The word Eskasoni is derived from a Mi'kmaq word "We'kwistoqnik."
Literally translated, this word means "where the fir trees are
plentiful". Eskasoni was first charted by the Surveyor-General
of Cape Breton in 1832. At that time, there were very few families living
in the Eskasoni area, compared with the nearly 3000 residents of today.
Two years later, in 1834, Eskasoni officially became a reserve, consisting
of approximately 2800 acres of land.
During the 1800s there were many Native communities around Cape Breton.
Eskasoni was at that time a relatively small, isolated community. According
to census reports, in 1871 there were only 125 people living in Eskasoni.
By 1891 the population of Eskasoni had declined to 80 residents. With
such small population figures from 100 years ago, one might wonder how
this community survived at all, let alone became the largest Native
community in the Atlantic Provinces.
The primary reason for the extraordinary growth of Eskasoni occurred
during the 1940s. In 1942 the Department of Indian Affairs introduced
a policy to centralize Native people. In Nova Scotia, all Native people
were to be relocated to two locations: Shubenacadie in mainland Nova
Scotia, and Eskasoni on Cape Breton Island. The motives for this decision
may have been acceptable, but the results were not good. While the population
of Eskasoni did grow and the community became larger than it had ever
been, there were problems.
Overcrowding, poor housing, substance abuse, and little or no economic
opportunities for the residents were just some of the problems encountered
in Eskasoni. Although the government promised aid and housing, there
simply were not enough resources or houses to support the influx of
people. Many Natives, after being relocated, felt a desire to return
to their homes. To ensure this did not happen, Indian Agents would often
destroy Native homes once they had been relocated to Eskasoni.
During the 1950s, Eskasoni, along with many other Native communities
in Nova Scotia, began the process of taking control of their own affairs.
A Band Council was established in 1958. This was a major step towards
controlling their own community, but Eskasoni would take other steps
Eskasoni also has its own school board and schools. Students may attend
school from start to finish in the Eskasoni school system. Eskasoni
has also recently opened its own health care clinic, cultural center,
and has a thriving fishery. Eskasoni has its own radio station, 94.1
FM, and its own cable television channel, Golivision. Both of these
media help to promote local culture and talent, along with keeping the
community informed of notices and upcoming events.