Nova Scotia – Discovery, Early Development and Cultural Influences

Nova Scotia – Discovery, Early Development and Cultural Influences

Nova Scotia is one of Canada’s Maritime Provinces, located on Canada’s southeastern coast. It consists of a peninsula and offshore islands, attached to the mainland by the Isthmus of Chignecto. The province has over seven thousand kilometres of coastline. The earliest known inhabitants are the Mi’kmaq people who lived in the land around five thousand years before the Vikings are believed to have explored it. Since then, the region has had name changes and has been colonised by many different peoples.

First recorded European Exploration

Although the Vikings were thought to be the first Europeans to explore the region, the first recorded exploration was in 1497. The explorer was a Venetian Italian known in English as John Cabot (but in Italian as Giovanni Caboto) whose expedition was backed financially by both Italian and British banking houses. The land was claimed for the King of England, Henry VII, under the banner of the Catholic Church. The region became a trading area. Portuguese explorers also arrived in the region, in 1520. However, it wasn’t until eight decades later that a European settlement was established there, and it wasn’t Italian, British or Portuguese.

Colonisation

The first permanent European settlement was established at Port Royal in 1605 by French colonists. This area became part of Acadia, a colony of New France.  Originally a trading post only, its status as a residential settlement truly started with the arrival of ships bringing women and children in 1632. Around this time the land of Nova Scotia was being claimed by many different nations.

In 1621 the region briefly became a Scottish colony. Sir William Alexander of Menstrie Castle in Scotland claimed it, after he had persuaded King James V1 of Scotland that Scotland needed to expand its territories, as had other countries over the previous few years. This explains how a province in Canada came to be named Nova Scotia, which is Latin for New Scotland.

The French made several attempts to claim back the region and fought a series of battles. The campaign ended victoriously at the Seige of Baleine and Nova Scotia was handed over to France. French settlements were established and then abandoned for twenty years. Then, in 1654, an English expedition was launched by Robert Sedgewick and John Leverett, who oversaw the capture of the main ports in Acadia.

During these centuries of change, the Mi’kmaq people developed trading links with the various colonists. This had mixed impacts upon the way of life, language and culture of the Mi’kmaq. For example, extensive logging and railway building destroyed caribou habitats. The Federation of Newfoundland Indians was formed in 1973, to help mitigate the negative effects.

Up to Date

The influence and culture of the indigenous Mi’kmaq. population is becoming more evident in the region. A strong Gaelic culture was brought to the region by the Scottish colonists and their descendants. Acadian French influence is also strong, as is the Anglo-American influence brought by settlers from the US. Roughly one eighth of the population is partly descended from the Acadian French, and many others are descended from former British American settlers crossing over the Northern border.

Nowadays, at last, there is a positive result of the colonisation and complex political wrangling: a diverse and varied culture in the region.

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