Volume 54, Number 1 Winter 2021

Rural Interest Group

Edited by Susana Helm, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa

Brief Report: Community in Rural Nova Scotia, Canada

Written by Cari Patterson, Inspiring Communities


Location and Geography

Mi’kma’ki to its original people, the Mi’kmaq, Nova Scotia is Canada’s second-smallest province at 55,284 km2 or 21,345 mi2, and is nestled on the Atlantic coast, with 7,400 km (4,598 miles) of shoreline. Part of the Appalachian Mountains, it is home to rolling hills, highland wilderness areas, low mountain ranges, rich agricultural land, one of the deepest natural harbours in the world in Halifax, the capital city, and thanks to the funnel-shaped Bay of Fundy, the highest tides in the world at 16 metres, or about 50 feet. Refer to the map of Nova Scotia here.


The Mi’kmaq have inhabited Nova Scotia for about 13,000 years. The French (Acadians) and British settlers arrived in the mid-17th century and fought over the territory. In 1755, the British expelled the Acadians, many of whom fled to Louisiana; they also decimated the Mi’kmaq, despite signing Peace and Friendship Treaties in the 1750s. Today the Mi’kmaq and Acadians each make up about 3% of the population. 

After 1764, a small number of Acadians were allowed to return to Nova Scotia. Without their homes or farmlands, they resettled in areas along the coast. Many made their living off the sea, establishing strong communities that exist to this day. With a history defined by tragedy, courage, and perseverance, Acadians have preserved their traditions and culture for over four centuries. The French language and a vital Acadian culture are part of the diversity celebrated in Nova Scotia today. 

Nova Scotia also is home to Canada's largest indigenous Black population, whose roots reach back to 1750, when early settlers arrived, followed by Black Loyalists, slaves, Maroons, and Black Refugees (Sehatzadeh, 2008). Despite the fact that they were subjected to systematic racism, marginalization, and poverty, they established strong communities that continue today. The achievements and triumphs of ancestors endure as a great source of pride and inspiration for African Nova Scotians. Today, Nova Scotians of African descent make up about 3% of the province’s population. 

The Mi’kmaq are still fighting for their treaty rights. They are currently asserting their right to define a moderate livelihood and have launched a new fishery under their Supreme Court of Canada-affirmed treaty right to hunt, fish, and gather in pursuit of a "moderate livelihood," which the federal government has never defined. Their actions have met with opposition from some non-Indigenous fishers, put treaty rights in the spotlight, and garnered international attention. 

Community Development Context

The Antigonish Movement has played a critical role in the Nova Scotia context. It grew from the pioneering work of Rev. Dr. Moses Coady and Rev. Jimmy Tompkins in the 1920s and started as a community development response to the poverty afflicting farmers, fishers, miners, and other disadvantaged groups in Eastern Canada. The Antigonish Movement used a combination of adult education and group actions in communities, called The People’s School. It led to the development of the now world-renowned extension department at St. Francis Xavier University and the Coady International Institute. New Dawn Enterprises Limited in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, is the oldest Community Development Corporation in Canada and is a Founding Member of the Canadian Community Economic Development (CED) Network. It also grew from the Antigonish Movement. New Dawn's mission is to engage the community to create a culture of self-reliance and is as relevant today as when it was founded in 1976. 

Strengths in People

One of Nova Scotia’s greatest strengths is its people. Nova Scotians are known for their warm hospitality. In 1999, they welcomed 2,500 Kosovar Albanian refugees; hundreds of people volunteered their time, skills, and resources to support people fleeing warfare in the Balkans and crowded refugee camps in Macedonia. On September 11, 2001, 40 aircraft carrying 8,000 passengers were diverted to Halifax Stanfield International Airport. Hundreds of local families took the passengers into their homes for days and weeks until the flights started moving again. The provincial volunteer rate is higher than the national average by 7.7%; in 2013, the province contributed a higher annual average amount of volunteer hours than any province in Canada (Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation, 2015).

Rural Nova Scotia Today

Today, nearly a million people live in Nova Scotia; more than a third in the Halifax Regional Municipality, one of two major urban centres in the province. Nearly half of the population (46%) lives in rural areas, defined as communities with a population of less than 1,000 and outside areas with fewer than 400 people per square kilometre (Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF), 2015).

Rural Nova Scotia is currently experiencing three key demographic shifts: 1) a shift of population from rural communities to urban communities, particularly the outmigration of youth; 2) an increase in the aging population, which has implications for succession planning, opportunities for youth, volunteerism, and community dynamics in general; and 3) an overall declining population, which has implications for standard of living, and quality of public services and amenities, particularly in the rural regions of the province (CRRF, 2015).

Rural Economy

The rural economy relies on natural resources, such as agriculture, fisheries, mining, and forestry. Many people are calling for the diversification of the economy and for increasing immigration (Ivany, 2014). The Centre for Local Prosperity encourages practical, innovative, and experimental community development initiatives and sustainable business practices that balance community purpose with business profit. It emphasizes localization as key to community economies, and spreads to localization of various aspects of the economy, economic infrastructure, community governance, and citizen engagement. The cooperative sector is especially active in rural Nova Scotia. Rural co-ops generate 1.8 times the revenue, have three times as many members and twice as many employees, compared to urban cooperatives (CRRF, 2015). Social enterprise organizations, as organizations that operate using a business model in order to catalyze positive social or environmental change, are also an important part of the social economy in Nova Scotia (CRRF, 2015).

Community Psychology in Nova Scotia

My community psychology work in Nova Scotia is based at Inspiring Communities, a not-for-profit organization that focuses on building collective action for change. We have three key areas of work: 1) nesting and supporting social innovation and experimentation, 2) creating a culture of learning and evaluative thinking, and 3) building capacity for systems leadership. We support three collective impact initiatives in the province designed to mobilize communities to address complex social issues relevant to the local context to improve life for community members. As Director of Research and Evaluation, I support a wonderful team working in community-based research and providing developmental evaluation supports, which allow the work to pivot and adapt in real-time. Together we are building collective capacity for a systems approach to social change. Please feel free to contact me.



Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation. (2015). State of rural Canada report.

Ivany, R. (2014). Now or never: An urgent call to action for Nova Scotians (The Report of the Nova Scotia Commission on Building our New Economy). Halifax: Government of Nova Scotia.

Sehatzadeh, A. (2008). A Retrospective on the Strengths of African Nova Scotian Communities: Closing Ranks to Survive. Journal of Black Studies, 38(3), 407-412. Retrieved October 24, 2020, from