Nova Scotia's 580-km-long peninsula is surrounded by four bodies of water - the Atlantic Ocean, the Bay of Fundy, the Northumberland Strait and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Its geographic location, together with large, ice-free, deep-water harbours, has been a key factor in the province's economic development. With an area of 55 491 km2, Nova Scotia is larger than Denmark, although somewhat smaller than Scotland, after which it is named. Its average width of 128 km means that no part of the province is far from the sea.
Nova Scotia is a mosaic of rugged headlands, tranquil harbours and ocean beaches. Its indented shoreline stretches 10 424 km, while inland is a myriad of lakes and streams. The land is framed by the rocky Atlantic Uplands, the Cape Breton Highlands and the wooded Cobequid Hills. The agricultural areas of Nova Scotia are predominantly lowlands. When the glacial ice withdrew from coastal Nova Scotia 15 000 to 18 000 years ago, the ocean flooded ancient river valleys and carved out hundreds of small protected harbours which later became fishing ports.
Nova Scotia lies in the northern temperate zone and, although the province is almost surrounded by water, the climate is continental rather than maritime. The temperature extremes of a continental climate, however, are moderated by the ocean.
The Mi'Kmaq Indians inhabited Nova Scotia long before the first explorers arrived from Europe. The first visitors were Norsemen in the early 11th century, and, in 1497, Italian explorer John Cabot had noted the rich fishing grounds in the area.
In the 17th century, all of Nova Scotia, as well as parts of Quebec, New Brunswick and Maine, which made up an area known as Acadia, was settled by the French. Pierre de Monts established the first successful agricultural settlement in Canada, at Port Royal in 1605. In the next century, the British and the French feuded over the area. Control passed back and forth until 1713, when all of Acadia was ceded to the British under the Treaty of Utrecht.
Conflict between Britain and France continued. The Acadians, mainly settlers from France, tried to convince both sides of their neutrality, but by 1755 the British had decided that the Acadians posed too great a security threat. They expelled all Acadians who would not swear allegiance to the British Crown.
Many returned to France, some settled in New France and many others moved to the United States. In 1783, thousands of United Empire Loyalists from the newly independent New England states immigrated to Nova Scotia. They wanted to remain British despite the formation of the United States of America. The influx of the Loyalists doubled Nova Scotia's population; and, in 1784, it was partitioned to create the colonies of New Brunswick and Cape Breton Island.
In 1848, largely through the efforts of newspaper owner and patriot Joseph Howe, Nova Scotia became the first British colony to win responsible government. Nova Scotia was one of the four provinces that constituted the new federation called the Dominion of Canada in 1867. At that time, the province was in the forefront of international shipbuilding and the lumber and fish trades. Confederation helped to finance the railroad to Quebec City, which opened the province to the interior of the continent.
The first and second world wars emphasized the importance of Halifax, Nova Scotia's capital, as a staging point for convoys and confirmed it as one of the world's major military ports.
Over 80 percent of Nova Scotia's population of 940 888 trace their ancestry either wholly or partly to the British Isles. Those with French origin rank second: 18 percent of residents have some French ancestry. The next largest groups by ancestry are German and Dutch. Many residents of Nova Scotia are also of Polish, Italian, Jewish and Lebanese descent. After the War of 1812, several thousand Blacks, including the Chesapeake Blacks, settled in the Halifax area; today over 15 000 residents of the province have Black origins. More recent immigrants to Nova Scotia have included Chinese, Indo-Chinese, African, Asian and eastern European groups. Almost 22 000 residents of Nova Scotia have Aboriginal origins and primarily belong to the Mi'Kmaq Nation.
The largest concentrations of population are found in the Halifax metropolitan area with a population of approximately 320 000 and the Sydney urban area with approximately 116 000. Major towns include Yarmouth, Kentville, Bridgewater, Truro, Amherst and New Glasgow.
Nova Scotia's economy is highly diversified, having evolved from resource-based employment to include many types of manufactured goods as well as business and personal services.
The resources sector started with the sea and the teeming fish of the Scotian Shelf. This resource, particularly cod, has been hit by dwindling stocks in recent years, and quotas are affecting those who derive their livelihood from this sector. In 1992, approximately 20 000 workers were directly employed in fishing and fish processing and many more jobs were indirectly created by activity in the sector. The catch is composed mainly of cod, haddock and pollock, as well as lobsters, scallops and crab.
For a small province, Nova Scotia has a highly developed forestry sector with four pulp and paper mills and several hundred sawmills.
The mining sector is dominated by coal production of four million tonnes. The province also produces 5.3 million tonnes of gypsum, over 85 percent of the Canadian total. Other mining activity includes salt, barite, crushed stone, peat and sand and gravel. Extensive exploration of offshore oil and gas has been undertaken in the past decade, and in 1991 the first commercial production of oil began near Sable Island.
Nova Scotia has a highly specialized commercial agriculture sector. Dairy is the largest sector, followed by horticultural crops, poultry, eggs, beef cattle and hogs. Export commodities include blueberries, apples and processed fruits, vegetables and juices.
Tourism is an important sector in the provincial economy. Total tourism receipts exceed $800 million and over 30 000 are employed in the many aspects of the industry. More than a million persons visit the province each year, with almost one quarter of these coming from outside Canada.
The province's physical location has made it well-suited for industry and trade. Harbour facilities, modern highways, air transportation, industrial parks, research and education facilities all contribute to providing a varied and positive climate for business.