Discover Nova Scotia’s Living Highland Village & Its Musical Heritage

North of the New England region of the United States is Canada’s Nova Scotia (ie New Scotland). As the name suggests, the Canadian province has a rich Scottish history and heritage. Nova Scotia’s Scottish heritage is just one of the many reasons why Nova Scotia is such a dreamy location for many visitors.

No Nova Scotia travel guide exploring its things to see and do is complete without discovering the Canadian province’s Scottish heritage. Nova Scotia is home to the largest number of Scottish Gaelic speakers outside of Scotland. In addition, it has a French heritage – it was part of the French colony of Acadia before it was conquered by the British.


Nova Scotia – Scotland’s First (Failed) Colony

Before the arrival of the Europeans, the area was inhabited by the Mi’kmaq people. The first to arrive were the Scots. Scotland was an independent country before uniting with England to form the United Kingdom. At the time, it had its own path to becoming a colonial world empire (which ended disastrously).

The first Scottish attempt at a colony was in Nova Scotia in 1629. Later there was the Darien Plan, where Scotland tried to establish a colony on the Isthmus of Panama (it lost almost half of all the money circulating in Scotland). It was so bad that it became a major reason why Scotland chose to unite with England in 1707.

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It then became a French colony and part of the French colony of Acadia. But the British struggled to control the region as they fought and defeated the French colonies during the French and Indian Wars. Then the British deported the French Acadians en masse.

In the wake of the American Revolutionary War, thousands of Loyalists were expelled from the 13 original colonies and resettled in Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia became the first British colony with responsible government and became a founding member of what later became Canada.

Related: Vacationing in Nova Scotia? These are the best places to stay

Baile Nan Gaidheal | Highland Village in Nova Scotia

One of the top Scottish heritage themed attractions in Nova Scotia is Highland Village (or Baile nan Gàidheal). It is a living historical museum and a center of popular life. It celebrates the language, heritage and living culture of the Gaels of Nova Scotia.

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The Highland Village sits on a 43-acre property and is staffed with costumed reenactors in full period costume. Visitors see an array of farm animals and more that reveal the past way of life. It is a place to learn about the rich history of the arrival and settlement of Gaelic culture in Nova Scotia.

Visitors get a taste of what life was like before Scottish Gaelic in Nova Scotia. Explore the eleven historic buildings and related artifacts with breathtaking views. After exploring, take some time to explore their gift shop.

Come to their annual Highland Village Day concert and experience traditional Cape Breton Gaelic music, dance and song.

  • Visitor season 2022: June 15 to October 15
  • Hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Daily

Entrance fees (for season 2022):

  • Adults: $11.00 CAD ($8.00 USD)
  • Students: $5.00 CAD (ages 6 to 17) ($3.50 USD)
  • Family: $25.00 CAD ($18.00 USD)

Another great place to discover Gaelic culture in Nova Scotia is the Celtic Music Interpretive Center. At the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, visitors can discover the history and music of the local Cape Breton Gaels. The center teaches about music through workshops, interactive exhibits, tours and experiences.

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Related: Nova Scotia Vs. New Brunswick: What’s It Worth?

Largest population of Scottish Gaelic speakers outside of Scotland

Today, Nova Scotia has the largest Scottish Gaelic-speaking community outside of Scotland (it has an estimated 2,000 Gaelic speakers).

Scottish Gaelic is a native language of Scotland (a Celtic language related to Irish and pronounced Gae-lick). Today, approximately 57,000 Scots (or 1.1% of the population) speak Scottish Gaelic, which is mostly spoken in the remote Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

Gaelic speakers came to Nova Scotia in tens of thousands from Scotland (and Ireland). The settlers called themselves Gàidheil – that is, those who speak Gaelic and share Gaelic culture. That is why the violin and bagpipes of Gaelic music are part of Nova Scotia’s heritage today.

A pastime is the famous “kitchen area” or “céilidh” in Gaelic (pronounced kay-lee, meaning ‘visit’) and often includes traditional music, step dancing, Scottish songs and storytelling.


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