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From time immemorial, the Mi’kmaq First Nation lived throughout present-day Nova Scotia. When the French established the first European settlement at Port Royal (today’s Annapolis Royal) in 1605, Grand Chief Membertou offered them hospitality and became a frequent guest of Samuel de Champlain.

That close relationship with the French led to considerable suspicions by the British after they gained control of Nova Scotia, and rewards were offered for Mi’kmaw scalps. The Mi’kmaq helped some French-speaking Acadians evade deportation, but starting in 1755 most were sent to Louisiana (where they became ‘Cajuns’) and elsewhere for refusing to swear allegiance to the British Crown.

Nova Scotia was repopulated by some 35, 000 United Empire Loyalists retreating from the American Revolution, including a small number of African slaves owned by loyalists and also freed Black Loyalists. New England planters settled other communities and, starting in 1773, waves of Highland Scots uprooted by the clearances arrived in northern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island.

Most Nova Scotians trace their ancestry to the British Isles, as a look at the lengthy ‘Mac’ and ‘Mc’ sections of the phone book easily confirms. Acadians who managed to return from Louisiana after 1764 found their lands in the Annapolis Valley occupied. They settled instead along the French Shore between Yarmouth and Digby and, on Cape Breton Island, around Chéticamp and on Isle Madame. Today Acadians make up some 18% of the population, though not as many actually speak French. African Nova Scotians make up about 4% of the population. There are approximately 20, 000 Mi’kmaq in 18 different communities concentrated around Truro and the Bras d’Or lakes on Cape Breton Island.

Different aspects of Nova Scotian history are captured in 27 excellent provincial museums. If you’re likely to take in several, it’s worth buying an annual pass (adult/family $40/80) available at all museums in Nova Scotia.