Cape Breton Island, island (1991 pop. 161,686), 3,970 sq mi (10,282 sq km), forming the northeastern part of N.S., Canada, and separated from the mainland by the narrow Gut, or Strait, of Canso. The easternmost point is called Cape Breton. The center of the island is occupied by the Bras d'Or salt lakes. Gently sloping in the south, the island rises to rugged hills in the wilder northern part. The inhabitants are mainly of Scottish Highlander descent. There are many summer resorts on the lakes and fishing villages on the coast. In the northeast are steelworks, once fueled by the extensive Sydney coal fields, which were worked from the 1720s to 2001.
The Cabot Trail, a scenic road through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, commemorates the discovery of Cape Breton Island in 1497 by John Cabot. The island was a French possession from 1632 to 1763. After the Peace of Utrecht (1713) many Acadians migrated there from mainland Nova Scotia, which was ceded to the English. They renamed the island Île Royale and established the fortress at Louisburg. With the final cession of Canada to the British (1763), Cape Breton was attached to Nova Scotia. It was made a separate colony in 1784, with Sydney as its capital, but was rejoined to Nova Scotia in 1820.
See history by R. J. Morgan (2 vol., 2008–9).