Town of Pictou
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Town of Pictou

History of Pictou

This chronological list of events was compiled by local historian, Ron Wallis.


Select Period: 1660 - 1799 | 1800 - 1899 | 1900 - 1993


The original people living in the area now known as Pictou, were the Mikmaqs and had been living in the area for hundreds and possibly thousands of years. The early name that the natives had for the area was Pictook, meaning exploding gas, probably related to the coal fields in the area. They are responsible for assisting the earlier settlers in hunting, fishing and the ways of the land. If it weren't for them, many of our forefathers would never have survived through those long cold winters. In the mid 1950s, a native burial ground was accidentally uncovered during an excavation near Lowdens Beach, revealing their custom burial rites. The name "Souriguoi" which was the Acadian name for the Mikmaqs, was given to the north shore area of Nova Scotia.

1660: The name "La reviere de Pictou" was given to this harbour by Nicolas Denys, who explored it in the 1660s. In 1653, the French government gave Denys sole exploratory rights to that particular territory on the Gulf of St. Lawrence from Canso to the Gaspe, including Cape Breton Island and the other gulf islands, with rights to explore and to govern as he saw fit. Denys was a trader and colonial promoter and he spent 40 years trying to develop the colony. Many of his ventures were unsuccessful commercial failures, including his fishing establishments, in Port Rossignol (Liverpool), in the1630s and on Cape Breton in the 1650s.

1765: The Philadelphia Company of Pennsylvania, was formed and consisted of 14 men of British and Protestant background. They received a grant of 200,000 acres of land on October 31st, 1765, from the British government, on the condition that the lands be settled by similar background people within four years. This land was known as the "Philadelphia Grant". The land was located to the west of a line through Brown's Point (adjacent to the McNutt Grant) and extended into what is now Colchester County. The only water frontage was that shoreline from Brown's Point westerly to the mouth of the West River. Because of the limited access to water frontage, the principals in the Philadelphia Company had difficulty enticing settlers to the area, to fulfill their conditions of the grant. The grant was eschewed a number of years later due to the Company's inability to settle the lands.

1767: The Betsy, charted by the Philadelphia Company, arrived on June 10th of that year, to establish the first settlement in what is now Pictou County. The settlers began settling along the West River in the area now known as Lyons Brook. Among its passengers were notables Dr. John Harris (a physician, graduate of Princeton University), who became the first Magistrate in the area, and John Patterson (a surveyor), who became better known as Squire Patterson and succeeded Harris as Magistrate. Both families settled west of the Gut or Haliburton. James McCabe settled in Durham, while John Rogers settled in Rogers Hill (Scotsburn). There is no record of where the other two families (Henry Cumminger and another) settled.

1769: The first saw mill in Pictou County, was established on the Saw Mill Brook near Lyons Brook.

1770: The McNutt Grant or Irish Grant, which mainly encompassed the area known as Pictou Township, including the town of Pictou, Trenton, New Glasgow and Stellarton was eschewed in this year. McNutt had beaten the Philadelphia Company, by establishing title to the choice coast land, but failed to fulfill the terms of settlement of these lands.

1770: In January of this year, there were 120 people living in Pictou Township.

1773: In July, the ship Hector, an old Dutch barque owned by John Pagan, a merchant of Greenoch on the River Clyde below Glasgow, sailed from Lock Broom, Scotland with 179 passengers and later picked up an additional 10 from Greenock. The ship arrived in Pictou on September 15th of that year. The passengers came ashore and found the town on land that had been granted to Alexander McNutt.

1775: Five thousand acres of the eschewed MuNutt grant including the township of Pictou was granted to Lieutenant Richard Williams of the 80th Regiment. He allegedly traded it for a horse with Walter Patterson who laid out the town and called it "Coleraine".

1775: In November of this year, there were 53 families in the township of Pictou.

1783: Part of the escheated McNutt Grant was regranted to 44 settlers, mostly Hector passengers. Seventy of Pictou's finest men were able to bear arms.

1787: In September, John Patterson acquired a portion of the McNutt grant and divided the land into building lots and renamed the town "New Paisley".

1787: The first church in the county was built at Loch Broom by the Presbyterians.

1788: The town was surveyed and again renamed as "Pictou".

1788: Timber merchants Edward Mortimer and the brothers, Alexander and Thomas Copeland, arrived in Pictou. The Copelands built the first wharf.

1788: The first vessel built in Pictou was constructed by Thomas Copeland.

1789: Robert and Thomas Pagan came to Pictou as merchants.

1790: The first permanent style house was built in Pictou.

1790: Hugh Denoon, a settlement promoter, arrived in Pictou prior to enlisting settlers from Scotland.

1792: A jail was erected.

1793: Peter Grant opened the first school in Pictou.

1793: Deacon John Patterson built his first wharf.

1798: William Lowden launched the "Harriet", the largest and finest ship built in the province, to that time.

1799: The first election held in the county was won by Edward Mortimer, the Pictou representative of the Reform (later called the Liberal) Party. He and two other Pictou County members were in disagreement with the previous ruling body established by members from Halifax and Truro.



Select Period: 1660 - 1799 | 1800 - 1899 | 1900 - 1993