I wasn’t sure that I was up for visiting yet another fortress, but the Fortress of Louisbourg is North America’s largest historical reconstruction, so we couldn’t pass it up. It’s a National Historic Site, so yet another opportunity to use our Parks Canada Discovery Passes, which have already paid for themselves.
The French selected this ice-free, sheltered harbor to act as a base for France’s interests in cod fishery and to serve as an important trading post because of its location due west of the entrance to the Mediterranean and due north of the French Caribbean. In fact, one map we saw had a perfect triangle with these three locations as its corners.
The original settlement was founded in 1713 and fortified against the threat of British invasion during the turbulent time of empire-building. The walls were built between 1720 and 1740 and the fortifications eventually surrounded the town.
Louisbourg developed into a thriving center for fishing and trade and became an administrative capital. It was second only to Quebec as the most important stronghold and commercial city in New France and had a commercial district, a residential district, military arenas, marketplaces, inns, taverns and suburbs.
Exporting fish was more lucrative than the fur trade for France, where the majority of Catholics were not supposed to have meat about 150 days in the year. Some of France’s poor and impoverished left their homes behind to seek a better life in this prosperous community.
The design of the fortress was focused on sea-based assaults, and left the land facing area unprotected, the thinking was that there was no way to cross the swamps. The British took the fortress in 1745, then the French negotiated their return only to be captured by the British again in 1758. And the British ultimately destroyed the walls of Louisbourg and burned down the city in 1760.
Then in 1961, after many Cape Breton Islands coal mines had been closed, the federal government funded the reconstruction as a way to generate jobs. Archeologists, engineers and historians worked together to recreate the town as it was in the 1740’s.
The current city has dozens of buildings open to visitors with re-enactors in period dress demonstrating how people worked, played and lived in 1744. The re-enactors are excellent and speak to you in character and in the context of the time (sometimes with a wink).
We witnessed a public shaming, a musket and cannon firing demonstration, a blacksmith demonstration and upper class dancing by the re-enactors. We learned about the rationing of food for the soldiers and about baking in the old fashioned ovens. They even had the loaves of bread baked that morning available for purchase.
We also learned that wealthy parents didn’t establish a strong bond with their children until they were about 10 years old, they had wet nurses, nannies and others caring for the children until they were considered to be relatively safe from childhood diseases. What a different time!
Fortress of Louisbourg is an impressive re-creation. If you have ever had an interest in stepping back in time, I’d recommend you visit.