Before the Tall Ships came, there were the drums of the Mi’kmaq, echoing through the dark forests of this rugged land. They paid homage to Gisoolg, the Great Creator, for the bounty that lay about them. For thousands of years, theirs were the only songs to accompany the crashing waves and the restless wind of this place by the sea.

Then came the others. Displaced people all, carrying their faith and their music as holy relics of their homelands, so far away.

Acadian Aboriginal Black Celtic


First -the French, who settled and farmed. Every furrow ploughed and every chanson sung transformed the ways of the old country into the new spirit of Acadie. But soon the sound of the fiddle was drowned by the drums of battle. The French tongue of Acadia offended the British crown. So, at the point of a bayonet, they were driven from their adopted home; families, like autumn leaves, cast adrift to fetch up on new shores far away. For many, Louisiana became the new Acadie. Others took refuge in the Acadian forest where they taunted the British with the Tintamarre – their voices echoing through the valleys to proclaim: “We are still here… and our song goes on.”


Then came the Celts -the Scots and the Irish – forced across the sea by war and despair. Here, they settled a New Scotland – Nova Scotia -in the brooding hills that echoed the highlands of home. They coloured the landscape with swirling tartan and the skirl of the pipes; with timeless odes to thrones lost, battles won and the endless ache of love.


North from the Thirteen Colonies and the Caribbean came the black settlers, twice dispossessed, weaving tales of African sun into the raw rhythms of the winter wind. Many came by the Underground Railroad – that path from slavery to a life still hard but free. Here, in their churches and their farms and towns, they could sing their songs without the clatter of chains.


And the Mi’kmaq watched as their land was transformed by these exiles from faraway lands. Soon, they were no longer free to roam and hunt the land the Creator had given them… and found themselves exiles, too, in their own land.

Each culture born of an eternal nation – their rhythms passed down like a heartbeat… the music of their soul. Here these rhythms blend with the constant song of the sea and the sky -creating the call of Nova Scotia. This is the call that holds us here… the call that draws us home when we wander… the call we can hear no matter where we are… like the beat of a distant drum…



In the late 1700s, thousands of Scottish Highlanders were forced to flee Scotland to Nova Scotia. These Scots came from all regions of Scotland, and for many reasons. Those emigrating from the Highlands were fleeing the English who were determined to destroy the clans of Scotland. Those emigrating from the Lowlands were seeking adventure and better opportunities in the new colony.

In 1773, the first Highlanders arrived in Pictou, Nova Scotia on the ship named Hector. Through the years, up to and especially during the Highland Clearances, shipload after shipload of Highland emigrants crossed the difficult seas to Nova Scotia. The main ports of entry were Pictou, Sydney and Halifax. Pictou became rightly known as the Birthplace of New Scotland.

These Scottish settlers settled in many areas of mainland Nova Scotia, particularly Pictou County and New Glasgow. They moved east and south of the province and established farms. One of the settlements was in the village of St. Andrew’s. Scottish settlers brought a dynamic oral tradition with them. They used songs, dance, stories and poetry to keep their unwritten history alive. The Gaelic language was used to verbally communicate the Scottish history. A large number of Scottish immigrants continued to arrive until 1830.

The first Scots who arrived to Nova Scotia were Presbyterians and later immigrants were Catholics. During the Scottish immigration, Pictou tended to be populated with Presbyterians, while Catholics generally settled around Antigonish or Cape Breton. This trend is still reflected today in these areas.

There were challenges for the Scots because so much of the Celtic heritage is verbal and the rest of the society was more educated because of the growing economy. Most earned a living by farming and timber trade, which included ship building. In 1845, there were 100,000 Gaelic-speaking Scots in Nova Scotia.

Today Nova Scotia's Gaelic-speaking population is small; the Celtic community has a large presence in Nova Scotia and especially in Cape Breton. The Celtic culture is celebrated at festivals around the province and Canada with stories, songs, poetry and dance.


During the American War of Independence, British authorities in America gave freedom to those slaves who wanted to move into British lines. Military and non-military roles were taken on by those freed slaves who joined Britain. In 1783, towards the end of the war Britain immigrated over 3,000 Black Loyalists from the United Sates to Nova Scotia, which also included part of present day New Brunswick. Included in the Black Loyalists were the Black Pioneers, who were the only official Black Regiment on the British side.

Upon arrival to Nova Scotia the Black Loyalists founded many settlements. The largest settlement was Birchtown which had a population of 1,500. Cutting wood, clearing land, hunting, fishing, domestic servants and day labourers was how the settlers of Birtchtown made a living. During this time period, around 30,000 different types of Loyalists were immigrating to Nova Scotia. The Black Loyalists were a small part of the large number.

