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Pictou is a small town of 3,200 people (2016) in Pictou County, Nova Scotia on the north-western shore of a natural harbour. It is most well-known for its claim to be the birthplace of new Scotland after the landing of the first settlers to come to Nova Scotia directly from Scotland in 1773. There are many old buildings to see, an attractive waterfront and several museums.


Pictou 20060708 1436.jpg

Once an active shipping port and the shire town of the county, today Pictou is primarily a local service centre for surrounding rural communities and is the primary tourist destination in this region of Nova Scotia.

The name Pictou, pronounced 'Pick-toe', derives from the Mi'kmaq name Piktuk, meaning "explosive place", a reference to the river of pitch that was found in the area, or perhaps from methane bubbling up from coal seams below the harbour.


Pictou had been the location of an annual Mi'kmaq Aboriginal summer coastal community prior to European settlement. Pictou was part of the Epekwitk aq Piktuk Mi'kmaq District, which included present-day Prince Edward Island and Pictou.

Pictou was a receiving point for many Scottish immigrants moving to a new home in northern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island following the Highland Clearances of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The first wave of immigrants arrived on September 15, 1773, on the Hector.

When the Hector arrived, there were already a few families in Pictou that had arrived on the Betsy six years earlier. The town has an indirect connection to Scottish settlement in New Zealand; the Reverend Norman McLeod emigrated to Pictou from Scotland some years after the Hector but eventually re-settled with his parishioners at St. Ann's on Cape Breton Island, and later to Waipu where there are still many descendants from Pictou and St. Ann's.

First Presbyterian Church

In 1812, Sir Hector Maclean (the 7th Baronet of Morvern and 23rd Chief of the Clan Maclean) emigrated to Pictou from Glensanda and Kingairloch in Scotland with almost the entire population of 500. Sir Hector is buried in the cemetery at Pictou.

During the latter part of the 19th century, Pictou's industrial sector gained strength. The Intercolonial Railway was built to the town on a spur from the Stellarton-Oxford Junction "Short Line". Shipbuilding increased through the 19th century, particularly with the increase in coal being shipped from Pictou Landing, Abercrombie and the East River of Pictou. Shipyards have been established in the town since this period. CN Rail abandoned its service to the town in the late 1980s but other transportation - including Highway 106 (the Trans-Canada Highway) - opened in the 1970s to provide alternatives.

Get in[edit]

By road[edit]

Speed demons coming from New Brunswick, Cape Breton or Halifax can get to Pictou quickly via the Highway 104 and the short connecting Highway 106. A more leisurely drive from New Brunswick can be taken along Trunk 6. Highway 104 is part of the main route route of the Trans-Canada Highway. Highway 106 continues at Highway 1 on Prince Edward Island, and both of those highways are part of a branch of Trans-Canada Highway.

By ferry[edit]

It's the closest town in Nova Scotia to the Prince Edward Island ferry connecting from Wood Islands. Ferry crossing time is 75 minutes. There are as few as 3 sailings per direction per day in the winter and more than double that at other times of the year.

Get around[edit]

  • Walk - around town - it's only 2 km from one end of downtown to the other.
  • Drive - around to the different attractions in Pictou County
  • Cabs - a $5 cab ride gets you just about anywhere
  • Water taxis and boat tours of the harbour are available, which also connect to the town of New Glasgow.


The Hector
  • 1 Hector Heritage Quay (The Ship Hector), 33 Caladh Avenue, +1 902 485-4371, . June to mid-Oct: daily 10AM-4PM. The replica ship Hector and the Hector Quay re-tells the story of the first wave of two hundred Scottish Highlanders who arrived in Pictou aboard the Hector, and pays a dramatic tribute to their proud Highland spirit. The Quay also has an interpretive centre telling the story of these early settlers, a blacksmith shop, and a carpentry shop. Merchandise is available on site. $8 adults, $6 seniors, $3 students, $20 family.
  • 2 [dead link] deCoste Centre, 99 Water St, +1 902 485-8848, toll-free: +1 800-353-5338. Box Office: M-F 11:30AM-5PM. The local performing arts theatre.
  • 3 McCulloch House Museum, 86 Haliburton Rd, +1 902 485-4563, . Museum (open June-September or by appointment) and genealogy centre.
  • 4 Northumberland Fisheries Museum, 21 Caladh Ave (next door to the Hector Heritage Quay), +1 902 485-8925, . Explore the heritage and culture of the fishing industry and boatbuilding. Adopt a lobster.
  • 5 No. 2 Construction Battalion Monument, 87 Caladh Ave.
  • 6 Pictou Railway Station (Intercolonial), 71 Front St.
  • The Pictou Lodge
  • Historic stone buildings
  • Water Street


  • The Pictou Lobster Carnival in July. An amusement park is set up. This yearly event celebrating the end of the fishing season and has been a town festival since 1934.
  • There are several beaches near the town, most notably Caribou Provincial Park and Waterside Beach Provincial Park.


  • 1 Grohmann Knives, 116 Water Street, toll-free: +1-888-756-4837. Locally-made knives for kitchen and outdoor uses. Grohmann Knives Ltd, the only knife manufacturing factory in Canada, are the sole producers of the historic D.H. Russell Belt Knives and Grohmann Kitchen Knives. Free factory tours of the plant are offered.
  • 2 Mrs. MacGregor's Shortbreads, 59 Water St, +1 902 382-1878, . Bakery.


Lobster in season, of course.

Pictou County pizza is a regional variant of pizza found in Pictou County. The pizza is made with a "brown sauce" and Halifax-made pepperoni called "Brothers". The pizza can be shipped frozen across Canada via an arrangement between a local pizza shop and the local UPS agent.


Local pubs

  • 1 Harbour house ales and spirits, 41 Coleraine St.
  • 2 Highlander Pub, 16 Twining St, +1 902 485-1539.


Go next[edit]

North to the ferry to Prince Edward Island, south to Highway 104 and New Glasgow, or east on Trunk 6 along the Northumberland Shore coast (eventually reaching Amherst).

Pictou is 5 km south of the port of Caribou where Northumberland Ferries Limited operates a seasonal vehicle-pedestrian ferry service to Prince Edward Island; there is also a pedestrian-only ferry that operates seasonally to Pictou Island.

Routes through Pictou
CharlottetownWood Islands ← becomes PEI Highway 1.svg ← ferry ←  N Nova Scotia Highway 106 (TCH).svg S  New GlasgowEND
ENDAmherst  W Nova Scotia 6.svg E  END

This city travel guide to Pictou is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.