The Micmac, an indigenous people whose settlements stretched along the coast from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to the S Gaspé Peninsula, lived here when the first European—said to have been the Portuguese navigator Estevão Gomes (1525), although Basque fishermen may have preceded him—sailed along the coast. Jacques Cartier landed at Point Escuminac in 1534 and skirted the shores of Miramichi Bay.
The first, short-lived European settlement was made in 1604 at the mouth of the St. Croix River (on Dochet Island, at the Maine border) by Champlain and the sieur de Monts. France and England made conflicting territorial claims on the region, which, combining the present province of Nova Scotia and the coast of New Brunswick, was called Acadia by the French and Nova Scotia by the British. British control was confirmed by the Peace of Utrecht (1713–14). Doubting the loyalty of the Acadians, the British expelled them in 1755, although many fled into the interior, which was still effectively controlled by the French. Others sought refuge in the American colonies or returned to France. (Today about 35% of the people of New Brunswick are Acadians, and the province is a center of Acadian culture.) Great Britain took possession of the rest of New Brunswick when it gained all of Canada after the French and Indian Wars (see The Treaty of 1763 under Paris, Treaty of).
When the population of Nova Scotia was increased by many thousands of Loyalists who fled New England after the American Revolution, New Brunswick was organized (1784) into a separate colony. As trees were cut down for shipbuilding, the land was cleared for farming. By the middle of the 19th cent. settlement was extending into the interior, and St. John was a busy port and shipbuilding town. Dissatisfaction with the arbitrary rule of the provincial governor resulted in the achievement of responsible (or cabinet) government in 1849. In 1867, under the British North America Act, federation with the other provinces into the dominion of Canada was somewhat reluctantly accepted.
In 1960, Louis J. Robichaud, leader of the Liberal party, was the first Acadian to become premier of New Brunswick. He organized a program of equal opportunity, redistributing income to the poorer north, proposing new economic development, and instituting bilingual services to accommodate the province's steadily growing francophone population. The Progressive Conservative party came into power in 1970 under Richard Bennett Hatfield, who continued many of the programs begun by Robichaud. In 1987, in an unprecedented sweep, Liberals won all 58 House seats and named Frank McKenna premier. The Liberals retained power until 1999, when the Progressive Conservatives, under Bernard Lord, returned to power. Lord secured a second term in 2003, but the Liberals, led by Shawn Graham, won in 2006. In 2010, however, the Liberals lost the election, and Progressive Conservative leader David Alward became premier.
New Brunswick sends 10 senators and 10 representatives to the national parliament.