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Atlantic Canada History

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Surnames/tags: nova_scotia new_brunswick prince_edward_island
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Through their history, the present-day Atlantic provinces have frequently changed their names, borders, political allegiance, and dominant languages. Keeping track of these historical events, in order to locate events, and categorise correctly, can be a challenge. Here is a summary of place names and changes for Atlantic Canada, and an index of the upper level historical categories, taken from the excellent Colonial North America Place Names created and maintained by Barry Sweetman and Steven Tibbetts.

If you have any question regarding classification, see the categorization help page, or message a member of the Atlantic Canada Team.


Historical Overview

The earliest recorded information we have for the Atlantic provinces attests that, prior to European colonisation, New Brunswick was home to Mi'kmaq, Passamaquoddy and Maliseet. Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were Mi'kmaq land, and Newfoundland was home to the Beothuk. Mainland Labrador was inhabited by Innu and Inuit (see: the First Peoples Canada Project).

Mainland Atlantic Canada fell under French control, as Acadia from about 1600, and passed into British control beginning at the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia joined Canada on Confederation in 1867, and Prince Edward Island joined in 1873.

The history of Newfoundland was largely independent of the other provinces. European fishermen---from France, England, Basque country and Portugal---fished all along the coast from the 1500s. By 1583, England began to create fortified settlements in Conception Bay (the north of the Avalon Peninsula), and shortly after, the French began to settle the southern half of the Island, (which they called Plaisance, Terre Neuve---present day Placentia). In 1713, the English retained the entire island, but the French history is still reflected in the place names, and surnames, of the southern coast. Newfoundland, by now a self-governing dominion, joined Canada in 1949.

Upper Level Categories

Note that not all of these categories have been created yet.


Before European colonialism, roughly until 1650, a great diversity of indigenous nations inhabited the eastern coast of North America. Many of these groups retained political independence for some time after French took control over this territory, and have maintained tribal governance until today. Others, like the Beothuk, were driven into extinction.

Acadie and Nouvelle France

Acadie (Acadia in English) was a colony of New France, in northeastern North America that included parts of eastern Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and modern-day Maine to the Kennebec River. Prior to European settlement, it was Mi'kma'ki territory. It was founded in 1604, and continued, more or less, until 1713.

  • Canada,_Nouvelle-France existed in Atlantic Canada from about 1604 to 1713, and describes all the territories held by France.
  • Acadie was the French territory, roughly corresponding to Atlantic Canada, excluding Newfoundland. It existed from about 1604 to 1713.
  • Ile Royale, Acadie existed from 1713 to 1763. It corresponds with modern Cape Breton.

Nova Scotia

The territory sometimes called Nova Scotia had a number of complicated border shifts, and predated or coexisted with Acadia. The Scottish had a short-lived colony in the 1600s, and then the British colony of Nova Scotia began in 1713. At various times, all or part of New Brunswick, PEI, and Cape Breton were included in, or excluded from, Nova Scotia.

  • Nova Scotia, Scottish Colony existed from 1629 to 1632.
  • as above, much of Nova Scotia (1604-1713) and Cape Breton (1713-1763) was subsequently part of Acadia.
  • Nova Scotia Colony existed from 1713 to Confederation in 1867.
  • Cape Breton Colony split from Nova Scotia Colony in 1784, and re-merged with Nova Scotia Colony in 1820.
  • Nova Scotia (province of Canada) existed from Jul 1, 1867, until today.

For the sake of maintaining a practical and useful system of historical place categories, we are considering Cape Breton Colony, and Nova Scotia Colony both "Nova Scotia Colony". We have not yet found a need to institute any particular categories for Nova Scotia, Scottish Colony.

Prince Edward Island

Named Île Saint-Jean when it was a part of Acadia, the British claimed it as part of Nova Scotia when the French gave up control of it in 1763. It was renamed St. John's Island, and split into a separate colony in 1769. In 1798 it was renamed Prince Edward Island. Prince Edward Island confederated with Canada in 1873.

New Brunswick

New Brunswick Colony was split off from Nova Scotia Colony as a separate colony in 1784. It confederated with Canada in 1867.

Newfoundland and Labrador

'Political eras Newfoundland, sometimes including the mainland territory of Labrador, had a period from the early 1500s to 1583 where fishing was migratory and seasonal, and settlement was discouraged. From about 1610, parts of Newfoundland were administered as a British colony, and from 1655 parts were settled by the French, and was known as Plaisance. The island passed into British control in 1713, and became a self governing dominion in 1906, confederating with Canada in 1949.

In fact many of the same districts are preserved today as electoral districts.

See Also


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