Nova Scotia Archives

Settlement Patterns and Cultural Diversity

Cultural Diversity

Kinship and family origins are still important in Nova Scotia. Visit Cape Breton Island and you're likely to be asked, 'Who's Your Father?' Nova Scotians come from many diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds; this diversity and richness is reflected everywhere in the records held at the Nova Scotia Archives, and displayed across this website. So, as you explore your family's roots, dig a little deeper... 

Further to the information below, we have also included short background essays on each cultural group. Please click on the headings and links throughout to learn more.


The Mi’kmaq

One of the most facinating histories of settlement in Nova Scotia is that of its original inhabitants, the Mi'kmaq.

An extensive Mi’kmaq Holdings Resource Guide is available on this website.



Today's Acadians are descended from the first European settlers in Nova Scotia, beggining in 1632. Several resources are available on this website for exploring Acadian ancestry: 

You may also wish to consult Stephen A. White, Dictionnaire généalogique des familles Acadiennes 1636 à 1714 (Centre d’études acadiennes, 1999) from the Nova Scotia Archives Library.


African Nova Scotians

The earliest definite evidence of black people living in Nova Scotia comes from the surviving records from the Fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island. There are three large resources on this website for exploring the heritage and culture of African Nova Scotians:

You may also wish to consult James W. St. Clair Walker, The Black Loyalists: The search for the promised land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870; 1992; Bridglal Pachai, Blacks; rev. 1987, 1993; and Bridglal Pachai and Henry Bishop, Historic Black Nova Scotia; 2006 from the Nova Scotia Archives Library.


English and Americans

People with English or American ancestry form the second largest share of Nova Scotia's population, after the Scots, but are seldom considered as a distinct ethnic group, due to the differences in time and circumstance under which they arrived. About 3,000 people arrived when the British government sponsored the founding of Halifax in 1749.  Approximately 8,000 New England Planters arrived between 1760 and 1768 and established townships in the Annapolis Valley, Liverpool, Yarmouth and Chester. At about the same time, Ulster Irish from Ireland or via New England established townships at Truro, Onslow and Londonderry. About 1,000 settlers from Yorkshire arrived between 1772 and 1774 and settled at the Isthmus of Chignecto. And approximately 20,000 disbanded soldiers and refugees loyal to the British Crown removed to Nova Scotia following the American Revolution. Several resources are available on this website for exploring English and American ancestry: 

You may wish to consult the following from the Nova Scotia Archives Library:

  • Esther Clark Wright, Planters and Pioneers Nova Scotia 1749 to 1775; 1982.
  • Marion Gilroy, Loyalists and Land Settlement in Nova Scotia, Public Archives of Nova Scotia Publication no. 4; 1937, reprinted with index 1980.
  • Loyalist Claims for compensation in Great Britain. Audit Office 12 – index by name of individual on microfilm 14227 and A.O. 13 – index on microfilm 14086.


The Foreign Protestants

Between 1749 and 1752, approximately 2,500 Foreign Protestant settlers from Germany, Montbéliard and Switzerland, arrived in Halifax and founded Lunenburg in 1753.

You may also wish to consult Winthrop P. Bell, “The Foreign Protestants” and the settlement of Nova Scotia; reprinted 1961 and 1990 and Winthrop P. Bell, Register of Foreign Protestants of Nova Scotia (ca. 1749-1770); compiled by Dr. J. Christopher Young, 2003 from the Nova Scotia Archives Library.


The Scots

Beginning with the arrival of the ship Hector at Pictou in 1773, large numbers of Scots came to Nova Scotia over a 70-year period.

You may also wish to consult Donald Whyte, Dictionary of Scottish emigrants to Canada before Confederation; 1986 and James Stuart Martell, Immigration to and emigration from Nova Scotia, 1815-1838, Public Archives of Nova Scotia publication no. 6; 1942 (mainly English, Scottish and Irish immigration to Nova Scotia) from the Nova Scotia Archives Library.


The Irish

The Irish have been part of Nova Scotia since Roger Casey arrived in the 1660s, married an Acadian and began the Caissy family.

You may also wish to consult A.A. MacKenzie, The Irish in Cape Breton; ca. 1979 from the Nova Scotia Archives Library.


Industrial Cape Breton, 1890-1920

The rapid development of coal mining in the 1880s, and construction of Canada's first integrated Steel Plant in Sydney, led to a huge influx of immigrants.


Twentieth Century

Today there are nearly one hundred distinct ethnicities represented throughout Nova Scotia. Visit the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 website to learn more abot their role in this story.