The three provinces collectively known as the Canadian Maritimes—New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island—are famous for the tragic story of its Acadian settlements and the Great Deportation, and later the Gaelic influences on their music and food, largely the result of the settlement of Scottish migrants who arrived in the 19th century. Prince Edward Island’s capital, Charlottetown, boasts that it is the place where the Canadian Confederation was born, when talks were held there in 1864.
Before all of these events, however, there were the First Nations peoples who lived in this part of North America—the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Beothuk, Innu, and others. The history of human settlement here dates back some 10,000 years, and those nations continue to shape life in the provinces to this day. To learn about their histories, as well as experience their art, music, cuisine, and culture today, include these stops on your Maritime itinerary.
Mussels and Lobster Shore Boil
Though Prince Edward Island (PEI) may be the smallest province in Canada, it more than makes up for its size by dominating in the shellfish department. Located on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, northeast of Maine, the island is a stronghold of culinary cultures, including Scottish and French, though the Mi’kmaq people were there long before either group of European settlers. They have fished the waters of the Atlantic for centuries, spending spring and summer harvesting the bounty of fish and shellfish. Prince Edward Island’s status as the top producer of mussels in North America can be traced back to the Mi’kmaq, and the best way to celebrate that heritage is with a mussels and lobster shore boil, a classic, local meal. Learn about the region while dinner is cooking, and then sup on mussels from the shore, lobsters from the sea, and robust potatoes from the island’s red earth all served amid a bucolic setting. This rustic spread satisfies all the senses.
Located on Lennox Island, one of the smaller islands that sits just off of Prince Edward Island, MicMac Productions creates regional, indigenous art. Envisioned by Charlie Sark, Sr. in the 1990s to support and highlight local culture, this atelier and gallery produces ceramic pottery with First Nations themes, and especially incorporating Mi’kmaq symbols and designs, as well as contemporary, handwoven baskets. Still family owned, the gallery isn’t the only reason to visit Lennox Island, which is located along the North Cape Coastal Drive—a fascinating journey through the various cultures of Prince Edward Island, Mi’kmaq as well as those of Acadian, English, Irish, and Scottish settlers. Home of the most sizable Indigenous population in the province, the island’s highlights include the Lennox Island Mi’kmaq Cultural Centre, which delves deeply into Mi'kmaq culture.
Membertou Heritage Park
See the past come alive at Membertou Heritage Park, a five-acre living history museum on Cape Breton Island. Evoking the culture and ancient lifestyle of the Mi’kmaq people, the park recreates how these First Nations people lived for millennia before the arrival of the Europeans. You’ll be immersed in another time as you view artifacts and displays, hear oral histories, and see enactments and cultural presentations in various locations throughout the park. If you are looking for a unique souvenir from your trip to the Maritime Provinces, the park’s Petroglyphs Gift Shop sells works by Indigenous artists from throughout Canada, from baskets and jewelry to limited edition prints.
Learn more about First Nations highlights in Canada’s Maritime Provinces at the Indigenous Experiences website.