Many different cultures have shaped present-day Nova Scotia. This region on Canada’s Atlantic Coast makes up a part of Mi’kma’ki, the Indigenous territory where the Mi’kmaq have lived for centuries. Descendants of the Acadians, who arrived from France in the 1600s, still make their homes here, as do families of Canada’s earliest Black settlers. Nova Scotia has long been influenced by people who’ve made their living from the sea, too, an industry that remains key to the region’s economy and culture.
To learn more about these diverse cultures, plan a Nova Scotia road trip. We’ve put together a cultural sampler to help guide your travels.
From Nova Scotia’s “Ellis Island” to its Newest Hotel
Begin your journey in Halifax where more than 1 million immigrants started new Canadian lives. Between 1928 and 1971, Pier 21, now the Canadian Immigration Museum at Pier 21, served as the main entry port for newcomers, primarily from Europe, who arrived in Canada. Often dubbed “Canada’s Ellis Island,” the site includes exhibits and stories about the many people who passed through its doors. Through mid-October, Pier 21 also hosts an exhibit of photos by celebrated Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002), featuring images of notables ranging from Nelson Mandela to Helen Keller to Alfred Einstein. Karsh himself immigrated to Halifax from Armenia, arriving in Canada as a 17-year-old refugee.
A recently opened exhibit at the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site offers a different introduction to the region’s culture, one that begins with the stories of its Indigenous peoples. The multimedia “Fortress Halifax — A City Shaped by Conflict” also highlights Black heritage in the region, particularly of the Black Loyalists — to whom the British promised land and freedom if they came north during the American Revolution — and the Jamaican Maroons, formerly enslaved people who came to Nova Scotia at the end of the 1700s.
To delve deeper into the city’s Black heritage, visit Africville Museum, located in a reconstructed former church that was once the center of a vibrant Black community on Halifax Harbor. The city destroyed Africville as part of a 1960s urban renewal plan, however, the district’s history lives on through the stories and photos that residents have shared here.
After you’ve completed your day’s adventures, settle into Muir Hotel, Autograph Collection, a luxe waterfront lodging opened in late 2021 as part of the developing Queen’s Marque district. Have a drink in the speakeasy-style BKS lounge, a marble-lined enclave exclusive to hotel guests, or book the property’s private sailboat for a scenic sunset cruise.
To support local Black-owned businesses, enjoy a casual meal at Mary’s African Cuisine, a short walk from the Muir, where you can dig into hearty plates of oxtail stew or jollof rice mounded with eggplant, tangy stewed cabbage, and black-eyed peas. Or try the nearby Brawta Jamaican Jerk Joint for its signature spicy chicken or pork.
But you don’t have to leave the Muir’s grounds for a diverse culinary sampler: the hotel’s flagship restaurant, Drift, highlights food of Canada’s maritime regions with modern interpretations of traditional dishes like hodge podge (normally a vegetarian stew but made here with seafood) served with brown bread, fish cakes, or locally caught cod and clams paired with potatoes and peas. Nearby Café Lunette offers French bistro fare, from boeuf boeuf bourguignon to halibut meunière, while pan-Latino Bar Sofia is a lively locale for tapas or a nightcap. The Queen’s Marque complex also includes Peace by Chocolate, a waterfront café and shop established by a chocolate-making family who came to Canada as refugees from Syria. The café and shop stock a variety of bars and bonbons, as well as rich drinking chocolate and ice cream.
Black Settlers and Acadian Roots
When you’re ready to road trip beyond Halifax, continue your cultural explorations on Nova Scotia’s southwest coast. Make the multimedia Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown, about three hours’ drive from the city, your first stop. Here, you can hear the stories of formerly enslaved Black people who arrived in the region in the late 1700s, during and after the American Revolution, lured by the British government’s promises of land and freedom from slavery — promises not always honored.
Southwest Nova Scotia is known for its lobster, which you can enjoy in a multitude of ways: from creamed lobster on toast or lobster eggs Benedict at the Starboard Inn’s Portside Lounge in Barrington to haddock with lobster sauce at Dennis Point Café in Lower West Pubnico.
While you’re in the Pubnico area, explore Acadian culture at Le Village historique acadien de la Nouvelle-Écosse, a living history village on the site of a community that dates to 1653. Another worthwhile stop: the Musée des Acadiens des Pubnicos, where artifacts and interpreters illuminate Acadian heritage.
Exploring Seafaring Traditions
No Nova Scotia road trip would be complete without including the region’s seafaring culture. To learn more about life at sea, arrange an experience at Living Wharves, where active and retired fisherfolk share their fishing adventures. You might even try hauling in a lobster trap.
Get out on the water yourself with a cruise on a lobster fishing boat. Brothers Lucien and Simon LeBlanc operate Tusket Island Tours, motoring from Wedgeport Harbour through these scenic offshore islands. Along the way, they’ll teach you something about lobster fishing, before you disembark for a seafood chowder lunch at the family’s “shanty,” the local term for a seaside cottage. Singer and guitarist Simon might serenade you en route, with a mix of pop tunes and Acadian melodies.
Back on the mainland, detour over the bridge to scenic Cape Sable Island to walk the white sands at The Hawk, one of the province’s prettiest beaches. Nearby, stop for a seafood supper at The Salt Banker, slated to open later this year under the highly regarded local chef Nichole Hopkins.
Indigenous Canoes and Cultures
Before returning to Halifax, drive farther inland to Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site, where Mi’kmaw interpreters can help you learn more about the region’s Indigenous communities.
Tour one of North America’s largest collections of petroglyphs, or join Todd Labrador, a Mi’kmaw craftsperson whose family has lived in the region for seven generations, for a birchbark canoe-building demonstration. Labrador has constructed more than 15 canoes. One of his boats is on view at the Canadian Museum of History, and he’s building another that will live in the Canadian Canoe Museum.