Pictou, NS, incorporated as a town in 1873, population 3437 (2011c), 3813 (2006c). The Town of Pictou, shire town of Pictou County, is located on Pictou Harbour adjacent to Northumberland Strait and the Gulf of St Lawrence.
The traditional centre of Scottish settlement in the Maritimes, it was first occupied by the Micmac. Visited by French fur traders and missionaries, and later the site of a land grant to the Philadelphia Company (1762), its settlement followed the arrival of nearly 200 Highland Scots on the Hector in 1773.
By the early 19th century, it was an active and free port, shipping timber to Great Britain. Sawmilling, foundry work, tannering, biscuit making and flour milling supported the export trade. Shipbuilding brought further prosperity. Late-19th-century growth focused on port functions connecting northern Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island, the Magdalene Islands and Cape Breton Island, but Pictou's isolated location eventually brought decline. Nearby towns were better situated to develop the county's coal and iron ore resources. Railways and highways bypassed the town.
Today, Pictou benefits from an administrative role, some marine industries and tourism based on its rich Scottish heritage. Scottish-styled stone houses and commercial buildings are still prominent on Water Street. Pictou Academy, founded by Thomas McCulloch, signalled the end of Anglican-dominated education in Nova Scotia. J.W. Dawson, McGill's first principal, was an academy graduate. McCulloch House is a provincial historic site.