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It was then merged with the adjacent, British colony of Nova Scotia (present day peninsular Nova Scotia and New Brunswick).

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One of the world's larger salt water lakes, ("Arm of Gold" in French), dominates the island's centre.

The island is divided into four of Nova Scotia's eighteen counties: Cape Breton, Inverness, Richmond, and Victoria.

Approximately 75% of the island's population is in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) which includes all of Cape Breton County and is often referred to as Industrial Cape Breton, given the history of coal mining and steel manufacturing in this area, which was Nova Scotia's industrial heartland throughout the 20th century.

The island has five reserves of the Mi'kmaq Nation: Cape Breton Island's first residents were likely Archaic maritime natives, ancestors of the Mi'kmaq.

This ocean-centric lifestyle did, however, make them among the first indigenous peoples to discover European explorers and sailors fishing in the St Lawrence Estuary. However, European histories and maps of the period are of too poor quality to be sure whether Cabot first visited Newfoundland or Cape Breton Island.

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