In keeping with the rest of it’s East-Coast neighbours, Nova Scotia has a long tradition of amazing seafood. Lobster, oysters, clams, the works. So what sets this province apart? For a small province (only bigger than PEI), Nova Scotia’s history is wrought with wars, battles, and power struggles amongst the different people who lived there. The influences of this variety of people have had a large impact on the traditions and culture that have become signature to Nova Scotia.
Why Can’t We Be Friends?
For at least 10,000 years, Nova Scotia was a part of the Mi’kmaq territory. Thanks to their close proximity to the ocean, the Mi’kmaq people of what is now Nova Scotia were highly skilled fishers.
It is believed that Norse Adventurers may have visited at some point in history, which would make them the first official “outsiders” to reach the province, however the first recorded English explorer to reach Nova Scotia’s shores was John Cabot in 1497 who landed on Cape Breton Island.
Over 100 years later and countless other fishermen and explorers roamed the rugged Atlantic coastline, Pierre De Gua de Monts and Samuel de Champlain established the first ever agricultural settlement by Europeans of Canada, Port Royal, in 1607. This became the French settlement of Acadia.
New Scotland vs Acadia
In 1620, English King James I decided he wanted a piece of the [rappie] pie (you’ll get it later!), he gave the land to Scottish colonizer Sir William Alexander and dubbed the land “New Scotland”, or in latin, Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, the scots weren’t as adept at adapting as the french, so while settlers continued to pour into Acadia, both attempted scottish settlements failed.
Of course, instead of going to the French or Mi’kmaq and saying “Hey guys, can you give us some tips for how to establish thriving populations on this land?”, the English settlers instead tried to take Acadia for their own (typical) and the 7 years war ensued from 1755-1763. The British began a mass deportation of the Acadian people, which saw the traumatic separation of families (more than 6,000 men, women, and children) on ships to a variety of American colonies. Eventually, the British won and the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763.
A Culture Rounded out By Peace and War
Peace time meant the arrival of British, Scottish, Irish, and German settlers, both white and black loyalists and former black slaves.Nova Scotia became one of the four founding provinces of Canada in 1867, much to the chagrin of many who lived there and worried their economy, which relied heavily on trading with the New England states, would suffer (PSA: They were fine). The first 150 years of Nova Scotian history saw 6 different wars that had a profound impact on the populations that settled there, and the little province saw many tragic disasters, including the Halifax Explosion during World War I and three deadly disasters at the Springhill mine.
So… What about the food?
Although there are many different influences from the various people who came and settled in Nova Scotia, the province received large numbers of Scottish immigrants, which is strongly represented in its regional cuisine.
The unofficial-official dessert of Nova Scotia. Basically blueberry pie with a biscuit topping instead of a traditional pie crust. The province’s own wild blueberries are what puts this dish over the edge.
You can thank the Acadians for this one. From the french term “patates râpées”, meaning “grated potatoes”, it is basically potatoes mixed with chicken and baked in the oven. You can eat it straight from the oven, or fried in butter the next day (leftovers FTW!).
We’re guessing you’ve probably heard of pickled herring, and this is the same thing with a different name. In fact, Nova Scotia is the only place in the world that refers to the salty snack as solomon gundy. So while it’s not necessarily unique to the province, they in a roundabout way made it their own.
Dried purple seaweed, a favourite snack of Nova Scotians. Yum?
Some will argue that these are just garlic breadsticks that can be found anywhere in the world. Nova Scotia natives will argue vehemently against them. Pizza dough awash with garlic butter, covered in mozzarella cheese and baked the same as you would a pizza, this beloved dish is cut into strips and dipped in donair sauce (more on that later). Wanna start a brawl at a Nova Scotian bar? Downplay their garlic fingers. You’ve been warned.
In the spring and summer months you can find local markets in Nova Scotia advertising their Hodge Podge Potatoes and other veggies like wax beans, carrots, peas and parsely- basically everything you can find in a Nova Scotian garden. Everything gets thrown in the pot and cooked in cream- this is the definition of comfort food in the province.
Meat Paste Egg Rolls:
The contents are in the name with this one. Beloved across the province but particularly in Halifax, where the meat paste reigns supreme.
This classic sports bar fare can be found all across the country, but the Nova Scotian variety is unique to the province. East Coast-style potato skins are all skin and no potato! Eaten like nachos covered in cheese, bacon and green onions, you will be hard-pressed to find these anywhere else.
Deep fried pepperoni:
Dipped in honey or hot mustard, this is a real treat for residents and visitors alike.
Last but certainly not least- this staple is legendary in the province. Invented in the 1970s, this monstrosity consists of donair meat, pita, donair sauce, onions and tomatoes. Not to be confused with a doner kebab from Germany or a Gyro from Greece, and especially not with a donair from Alberta, if there is one food you try from Nova Scotia this would be it. Eat at your own risk.
Nova Scotia has plenty of food festivals and activities, with their most famous being those that celebrate their prized lobsters. You can even get on a boat and trap your own lobster that you eat freshly boiled while touring Nova Scotia’s historic harbours.
Devour! The Food Film Fest
If you consider yourself both a cinephile and a connoisseur of all things food, then Devour is the festival for you. Experience the latest in food filmmaking in the heart of Nova Scotia wine country and take in all of the top food and chefs that this incredible province has to offer.
Food and history come together for this unique experience! Enjoy an elaborate meal in an 18th century tavern replica while dressed in period clothing at the Point of View Suites in Louisbourg. The inspiration for the meal? The old Nova Scotia tradition of holding a secret banquet for the poor.
Of course, those are just a few of the incredible food experiences in Nova Scotia. Make a point of spending some time in one of Canada’s founding provinces to get a true taste of Canada’s roots!