Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Canadian/North American Treasure!

In a recent blog, I published photos of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico.  Without a doubt, it is the most stunning grouping of ancient ruins that I’ve seen in the USA or Canada. 

This treasure is a little different.  In our opinion, Fortress Louisbourgh on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada, is the best reconstructed historical site in either the USA or Canada!  It’s also the largest.

This is the Dauphin Gate, the main entrance for the settlement…with guards at the ready!

It’s been a few years since we visited Fortress Louisbourgh, (our 2nd time) and our photos aren’t as bright and pretty as we’d like…but unfortunately, during our visit, it was a rainy and cloudy day! 

This Canadian government project began in 1961 and it involved the historical reconstruction of 25% of the original town and fortifications.  Some of the original stone work was incorporated into the project which provided jobs for unemployed coal miners.  The goal was to recreate Louisbourgh as it would have appeared in the 1740’s.  At that point, the Fortress had a population which was approaching 4,000.  The effort has also been an archaeological dig all along the way as the rebuilt portion of the town/fort has been built on the footprint of the original site.  Many artifacts have been recovered along the way…

This view is along the harbor front or quay.  It also provides some sense of the size and scope of this large historical site.  Click on the photo for a better perspective...
In its day, Fortress Louisbourgh was the 3rd busiest port in North America, behind only Boston and Philadelphia.  The harbor is ice free and it served as a winter port for French naval forces on the Atlantic seaboard.  Most importantly, the port protected France’s hold on the Grand Banks, one of the richest fishing grounds in the world.  At its peak, 400 shallop fishing vessels, (small open boats with oars and/or sails), would go out each day to bring in the cod.  Another 60 to 70 ocean going schooners would head out to fish further down the coast. 

These lush vegetable gardens have been created throughout Louisbourgh.  Back in the day, it was critical that the residents raise as much of their food as was possible.  Some livestock, such as sheep, roam the grassy areas and streets of the rebuilt town.  Horses and other large animals are kept in various enclosures. 

This is the front of the Chapel in the King’s Bastion. 

Fortress Louisbourgh served as France’s ‘Gibraltar’ at the tip of Ile Royale. (Now Cape Breton Island) It protected the St. Lawrence River and hindered British access and potential seizure of Quebec City.

The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 gave Britain control of what is now peninsular Nova Scotia as well as Newfoundland.  However, France retained control of Ile Royale, Ile St.-Jean, (Prince Edward Island), Canada and Louisiana.  It was just another step in the struggle for control of  what is now the USA and Canada.

This is a photo of the kitchen of one of the finer homes in Louisbourgh.  Summer season visitors have a choice of 3 restaurants within the Fortress.  One of them serves a standard menu and provides normal eating utensils.  The other two restaurants serve fare that was typical of what townspeople would have eaten in the 1700’s.  For our lunch, Laurie and I had turnip soup, a coarsely ground sausage link and some hearty homemade bread.  This would have been considered a really good meal!  The only available utensil was a spoon…although there was a knife for general use. 

Louisbourgh was known for its fortifications.  It took the French 28 years to complete the fortress.  The cost to the French monarchy ended up being more than 7 times the original estimate. (Not much different than many government projects in this day and age!)

Two and a half miles of wall surrounded the fort.  On the western or land side of the structure, the walls were 30 feet high and 36 feet thick.  On the eastern side of the fort, 15 guns pointed out to the harbor.  The fort had embrasures to mount 148 guns.  Also important, is the fact that the naturally restrictive approach to Louisbourgh via the sea, forced incoming British ships to enter the harbor though a 500 foot channel...right under the defensive guns

The walls of Louisbourgh were also protected by 6 bastions. (A bastion is a structure projecting out from the main wall of a fort that is situated in both corners of a straight wall, that allows the defenders of the fort to cover adjacent bastions and walls with defensive fire) There was also a fortified island in the harbor that was equipped with 31 twenty-four pound guns.

This is another view of the town itself… It's really a very beautiful place but we can imagine, that living here year around back in 1740, wouldn't have been very pleasant.  Smallpox ravaged the population in 1731 and 1732.

Of course, the British wanted to drive the French out of Louisbourgh… In 1745, the port was captured by a New England force supported by a British Royal Navy Squadron.  Then in 1748, the New Englanders were disgusted when the British signed a treaty ending the War of the Austrian Succession that returned Fortress Louisbourgh to France.  (It was a trade in which Britain acquired the Indian port of Madras)

The British attempted another conquest of the fort in 1757 but they were driven off by a large-scale French naval deployment.  The situation was reversed in 1758 when the British attacked with 13,100 land based troops supported by 150 ships and 14,000 crew members!  After 7 weeks, Fortress Louisbourgh surrendered.  In 1760, to ensure that the site would never again become a fortified French base, the British demolished the fortress walls.

This is one of the ‘French’ re-enactors working at Louisbourgh.  Many re-enactors are scattered throughout the town…soldiers, merchants, fishermen, government officials…as well as their families.  Demonstrations are provided in cooking, sewing, blacksmithing and various other skills required for survival in the 1700’s.  Muskets and cannons are fired from time to time during the day.

This is Laurie’s favorite house at Fortress Louisbourgh!  As usual, she only wants the best… It is a beautiful structure.  This view is of the back garden.

Activities at Louisbourgh include both guided and unguided tours.  There are puppet shows, a film at the visitor’s center as well as a very interesting museum.

As mentioned previously, the town is populated by re-enactors…today’s ‘citizens’ of Louisbourgh.  There are children, women in hoop skirts and men in wigs.  Town criers and ‘the iron collar’, (a very painful version of the pilory), are a part of everyday life.

The Fortress of Louisbourgh National Historic Site is operated by Parks Canada as part of that nation’s park system.  Although buses may appear from time to time, Louisbourgh is a large attraction and it never seems crowded. 

Part of the reason for the lack of crowding is based on the town’s relatively remote location on the northeast tip of Cape Breton Island.  The drive north and east, leaving from Boston Massachussets, is 807 miles and it would take 15 hours.  The population for the entire island is less than 150,000.

There is much to commend Cape Breton Island…spectacular scenery, especially along the Cabot Trail, a highway around most of the island, the Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa, ( Resort( whale watching, the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts, and the Alexander Graham Bell Museum. (

For more information regarding Fortress Louisbourgh just go to and/or

Laurie and I have been to Cape Breton Island twice…we really like the ambience and the people.  We’d recommend this trip to those who like to drive and who like out of the way places… My first trip to the island was back in 1952, a long drive on 2-lane roads across Canada from southern Michigan.  Back then, we had to take a ferry to the island.  I still have fond memories of that trip…as well as some old family photos. 

Click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for visiting!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

1 comment:

  1. Great write up and photos Dave - They've really got the place in good shape for 270 years old