People & Cultures

Cape Breton Island has been known for thousands of years as Unama’ki, which loosely translates to “Land of Fog”. This is the unceded, ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaw people, who have been here since time immemorial. Today, the Island is home to five Mi’kmaw communities: Eskasoni, Membertou, Wagmatcook, We’koqma’q, and Potlotek First Nations. Cape Breton University’s Unama’ki College provides extensive knowledge and resources for learners, from faculty and staff who speak the language to academic courses delivered in Mi’kmaw communities.

Acadian history on the Island goes back more than 400 years to the arrival of the first Europeans. Today, Acadian culture is especially vibrant in the communities that surround Chéticamp and Isle Madame. Notably, Le Centre de la Mi-Carême in Grand Étang, Les Trois Pignons in Chéticamp, and Centre La Picasse in Petit-de-Grat offer cultural programming focused on Acadian culture and history. There are also two campuses of l’Université Sainte-Anne located on the Island.

The first ship carrying Gaelic settlers reached Nova Scotia in 1773. Leaving Scotland as a result of immense economic and social change and cultural suppression, the Gaels brought their language, music, stories and traditions to Cape Breton. Several institutions, such as Colaisde na Gàidhlig/The Gaelic College and Baile nan Gàidheal/Highland Village, celebrate and teach Gaelic history and culture through the performing arts, language, dance, and the production of traditional crafts and tools.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, thousands of immigrants from Poland, Ukraine, Croatia, Italy, the Caribbean and elsewhere were drawn to work in iron and steel production in Cape Breton. Whitney Pier became the most distinctively ethnically diverse community in the Maritimes. For this reason, the development of Whitney Pier was named a National Historic Event in 2014.

In recent years, growing numbers of international students have come to Cape Breton, many of them choosing to stay and make Cape Breton home after graduation. Along with growing numbers arriving through various immigration streams, the Atlantic Immigration Program is contributing to the rich cultural tapestry of the Island.

The language section of this website provides more information and links for learning, Mi’kmaq, French, Gaelic, and English.

For answers to some frequently asked questions about recent immigrants to the Island, check out this resource developed by the Cape Breton Local Immigration Partnership.

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Last Modified: May 18, 2022