Nova Scotia Backgrounder

Nova Scotia--
the five-minute history

There s an old saying that good things come in small packages. Geographically, Nova Scotia is certainly a small package. In area, it s a little larger than the Netherlands or Kyushu, a little smaller than Austria or Hokkaido. About the same size as New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland combined. Small, but full of interest and fascinating contrasts. Compared to most of Europe or Asia, Nova Scotia is still a young settlement. Less than 500 years ago John Cabot landed on the northern Cape Breton shore and claimed the territory for England. But he was not the first here. The land was already home to 25,000 native Mi kmaq. Norsemen had visited around 1000 A.D. Fossilized dinosaur footprints tell also of a truly ancient past. In Nova Scotia all history lies close to the surface, part of the texture of everyday life.

In 1604 the French established the first permanent European settlement north of the Gulf of Mexico, at Port Royal on the Bay of Fundy. Until the end of the 18th century the province was known at home and abroad as Acadia. In the early 1700s the English began challenging the French ownership with a claim that went back to 1621 when King James I granted the province to Sir William Alexander. For years the French and English vied for control. Governor Edward Cornwallis founded Halifax as a British garrison and settlement in 1749. In 1755, British distrust of the French led to the expulsion of 10,000 Acadians, many of whom eventually made their way to Louisiana and Virginia, in the southern United States. The second and final loss of the French fortress at Louisbourg to the English in 1758 sealed Nova Scotia s destiny as a British territory.

Over the years, settlers arrived in waves. Protestants from Germany. New England Planters. Colonists loyal to the British Crown, fleeing the American Revolution. Scots expelled by the Highland Clearances. Ulstermen and Yorkshiremen. Several thousand blacks following the war of 1812 in America. Descendents of all these and many others are still here. In the last 150 years, over one million immigrants from around the globe have arrived in the new world through the port of Halifax. Alexander Graham Bell, Guglielmo Marconi are just two world-famous figures who have called Nova Scotia home at some time.

Nova Scotia was one of the four provinces that joined the federation called the Dominion of Canada in 1867. At that time the province was an international leader in shipbuilding, lumbering and fishing. Widespread industrialization led to a decline in the province s fortunes until the first and second world wars made Halifax a staging point for convoys, confirming it as a major military port. In recent years the province has undergone another phase of what it has always done so well adapting to change. Manufacturing, knowledge-based enterprise, technology and tourism are just a few sectors that increasingly are supplementing Nova Scotia s traditional resource-based industries.

Wrapped with the sea, blessed with a strange, shifting beauty, Nova Scotia today is a province of contrasts. Proud traditions and a modern sensibility living together in harmony. A small package, perched on the edge of a North American continent -- connected to much of the world by tradition, ancestry and trade. That s Nova Scotia.

Basic Information about Nova Scotia

Size: 560 km (350 miles) long. Maximum of 56 km (35 miles) to the sea.
Area: 52,840 km2 (20,402 square miles)
Coastline: 7,400 km (4,625 miles)
Population: 923,000
Capital city: Halifax (part of a metropolitan area comprising Dartmouth, Bedford and Sackville: population 330,000)
Government: 52-member elected House of Assembly, and a Lieutenant Governor who is the Queen s representative in the province. Nova Scotia is also represented in the Government of Canada by 11 members of the 295-member elected House of Commons, and by 10 senators in the 104-member appointed Senate
Average temperatures: Summer 16-24 C (60-75 F) Winter -3 C (20 F)
Gross Domestic Product (1994): $18.7 billion
Major economic sectors: manufacturing, forestry, fishing, agriculture, mining, tourism, technological solutions
Language: Primary: English, secondary: French