The large number of Loyalists immigrating was a strain on the Nova Scotia government. The government began treating the Black Loyalists unfairly by giving smaller pieces of land or no land at all and fewer provisions were given to black settlers compared to white settlers. Despite the 3,000 free black settlers, other Loyalists brought an estimated 2,500 slaves to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The slaves served their owners by doing domestic chores, as labourers and farmhands.

In 1790, the Sierra Leone Company (a British anti-slavery organization) helped approximately 1,000 Black Loyalists leave Nova Scotia to settle in Sierra Leone, on the Atlantic Coast of Africa. In 1796, the Maroons who were descendants of Jamaican slaves, escaped from their Spanish slave owners and were deported to Nova Scotia from Jamaica. Approximately 600 Maroons performed manual labour on Nova Scotia landmarks, such as Citadel Hill in Halifax.

By 1802, the black population in Nova Scotia decreased to 451 people. This is because Black Loyalist and Maroons were dissatisfied with the conditions in Nova Scotia and felt they had more of an opportunity in Sierra Leone.

When the War of 1812 began, Black refugees founded Africville. This black settlement was located along the Bedford Basin, in the north end of Halifax. In the mid-1960s, the City of Halifax unilaterally decided to relocate the residents of Africville and bulldoze their village.

Slavery was officially abolished throughout the British Empire in 1834 and word spread that Canada was a place where Blacks could be free. Also, during this time the northern states began to take away the civil rights of African Americans causing them to seek freedom within Canada’s borders. The Underground Railroad (UGRR) was how many African Americans escaped slavery by coming to Canada.

Many abolitionists endorsed a clandestine movement to help the African slaves achieve freedom. Some significant clues of the Underground Railroad included well defined hidden routes and following the bright north star during the night, as well as certain "stations" - where a light in the window would be an indicator of a safe home used as a slave hideaway. Some slaves were hidden in barns or behind secret wall passages in these homes.

The leader who knew the way was called the "conductor." The "station masters" were in most cases free people of color or wealthy white benefactors who provided food, shelter, or money along the way for the escaping runaways. The most profoundly skilled and successful "conductor" of the Underground Railroad was Harriet Tubman. She was credited with leading over 300 runaways to freedom with a total of 19 trips through the south. It was later stated that she never lost a "passenger" on these risky escape routes. The Underground Railroad, from 1800 up until the end of 1865, assisted more than 40,000 slaves to freedom up north and into Canada.

In 2002, Africville was named a historic site and stands as a representation of the black culture, strength, sprit and struggle they have faced for equality. Today the African Canadians and the rest of Canada celebrate the black community's “…history, culture and heritage.”

Click here to view the poem “Black Song Nova Scotia” written by Maxine Tynes, and spoken by Jeremiah Sparks in DRUM!


Mi’kmaqBefore Europeans arrived, the entire Maritime region east of the St. John River and west to the St. Lawrence was known as Megumaage. The Mi'kmaqs who lived there had rules in place to regulate everything from sports to politics. The educational system was the link to survival, through the development of specialized hunting skills, the making of traditional equipment, and the creation of traditional clothing made from the skins of animals.

The social system encompassed communal rituals such as songs, chants and dances that accompanied wedding, funeral and other traditional ceremonies that the Mi’kmaq people practiced, as well as competitive traditional sports like canoeing, waltes (a traditional dice game) and archery.

The economic system was co-operative in everything from the quest for distribution of food and trading goods to the consumption of wealth.

The political system was democratic and people-oriented. The Mi'kmaq system consisted of seven autonomous districts. Each of the districts was made up of several small villages; each village had a chief, who was chosen for his ability and knowledge of the territory. Each district chose a chief for his ability to lead men and inspire confidence, his territorial knowledge, his understanding of the seasonal habits of animals and his skill as a good spokesman.

There were also regular council meetings held in the Great Lakes region, now known as Ontario. Council discussions were recorded on Wampum Belts kept by each tribe to record its history. Tribe members would attach rows of colored shells to the belts as a way of recording what went on at the meetings. The Mi'kmaq wampum belt was last seen at Chapel Island in the 1940's, and is shown in a photograph on display at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History. Where it went after the picture was taken remains a mystery.

When the Mi’kmaq first spotted the European settlers approaching the shores of Nova Scotia they thought they saw the body of land which they knew as “Turtle Island.” Before they realised that it was a ship, they mistook the large white sails of the settlers’ vessels for this island.

Contact with the Europeans in the 1500's dramatically affected the arrangement of Mi'kmaq society. Trade practiced with other tribes was expanded to include the European settlers and initiated the beginning of a market economy. Items, formerly of inherent value, became commodities to be traded with the European nations. In turn, this led to a dependence on foreign markets influencing the degree of Mi'kmaq self-sufficiency. History from that point on, the history of Canada, has been one of dominance over First Nations people. It has influenced current Aboriginal- non-Aboriginal relationships at all levels.

