Before the colonization of Nova Scotia, Pictou Island was a summer meeting spot, fishing destination, and battle grounds for Indigenous Peoples. While Pictou Island was not known to be an established community for Indigenous Peoples, there is a story that is often told that recalls how an abandoned Mi’kmaq woman was the first resident of Pictou Island.

The first settler community on Pictou Island was a group of Roman Catholic immigrants from Barra, an island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, in 1802. The “Barra Settlement” was established as the Scottish people were well accustomed to the fisheries and landscape that the Northern Nova Scotia shores granted them access to.

The Island was later granted to Admiral Sir Alexander Forrester Cochrane. Sir Cochrane was a British Naval captain, and the grant was made following his visit to Pictou in October of 1809. Sir Cochrane’s granted extended to below the high-water mark of the island, meaning that he not only owned the land but also three hundred feet of the ocean surrounding the island’s perimeter.

A small group of Irish families - the Boyds, Hogans, and Morris - were sent by Sir Cochrane to cultivate the land on Pictou Island in 1817. Two years later, a group of Scottish settlers arrived on Pictou Island and the two groups began to clash. The Scots eventually drove out the Irish but one Irish woman, Granny Boyd, supposedly started a forest fire on the Island out of spite as she left. The Island continue to be cultivated as farmland despite Granny’s best efforts.

By 1830, the land on Pictou Island had been surveyed into thirty-two 100-acre lots and one 50-acre lot. Sir Cochrane did not include the land past the high-water mark in these plots, effectively allowing him to retain ownership of the surrounding land. This meant that the first people to live on Pictou Island were tenants rather than landowners. It was not until 1840 - eight years after Sir Cochrane’s death - that the first 100-acre deed was sold. All of the lots were sold piece by piece until the late 1880’s.

The community of Pictou Island throughout the 20th century, relied primarily on fisheries for economic resource. Canneries established on Pictou Island allowed fishermen to sell their catch back to the Island and keep their profits within the community. The canneries were closed by 1920 and with the introduction of motorized vehicles and industrialized workplaces, fishermen could set their traps farther offshore and sell larger catches than ever before.

Pictou Island remained a farming and fishing community well into the 1940’s and 50’s, with several different families maintaining their ancestral homesteads. There were five lobster canneries, four lighthouses, a prolific fisheries industry, a school, and a large church community at the height of the Island’s population. While each of these locales eventually dissipated as the population moved off-Island in search of larger schools, mainland conveniences, and more readily available employment, those who still remained became a fixture in the Island’s community work to preserve the history and heritage.

Pictou Island has become a popular summer destination for cottage-goers and remains home to small year-round group of residents and many of the descendants of the old family’s still visit or live on the island.