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Cape Breton Island
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Cape Breton Island

Cape Breton Island (French: île du Cap-Breton, Scottish Gaelic: Eilean Cheap Breatuinn, Mi'kmaq: U'namakika) is a large island on the Atlantic coast of North America. It is part of the province of Nova Scotia, Canada, although physically separated from the peninsular Nova Scotian mainland by the Strait of Canso. The island is located east-northeast of the mainland with its northern and western coasts fronting on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, its western coast also forming the eastern limits of the Northumberland Strait.

The island measures 10,311 square kilometres in area (3,981 square miles), making it the 75th largest island in the world, and is composed mainly of rocky shores, rolling farmland, glacial valleys, barren headlands, mountains, forests and plateaus. Geological evidence suggests that at least part of Cape Breton Island was originally joined with present-day Scotland and Norway, now separated by millions of years of continental drift.

Cape Breton's landscape is dominated by the Bras d'Or Lake system, which the island wraps around, the Strait of Canso, and the Cape Breton Highlands, which are considered a continuation of the Appalachian chain. Principal freshwater features are Lake Ainslie, the Margaree River system, and the Mira River. Innumerable smaller rivers and streams drain into the Bras d'Or Lake estuary and onto the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Atlantic coasts.

Cape Breton is now joined to the mainland by the Canso Causeway, completed in 1955, enabling direct road and rail traffic to and from the island, but constraining marine traffic to pass through the Canso Canal at the eastern end of the causeway.

Sydney on the east coast of the island has traditionally been the main port, with various facilities in a sheltered harbour. The Marine Atlantic terminal at North Sydney is where large ferries have daily departures year-round to Channel–Port aux Basques and seasonally to Argentia on the island of Newfoundland. Point Edward is the location of Sydport, a former navy base now converted to commercial use, as well as the Canadian Coast Guard College. Petroleum, general cargo, bulk coal, and cruise ship facilities are also located in Sydney Harbour. Port Hawkesbury has risen to prominence since the completion of the Canso Causeway created an artificial deep-water port, allowing extensive petrochemical, pulp and paper, and gypsum handling facilities to be established.

The Canso Strait is completely navigable to seaway-max vessels, and Port Hawkesbury is open to the deepest-draught vessels on the world's oceans. Large marine vessels may also enter Bras d'Or Lake through the Great Bras d'Or channel whereas small craft have the additional use of the Little Bras d'Or channel or St. Peters Canal. The Mira River is navigable for small craft for more than twenty kilometres. Navigation can be challenging in Cape Breton waters, with numerous hazards including strong tidal currents, fog, sea ice, shoals, fierce gales, and even hurricanes.

The principal road on the island is the Trans-Canada Highway, Nova Scotia route 105. Nova Scotia route 125 is an important arterial route in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, and Nova Scotia routes 104 and 4, as well as the Cabot Trail, are important secondary roads. Railway connections extend from the port of Sydney to mainland Nova Scotia via Port Hawkesbury and the Canso Causeway.

Nova Scotians tend to think of Cape Breton Island and the Nova Scotian mainland as distinct regions of the province. This is a justifiable position for historical reasons, as Cape Breton was a separate colony from Nova Scotia from 1713 to 1763 and from 1784 to 1820.

Under the French, Cape Breton Island was called Île Royale. It was sometimes identified incorrectly as "Cape Britain".

The four main cultures are Mi'kmaq, Acadian, Scottish, and English, with respective languages Mi'kmaq, French, Scottish Gaelic, and English. English is now the primary spoken language, though Gaelic and Acadian French still thrive alongside.

Later migrations of black loyalists, Irish, Italians, and Eastern Europeans enriched the eastern part of the island around Sydney, known as "Industrial Cape Breton".

Originally inhabited by the Mi'kmaq Nation, the island saw active settlement by Acadians and the French garrison at Louisbourg during the 17th and 18th centuries. Following the island's fall into British control, a significant influx of Highland Scots (around 50,000) arrived in the first half of the 19th century as a result of the Highland Clearances. Today their descendants dominate the culture, and up until the 1970s Gaelic could still be heard spoken by many people of older generations. A Gaelic college and Gaelic language instruction in public schools attempt to address the loss of this culture to English assimilation. Significant Acadian and Mi'kmaq communities prosper, and it is not unusual to find bilingual names (examples?).

Cape Breton Island is famous for:

See also