Nova Scotia is the most populous of Canada's maritime provinces and has a unique a rich cultural history thanks in large part to its Scottish settlers.
In many ways, Nova Scotia (Latin for "New Scotland") is like its namesake in climate and geography. Consisting of the main peninsula and over 3,800 islands, Nova Scotia has a temperate climate, despite its northern location. It is not surprising, then, why Scottish explorer Sir William Alexander gave the Atlantic territory its name in 1632.
Nova Scotia has always been a territory of desire for Western colonial powers due to its coastal location. The first Europeans known to have walked ashore were French fur trappers in 1605.
Scotland briefly claimed Nova Scotia as its own territory in 1629, but turned it over to the French after losing several battles in 1632. The Scots would not return for 150 years, during which the British conquered Acadia over the French and set off a contentious 60-year battle for control of the territory.
Many forts were established during this period including Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island and Fort Edward in Windsor, which contains the oldest wooden blockhouse fortification in North America (1750). Fort George in Halifax is also an impressive hilltop stone fort and one of the capital city's prime attractions.
Nova Scotia's early cultural influences were French and American. But that changed when the British settled the mainland and then the Scots moved to Cape Breton Island. For the Scots, they had little choice. The bloody Highland Clearances during the turn of the 18th Century sent many Highland clans in search of refuge. They found that Cape Breton resembled their Highland homeland. As a result, the island has maintained a strong Gaelic-Scottish presence.
The Scottish influence on Nova Scotia spread to the mainland during the 19th Century. One of the most famous of the Scottish migrations was Clan Maclean, which vacated its towns in Scotland in 1812, sending about 500 people to Pictou, Nova Scotia.
Remarkably, as of 2006, the majority ethnic group living in Nova Scotia was of direct Scottish ancestry (28.3 percent). The majority of these people can trace their roots to Cape Breton Island, which teams with Old World life, Gaelic names, music, history and Highland charm.
Any trip to Cape Breton should begin in the west coast village of Judique, the first Scottish settlement on the island and the "Home of Celtic Music." The Celtic Music Interpretive Centre is a worthwhile stop. Farther north is Inverness, where traditional Scottish fiddle music fills pubs, dance halls and outdoor spaces during the summer.
Up the coast is Cheticamp, a traditional French fishing village, and then the Cape Breton Highlands with the popular Cabot Trail driving route. On the east side of the mountains is Sydney, Cape Breton's largest city, and the restored French fortress of Louisbourg.
In the middle of Cape Breton are two cultural gems: Baddeck, home of inventor Alexander Graham Bell, and the outdoor Highland Village Museum. The Bell Museum in Baddeck explores the innovation of the Scottish-Canadian Bell and how he changed the world of communication.
The Highland Village, located on Cape Breton Highway 223, preserves buildings from all eras of Scottish settlement and volunteers reenact daily life. It is the perfect place to experience the depth of Nova Scotia's unique Scottish heritage.