles), printed materials, wood products, iron and steel, nonmetallic minerals, and chemical products. Halifax and the Sydney area are important manufacturing centers.


The sea moderates the climate of Nova Scotia, which has mild winters compared to the interior of Canada and slightly cooler summers than many other areas in the southern part of the nation. Halifax, which is fairly typical of the province, has a mean January temperature of -3.2 C (26.2 F) and a mean July temperature of 18.3 C (65 F) and annually receives some 1320 mm (some 52 in) of precipitation, including about 210 mm (about 8.3 in) of snow. The recorded temperature of Nova Scotia has ranged from – 41.1 C (-42 F), in 1920 at Upper Stewiacke, to 38.3 C (100.9 F), in 1935 at Collegeville, near Sherbrooke. Fog is common along the southern coast of the province in spring and early summer.


According to the 1991 census, Nova Scotia had 899,942 inhabitants, an increase of 3.1% over 1986. In 1991 the overall population density was about 16 persons per sq km (42 per sq mi). English was the lone mother tongue of some 93% of the people; about 4 percent had French as their sole first language. More than 13,000 Native Americans lived in Nova Scotia. The churches with the largest membership in the province were the Roman Catholic church, the United Church of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. About 54 percent of all Nova Scotians lived in areas defined as urban, and the rest lived in rural areas. Halifax was the biggest city and capital of the province; other major communities were Dartmouth, Sydney, Glace Bay, and Truro.

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