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Nova Scotia's Gaelic Culture

Gaelic Language and Culture in Nova Scotia
by Shamus Y. MacDonald

Scottish Gaelic was once the language of hearth and home in communities extending through much of Canada. In fact, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba were each noted for their Gaelic-speaking populations at one time or another. For a variety of reasons however, it was only in Nova Scotia that the language and culture of Gaelic Scotland were able to establish firm roots, grow for generations and survive into the twenty-first century. Today, Nova Scotia is the only region outside of Scotland where Gaelic language and culture remain everyday aspects of community life.


All aspects of Gaelic culture, including music and dance, are rooted in the language. For centuries, this connection was maintained by informal gatherings between friends, neighbours and family. At the end of the day, and especially during the long, dark winter nights, people would visit each other; tales would be told, songs sung and fiddles played. In this setting, Gaelic cultural traditions were reaffirmed in Nova Scotia and passed from one generation to another.


Nova Scotia has been home to a Gaelic speaking community since the late eighteenth century. A hundred years ago, scores of thousands of Nova Scotians claimed the language as their mother tongue; in the north of the province this represented nearly forty percent of the population. Despite a drastic decline in the size of the Gaelic community here since that time, the number of language learners in the province is expanding quickly and public demand has recently prompted a number of progressive initiatives aimed at language renewal; including the establishment of an Office of Gaelic Affairs within the provincial government.


Over the years, the culture and language of Gaelic Scotland have been maintained in Nova Scotia and made our own. The rich cultural and linguistic legacy they represent helps define who we are and contributes to the richness of Canada's cultural mosaic. Today the Gaelic community of Nova Scotia continues to maintain that heritage and share it with the world.

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