The scattered settlements of the French regime in Acadia, at their climax held about 15,000 people; but, a great number of these settlements were dispersed and the people removed to other territories as a de fence measure in 1755, hence they have little significance in the present day pattern. Port Royal ( 1604) was the first settlement. The densest Acadian population was found in the vicinity of Minas Basin, Cobequid Bay and Chignecto Basin, where the presence of tidal marshes formed the basis of the agricultural economy. Other settle ments existed on the St. John River, on Prince Edward Island and on Cape Breton Island where the fortress of Louisbourg afforded protection. Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton remained French until 1758, but the mainland was ceded finally to the English in 1713.
During the first decades of English rule no new settlements were founded, the only English in the land being the garrison, governing officials and a few traders at Annapolis Royal and a summer colony of New England fishermen at Canso.
Halifax was founded on Chedabucto Bay by Lord Cornwallis in 1749, to offset the growing power of the French at Louisbourg. In 1750-2 some German immigrants, together with some French and Swiss Huguenots, came to Halifax but, in 1753, they removed to Lunenburg to found a settlement of their own.
After the final capture of Louisbourg in 1758, many settlers came from New England. Fishermen and whalers established colonies at Yarmouth, Barrington, Port Mouton, Liverpool and other South Shore points in 1759. The "Planters" established agricultural colonies in 1760-1 at Truro, Onslow, Newport, Falmouth, Windsor, Horton, Cornwallis, Annapolis, Granville, Amherst and Sackville, for the most part on lands formerly occupied by the exiled Acadians. New Englanders also established settlements around Passamaquoddy Bay, at Portland Point in St. John Harbour and at Maugerville on the St. John River.
Other early settlers were the Yorkshiremen who came to Sackville and Amherst, the Ulstermen of Londonderry and the English settlers of Gagetown, Miramichi and Restigouche. Scottish Highlanders settled in Pictou and Prince Edward Island in 1773.
Within a few years the government of Nova Scotia granted over 18,000,000 acres, more than six times the present total of improved land.
In 1767 Prince Edward Island became a separate province and in 1769 it was divided into 67 townships of 20,000 acres each and granted to persons who had claims on the home government. This system of landlordism persisted until Prince Edward Island became a Province of the Dominion of Canada.
During this period, also, many Acadians returned and established the settlements in which their descendants still live.
At the close of the American War of Independence, more than 30,000 Loyalists came to Nova Scotia. Many of them went to previously established settlements, but the majority established new ones in the territory north of the Bay of Fundy. This was the origin of the Passamaquoddy Bay parishes including St. Andrews, St. George, Black's Harbour, Grand Harbour and Lepreau. Saint John was founded in 1783 as. two settlements, Parrtown and Carleton, but by Royal Charter became the city of Saint John in 1785. Other settlements along the St. John river and its tributaries included Rothesay, Hampton, Sussex, Kingston, Gagetown, Oromocto, Cambridge, Marysville, Fredericton, Kingsclear and Woodstock. So great was the influx of new settlers, and so far did they feel themselves to be from the capital at Halifax, that, in 1784, a new province called New Brunswick was established and Fredericton was chosen as the capital.
The Loyalists founded new settlements at Clementsport, Digby and Weymouth in Western Nova Scotia, Wallace on the North Shore, Sydney on Cape Breton Island and Shelburne on the South Shore. These latter form an interesting contrast.
Sydney, first settled in 1784, soon had a population of about 4,000. Land was cleared by community effort and a townsite laid out, lots being given to those who had helped clear it. Agriculture was begun immediately and in addition Governor De Barres caused the opening of coal mines nearby which brought in large revenues to the colony. On that beginning the region around Sydney has grown to contain about 20% of the population of the whole province.
In 1783 there arrived at Shelburne about 10,000 Loyalists from New York to found a new town under the British flag. Some of them engaged in lumbering, shipbuilding and fishing, but in this rocky region extensive agriculture was out of the question. The region could not support so large a population and most of the inhabitants soon moved away. Shelburne, today, is a village of about 2,000 people.
There could be no better object lesson in the importance of geographical control upon the development of human enterprise.
The pattern of settlement in the Maritime Provinces crystallized fairly early in the nineteenth century. Many immigrants arrived, but the process of settlement, in the main, consisted in the expansion of the earlier sites, and, with the exception of a few places in the interior of New Brunswick, no new ones were established. Among the newcomers were a great many Scottish people who settled in Cape Breton Island and the eastern parts of Prince Edward Island and the Nova Scotian mainland. There were also many Irish who came to the southern part of New Brunswick and to Prince Edward Island.
During this period lumbering, shipbuilding and fishing became major industries. Eastern Canada had the highest per capita tonnage of merchant shipping on earth. Coal mining expanded with consequent increase of population at Joggins, Springhill, New Glasgow and, above all, in the Sydney area. Except in certain favoured localities, agriculture did not expand very rapidly but became a subsidiary or parttime occupation. Thus New Brunswick developed a race of farmer-lumbermen, and a race of farmer-fishermen arose in Nova Scotia.
The first railway in the Maritime Provinces was a short line from Albion Mines to Pictou Harbour opened in 1839 to provide for the increasing export of coal. Other lines followed and in 1876 the Intercolonial was Completed to River du Loup, thus linking the Maritime Provinces to Canada.
In 1840, also, Samuel Cunard, a native of Halifax, inaugurated his transatlantic steamship service. Henceforth the wooden sailing vessel was rapidly displaced.
These changes in transportation had a profound effect upon population. Seaport sites declined in favour of locations upon the railway. Halifax and Saint John, rival outlets for overseas trade, especially in the winter months, grew rapidly. Charlottetown, as the chief port and trade centre as well as the capital, maintained its ascendancy in Prince Edward Island.
Many areas, counties and smaller divisions alike, reached their maximum population figures in 1881 but the linking up of railway lines to central Canada and the building of the C.P.R. to the west put a definite check upon the growth of the Maritime Provinces. Prince Edward Island, with its greater dependence upon agriculture underwent serious decline. The natural increase of population was attracted by the opening west or to the expanding cities of Central Canada and the United States. The population of even important centres such as Saint John and Charlottetown remained static for many years.
During this general decline, however, certain areas showed outstanding increases. Cape Breton county grew from 31,000 in 1881 to 73,000 in 1911 owing to the development of the coal and steel industries. Other mining centres also developed, but more slowly. Halifax, Lunenburg and Yarmouth had notable increases which can, in part be attributed to developments in the fishing industry. Large increases took place in the northern counties of New Brunswick which began to develop its forest resources. The Acadians of this region had a high birthrate and were disinclined to join the migration to the Prairies. In contrast, the southern part of New Brunswick lost population except for Moncton which continued to grow because of its importance as a railway centre.