History buffs can tell you why we’re called New Scotland; and they can also tell you that we missed becoming New Ireland by a whisker. Without a doubt, there’s a strong Gaelic element, Scottish and Irish especially, in Nova Scotia.
Of the two “Gaelic peoples” the Scots prevail of course. When you look at place names and politicians in Nova Scotia, for example, you’ll generally find more Scottish than Irish connections. Statistics from the Federal Census of 1961 indicate Nova Scotia had the third highest number of people in Canada whose ethnic origin was Scottish. According to the Census, Nova Scotians whose ethnic origin was Scottish were almost double the number who claimed Irish ancestry.
In case you’ve wondered how much of a Scottish connection there is in Nova Scotia here are a few facts and figures from my trivia file. Getting back to the Census, Scots are (or were in 1961) more numerous in Ontario and British Columbia thanthe Irish and British; in this province, however, Scots are in second place behind the British.
In the 1961 Census, 3,702 Nova Scotians said Gaelic was their mother tongue; most of this 3,702 lived in Cape Breton.
At the time of Confederation the Scots and Irish outnumbered people of English origin and played a big role in the formation of Canada. Of the 34 Fathers of Confederation, some 20 were Scots.
If Sir William Alexander had succeeded in establishing a Scottish colony here in 1621, or shortly thereafter, the Bay of Fundy would now be known as Argall Bay; Cape Breton Island would have become New Galloway.
Nova Scotia has 75 place names based on Scottish surnames, and some 116 place names brought over from Scotland; in addition there are at least 16 place names that were coined using Scottish surnames – Currie’s Corner, for example.
Rev. George Patterson’s history of Pictou County names John MacKay as the young piper who was on the Hector, which landed in Pictou in 1773. Scott Williams, in Pipers of Nova Scotia, says MacKay’s arrival began our 225 year association with the bagpipe. However, MacKay may not have been the piper’s surname; one source say it was MacKenzie, another Fraser.
A proposed 115,000 acre township in Hants County to be called “Douglass” was to be settled by a battalion of the 84th Highland Regiment. The plan fell through when the soldiers, who were Scots fighting on the side of the British during the American Revolution, failed to take up their land.
One of the first prominent Scottish families in Nova Scotia may have been the Melansons who took up land when Sir William Alexander attempted his colony here. The Melansons, Pierre and Charles, apparently chose to remain with the Acadians when Alexander’s colony floundered.
Who was the first Scot in Canada? No one knows for sure but possibly the first mention of a Scot in this country was made in the writings of Champlain. When he returned to Quebec from France in 1618, Champlain found that a “Scotch Huguenot” had succumbed to the winter.
In 1770 there was hardly a Scot in Kings County, Watson Kirkconnell notes in his 1971 book on local place names. However, Kirkconnell says, the 1971 telephone directory listed 476 “Macs” and almost as many lowland Scottish surnames.