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  Growing Gaelic in Nova Scotia


Historical Background


In the later 1800s it is estimated that there may have been as many 100,000 Gaelic speakers in the province.


In the 1901 Canada Census, 50,000 Nova Scotians cited Gaelic as their mother tongue.  At this time, Gaelic speakers represented the largest speech community in the province after English. 


-  Geographic location of Gaelic speakers in the census included, Cumberland, Colchester, Pictou, Antigonish, Guysborough, Inverness, Richmond and Victoria Counties and present day Cape Breton Regional Municipality.


-  Though these districts represent the traditional settlement areas of Gaelic speakers, out migration over generations for socio-economic reasons, means that descendants of the province’s early Gaelic speakers are now found throughout the province.


-  Reasons cited for Gaelic’s decline are low status and institutional exclusion of the language resulting in ridicule and punishment in public schools and economic disparities and out migration.  As a result, Gaelic language and its attendant culture experienced severe decline throughout 20th century Nova Scotia.


-  Many local efforts at language preservation and development occurring throughout 20th century Nova Scotia were inhibited due to lack of official recognition, exclusion, ineffective planning and allocation of resources, resulting in further loss of Gaelic language and its cultural expression.


Recent Initiatives


-  The establishment of the Gaelic Council of Nova Scotia (1990) and subsequent planning and advocacy efforts, leading to the establishment of The Office of Gaelic Affairs (December 2006), renewed efforts have been made to preserve and develop the province’s Gaelic language and cultural assets.


-  Recent language and cultural revitalization projects, programs and initiatives have been developed to:


1  Raise the prestige of Gaelic language and cultural expression

2  Re-establish intergenerational transmission of language, i.e. from elder to youth, engage adults in language acquisition and usage

3  Create greater awareness and appreciation of and accessibility to Nova Scotia’s rich Gaelic cultural expression

4  Increase public school programs where youth can learn Gaelic and become more aware of its rich cultural expression

5  Identity Nova Scotia as the only remaining jurisdiction outside of Gaelic Scotland and Ireland where a Gaelic language and its attendant culture have been passed down from generation to generation


Language and Community Stats


2011 Canada census states there are 1275 Gaelic speakers in the province. Most Gaelic speakers reside in HRM, Pictou, Antigonish, Inverness, Victoria and CBRM. 300 Nova Scotians cited Gaelic as their mother tongue.  This represents and increase of 43% over the number of speakers cited in the 2006 census, 890

Thousands of Nova Scotians through family connections, music, dance, humour, ancestry and community residence feel that Gaelic language and culture are aspects of their identity and feel a visceral connection to these

2006 Canada Census, 288,180 Nova Scotians or 31.9% indicated Scottish ethnic origin  The vast majority of these while not Gaelic speaking are descendants of Gaelic speakers having their linguistic and cultural origins in the Highlands and Islands of Scotlands


Gaelic Affairs


Supports Nova Scotians in the reclamation of their Gaelic language, and cultural identity assisting in the building of communities through social and economic contributions.


Creates learning, awareness and sensitivity programs that build greater appreciation and understanding for Gaelic language and cultural identity, and provides services that support Gaelic community initiatives, strengthens partnerships with government departments and agencies, and international partners in other Gaelic regions.


Gaelic Affairs’ mandate supports the mission of the OneNovaScotia’s report (2014) which focuses on;


fostering an healthy sense of cultural identity that helps to retain community members, particularly youth, to live, work and raise families in our communities

Creative Economy, i.e. further developing economic opportunities in the cultural industries

Expanding Cultural Tourism revenues


Gaelic Affairs language and cultural programs have supported adults and youth to:


Further their language and cultural skills

Develop their identity as Gaels

Reinforce sense of belonging and connection to community

-  Provided a sense of hope of staying and living and working in the Province of Nova Scotia


Gaelic Affairs Staffing, Offices and Budgets:


3 staff (budget 2015-16: two positions eliminated)

-  $68,000 in program funding

-  2 office locations (Antigonish and Halifax: as per budget 2015-16 Mabou office scheduled to close)


Gaelic Language and Cultural Programming


adult and youth language learning programs conducted at the community level


more than 1000 students enrolled in Gaelic language and studies in 13 of the province’s public schools


Three universities offer post-secondary courses specific to Gaelic language, culture, heritage and history


-  There are also three Gaelic related institutions offer a range of programs and work to promote local Gaelic language and culture


Four major festivals held annually; Féis a’ Chidsin (Kitchen Fest), Féis an Eilein (Christmas Island Festival, Antigonish Highland Games and Celtic Colours


Gaelic Economy


Gaelic in Nova Scotia 2002 Social, Cultural and Economic Study cites;


Gaelic language and cultural initiatives and products contributed $23.5 million in direct revenue 275 Gaelic specific activities

-  2,070 events annually

380,000 people attend Gaelic events each year, and 30,000 are involved in putting on events

275 events had 80 % Gaelic cultural content and 17 % Gaelic language content

concerts were the most popular activity, making up 67 % of the total, followed by dances at 17 %, workshops and lectures at six %, a series of other events under one % each


2014 Celtic Colours International Festival’s sales data cites:


$10.4 million was spent by festival events attendees over a 9 day period

-  Over 40 shows of which 20 had Gaelic performing artists, i.e. singers, musicians, dancers


Gaelic Nova Scotia in Broader Context


Gaels through their language and culture make numerous social and economic contributions to Nova Scotia society:


Nova Scotia is the only remaining region in the world outside of Gaelic Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man where a Gaelic language and culture community live

In terms of the language and culture of the Gaels, Nova Scotia is a national asset to Canadians and a resource to Americans desiring to reconnect with their Gaelic identity

-  Nova Scotia’s Gaelic language and cultural assets belong to and should be a source of pride for all Nova Scotians


The Gaelic Activities Program is designed to help Nova Scotians learn from, work with, and share resources with other Gaelic communities. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), signed between the Province of Nova Scotia and Highland Council, Scotland, is a mechanism to facilitate sharing of resources, ideas, skills and experience for the benefit of both areas.

Community-based educational and cultural projects that support the goals of the MOU will be considered under the Gaelic Activities Program. For more information please contact:

Frangag NicEachainn
Frangag NicEachainn, Oifis Iomairtean na Gaidhlig

261 Màbu, A.N B0E 1X0
Fón: (902) 945-2114
Facs: (902) 945-2628
  Frances MacEachen
Officer of Gaelic Affairs

PO Box 261 Mabou, NS B0E 1X0
Phone: (902) 945-2114
Fax: (902) 945-2628


Getting to know Gaelic
Bheir eu-dochas misneachd do'n ghealtair.

Desperation will give courage to
a coward.
Getting to know Gaelic
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