The island measures 6,352 square kilometres in area (3,970 square miles) and is composed mainly of rocky shores, rolling farmland, barren headlands, mountains, forests and plateaus. Geological evidence suggests that Cape Breton Island was originally a piece of Scotland that "broke off" when the North American tectonic plate separated from its European counterpart approximately 100 million years ago.
Principal saltwater features are the Bras d'Or Lakes system, which the island wraps around, and the Strait of Canso. Principal freshwater features are: Lake Ainslie, the Margaree Rivers, and the Mira River. Marine vessels can navigate the Canso Strait, and can enter the Bras d'Or Lakes through Big Bras d'Or, Little Bras d'Or or St. Peters Canal. The Mira River is also navigable for more than twenty kilometres. Fierce tidal currents are known in several places around and within the island.
Cape Breton is now joined to the mainland by the Canso Causeway, completed in 1955, enabling direct road traffic to and about the island, but constraining marine traffic to pass through canal locks at the northern end of the causeway. The small port of North Sydney provides a ferry link to the island of Newfoundland across the Cabot Strait of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The principal thruway is the Trans-Canada Highway.
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, 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 Óle Royale.
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 French still thrive alongside.
Originally inhabited by the Mi'kmaq First Nations, and in the 18th century by French settlers (Acadians), a significant influx of Highland Scots (around 50,000) immigrated in the first half of the nineteeth century as a result of the Highland Clearances. Today their descendants dominate the culture, though significant settlements of French-speaking Acadians and Mi'kmaqs still prosper, and it is not unusual to find bilingual names (examples?).
Cape Breton Island is famous for: