As the birthplace of New Scotland, Pictou County is where Nova Scotia’s Scottish roots are celebrated and preserved.
History of the Town of Pictou
While the town of Pictou is famous for being the landing site of the ship Hector and its Scottish immigrant passengers in the late 1700s, its history as a settlement goes back much further. The original Mi’kmaq inhabitants called the area Pictook, meaning ‘exploding gas’, possibly a sound that came from coal fields in the region. The region was rich with an abundance of seafood and wildlife and the Mi’kmaq people helped the early settlers in learning the ways of this new land.
In 1660, French explorer Nicolas Denys arrived to explore the region and used the Mi’kmaq name to call the harbour ‘la reviere de Pictou’. A century would pass before settlers from Pennsylvannia would arrive followed by the ship Hector from Scotland that brought 170 Scottish Highlanders to Pictou in 1773. While the settlers from Pennsylvannia took the land on the west side of the harbour, the Scottish established a settlement, complete with churches, schools and businesses, at the site of what is today the town of Pictou.
The town of Pictou became a destination for additional waves of Scottish immigrants escaping the Highland Clearances back home. Among them was the Reverend Norman McLeod, who would go on to re-settle his parishioners at St. Ann’s on Cape Breton Island before moving to New Zealand, and Sir Hector Maclean, who brought with him almost the entire populations of Glensanda and Kingairloch in Scotland.
Pictou’s industrious settlers, fuelled by the nearby coal deposits and lumber mills, turned the town into an important shipbuilding centre, with its harbour bustling with sailing ships in the mid 1800s. Today you’ll find modern versions of the shipbuilding and lumber mill industries along its waterfronts, overlooking a town that still maintains the industrious nature of its original inhabitants.
Pictou offers a number of accommodations including bed and breakfasts, inns, and cottages within the town with a resort and three campgrounds nearby. Pictou Lodge Resort offers a variety of motel rooms and chalets, all overlooking the mouth of Pictou Harbour and the Northumberland Strait. Find a list of accommadations in Pictou here.
Pictou Restaurants and Nearby Places to Eat
You’ll find everything from pubs and fish & chip diners, to tea rooms and fine dining restaurants in and around Pictou. Seafood fresh from the Northumberland Strait can be enjoyed throughout the year, especially mouth-watering lobster dishes. Find a list of places to eat in Pictou.
Things to do in Pictou
Pictou was both a destination and the launching point for ships of all sizes through the ages. Today, the town continues to act as a launching point for private vessels, ranging from sailboats to kayaks. The town is also a great place to explore on foot, with the Trans Canada Trail connecting directly to the downtown, before taking walkers out along the harbourfront. Each summer since 1934, the town has celebrated its marine heritage with the Pictou Lobster Carnival. The three-day event features musical entertainment, parades, carnival rides and, of course, lobster!
The Hector Heritage Quay
The first wave of Scottish settlers to land at Pictou arrived onboard the sailing ship Hector. The Hector was originally built as a full-rigged fluyt in Holland, designed to transport cargo over long distances. However, her most famous role was in transporting immigrants across the Atlantic Ocean to North America. The voyage from Scotland to Pictou took 11 weeks, including a two-week delay in a gale off Newfoundland, and saw 18 children die from dysentery and smallpox. However, it is often fondly remembered as the vessel that carried the first settlers to the birthplace of New Scotland, setting in motion future waves of Scottish immigration to the province. Today, visitors to Pictou can see and tour a replica of the original ship at the Hector Heritage Quay. Visitors can also view displays on the immigrants’ story, watch shipbuilders explain their craft and visit the company store for official memorabilia and books.