Mi’kmaqThe Mi'kmaq people are one of eight principal Woodland Indian tribes, all belonging to the Algonkian family, who originally inhabited what are now the Maritime provinces and the Gaspe region of Quebec. Traditionally each tribe was divided into bands consisting of related families, normally not exceeding 400 members.

The Mi'kmaq people have inhabited the Atlantic coast of Canada for thousands of years. They were a hunter gatherer society, consisting of skilled trappers and trained hunters. The ability to move at a moment's notice was a fundamental principle of their society. Mobility was reflected in their lack of material possessions. Life was not simple, however, a relatively large number of people were able to survive with limited natural resources.

Presently, the Mi'kmaq Nation consists of a total of 27 Bands located in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Quebec.

In Nova Scotia there are 13 Mi'kmaq Bands, five of which can be found on Cape Breton Island: Chapel Island, Eskasoni, Membertou, Wagmatcook and Waycobah.

Gisoolg is the Great Spirit Creator who is the one who made everything. The work Gisoolg in Mi'kmaq means "you have been created." It also means "the one credited for your existence." The word does not imply gender. Gisoolg is not a He or a She, it is not important whether the Great Spirit is a He or a She. The Mi’kmaq people do not explain how the Great Spirit came into existence only that Gisoolg is responsible for everything being where it is today. Gisoolg made everything.

From the Micmac Heritage Gallery Catalogue

Click here to view the poem “I Lost My Talk”
written by Mi'kmaq poet Rita Joe, and spoken by Rita Joe in DRUM!


Four centuries ago the French were the first Europeans to settle into what is now known as Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and parts of New Brunswick. When the French explorers reached the shores they called the land Acadie (Acadia). In 1605 Port Royal was established. The location of Port Royal was at the head of the Annapolis Basin.

In 1613, the Acadians established the parish of St. Jean-Baptiste. Today this Catholic Church is often referred to as Canada’s oldest. The parish served a growing French population, who brought their experience of farming, raising animals and reclaiming land. The parish served for nearly 150 years and approximately five churches were built during that time. As the population of the Acadia grew so did the regions of Port Royal. The French settlers came to be known as the Acadiens (Acadians).

AcadianIn 1713, mainland Nova Scotia was taken over by England under the Treaty of Utrecht. Port Royal was renamed Annapolis Royal and the colony was given the name Nova Scotia. During this time the Acadians were given the name the “Neutral French” by the British, because of their political neutrality, productive and valuable farmland, their friendly relationship with the Mi’kmaq and their Roman Catholic beliefs.

Although 1713 was a crucial period for the Acadians, 1755 was the most devastating time for Acadian history when Grand Derangement or Expulsion of the Acadians took place. British and New England troops gathered Acadians – men, woman and children – and removed them from the colony. Acadians were taken from their homes and families were split up, while their homes and farmland were left to burn.

About 6,000 Acadians were exiled from Port Royal, Grand Pre, and Beaubassin and sent to the American Colonies and England (via Virginia) in 1755. Over 3,000 more were exiled after the fall of Louisbourg in 1758 and sent to France. Between 1755 and 1785, Acadians migrated to several other locations, one of them being Louisiana. They established an estimated 22 parishes and although they were the dominating culture, there were a variety of other cultures present in Louisiana. As these cultures integrated they became known as Cajun, which is a derivation of the word Acadian. When the war ended in 1763, the Exile was technically over.

There may have been a few Acadians hiding out in Nova Scotia through the Seven Years War. But generally, Acadians were rounded up and deported or escaped to French Canada. Some were kept “imprisoned” in Halifax. Once the war was over, these Halifax Acadians settled nearby at Chezzetcook and Prospect. Soon after the Treaty was made, some of the exiled Acadians made their way back to Nova Scotia. Upon their arrival, they found English settlers on the land they had developed for over a century. The government offered them 40 acre lots in the northern and western areas of Nova Scotia. Over the next few years, Acadian settlements developed at the mouth of Baie St. Marie, on the southwestern shore around Church Point, at Tousquet and Pobomcoup, and along the Strait of Canso. In 1767, Acadians from St. Pierre and Miquelon arrived at Cape Breton Island and settled at Cheticamp and Margaree. In the 1780s, more Acadians arrived from Prince Edward Island.

Today, the Acadian culture has a strong presence in the Maritimes and across Canada. The Acadian pride and culture is shown with their flag. To remember those Acadians who were exiled in 1755, Queen Elizabeth II has claimed August 15th as a day to acknowledge the deportation.