Wandering bands of hunters and their families began to arrive in Nova Scotia soon after the last ice age ended approximately 13,000 years before present (B.P.). These early Indians may have migrated through New Brunswick before entering Nova Scotia along the Isthmus of Chignecto. Some archaeologists have also suggested that the first peoples of Nova Scotia migrated directly from the eastern seaboard of the United States to Nova Scotia across a land bridge that once connected the two and which is now far beneath the sea.

Discoveries at Debert, located on the Bay of Fundy some 110 kilometres north of McNabs Island, indicate that a paleoindian culture was established there as early as 10,600 B.P., and was representative of a much more widespread Maritimes Paleo-Indian presence dating 10,600 - 11,000 years ago. For several thousand years after 10,000 B.P., however, there were only scant traces of humans in the Maritime Provinces, leaving much unknown about these "first" people.

Archaeological sites in the vicinity of McNabs Island provide evidence of prehistoric and historic occupations of the metropolitan area since the retreat of the glaciers 10,000 years ago. Artifacts found at Dartmouth, Hartlen Point, the Esson site, Lake Micmac and Lake Charles, as well as several historic sites, attest to the long and varied occupations of the shores of Halifax Harbour.

One popular seasonal home for the Micmacs along the Atlantic coast was located just opposite McNabs Island in what is now Dartmouth. In addition, the Indians had frequently used McNabs Island for hunting and fishing, as evidenced by the large shell middens found there. Archaeological work on one midden has dated the site to the Middle Ceramic period, prior to about 1600 B.P.

The arrival of Europeans in Nova Scotia created many challenges for the Micmac Indians. Although they had inhabited Nova Scotia for over 10,000 years, the Indians were soon forced from many of their traditional camping and hunting grounds by an ever-growing influx of settlers.

The growth of European settlements at Halifax and Dartmouth resulted in increasing hostilities between the Micmacs and the settlers. About 1760, the government decided to deport the Indians to McNabs Island (known as Cornwallis Island at that time) in an effort to prevent the hostilities from worsening.

On the island the Indians camped on a northeasterly point of land, still called for them Indian Point. Tradition recalls that the Indians on Cornwallis Island took part in a number of attacks on Dartmouth. In one such raid five settlers were killed.

Over the years, animosity between the two groups faded. The Indians found Halifax and Dartmouth to be good markets for their handicrafts while the settlers, bolstered by their growing numbers, no longer felt threatened. In time, the Indians were allowed to reoccupy their old camping grounds at Dartmouth, although until the mid-1800's, some continued to reside on Cornwallis Island.

Raddall notes that Father Louis Peter Thury, the first recorded missionary at Chebucto, worked among the Indians there. Following his death about 1699, the Indians buried his body on the shore of Chebucto, possibly on Cornwallis Island. When Diereville visited Chebucto in 1699, three Micmac Chiefs took him to Thury's grave.