PART 1 – General Information
The first sight of Louisbourg across the bay from the town is amazing. Only 20% of the site has been reconstructed which makes you realise just how big and important it must have been. The date chosen for the reconstruction is 1744. The Fortress was nearly complete and the town had reached its full potential as a fishing and trading centre, with an extensive fishing settlement outside the walls. Most of the items on display are reproductions based on original articles.
We spent a whole day visiting and that wasn't really long enough as we didn't do the guided tour, watch the video or look at the exhibition in the Visitor Centre. It was the highlight of our trip to Nova Scotia and a well worth while visit.
There is little detailed information on the web about the Fortress and the Parks Canada website is disappointing, so I have written a detailed report of our visit. As it is very long, I have broken it down into two parts. This, the first part, covers general information about visiting and information about the site. The second report covers the history and life of the site and can be found by doing a search on Fortress of Louisbourg.
There are several large car parks at the Visitor Centre, which is a short bus ride from the site. The entry ticket covers the cost of the bus and a guided tour as well as entry to the site. We were given a leaflet with some information and a map of the site with our entry ticket. The bus leaves every 15 minutes from outside the Visitor Centre and drops you off outside the gateway to the Fortress.
There are costumed interpreters – soldiers on duty and townsfolk. All are knowledgeable and willing to talk and answer questions. The day we visited there were two 75 minute guided tours in English and in French as well as 30 minute orientation tours. The morning guided tour was very busy, the afternoon one less so.
We were given a schedule of activities taking place during the day which included the blacksmith, rifle firing, public punishment, bobbin lace making and 18thC cooking. Unfortunately it didn’t tell you the cooking was only in the morning, as it had to finish in time for the fire to go out before the Fortress closed. We were too late to see this.
At 4.40pm the canon is fired. This is a clever ploy to get everyone to Dauphin Battery to watch this, so they are ready to leave afterwards at 5pm. (Staff do sweep buildings to make sure everyone has left before locking up.)
Bread is baked daily in the King's Bakery and sold to visitors. There is a choice of soldiers bread (rye and wholemeal flour), middle class bread (wholewheat flour) and high class bread (refined white flour). We know our position in the hierarchy and bought a $3.50 loaf of soldiers bread. It was tasty but very filling. $2 would have been enough for our lunch.
There is a restaurant serving lunch based on 18thC recipes and a small cafe with a seating area which sells cinnamon and old fashioned sugar and molasses biscuits and apple turnovers plus tea and coffee.
The shop in the Fortress is disappointing with a small selection of craft items, the usual tourist presents and some books and post cards.
DETAILED INFORMATION ABOUT THE SITE
The bus drops visitors off outside the town walls near the Dauphin Gate in the area known as the Fauxbourg. This was the site of a large seasonal fishing community with up to 5000 people living outside the fortress who sold their fish to the merchants in the fortress. Properties had their own wharf, fish flakes and huts for the workers. There would have been shallops (small boats) pulled up on the beach. Only resident fishing proprietors could hire migrant workers or hire out beachfront property. The more successful became merchants selling fishing gear and goods for credit. Some bought a schooner to collect cod from the out lying settlements.
One house has been rebuilt, the home of Jeanne and Joannis Dastarit. Joannis was an unsuccessful fisherman and declared bankrupt. He became a tavern keeper serving food and ale to Basque fishermen who arrived each spring. Jeanne successfully ran the property after his death acquiring two more properties and two more husbands.
As we got off the bus we were welcomed by two costumed interpreters and invited into the Fishing Proprieter's House for a short introductory talk (English and French) about the site and its history. This is carefully timed so you leave as the next bus load arrives.
Entry to the Fortress is through the Dauphin Gate with a manned guardhouse, where you are 'challenged' by a soldier who checks you are not an English spy before letting you in. There is a large ditch encircling the landward side of the town with a wall which would have surrounding the entire fort. Inside the gateway is the semicircular Dauphin Demi-Battery with soldiers' barracks and powder magazine beyond. These are low lying and were vulnerable to cannon fire from the surrounding hills. Cannons on the walls protected the harbour.
It is joined to the King's Bastion by a long curtain wall protected by steep earthen outer works and ditch. This is built on an imposing site above the town and was one of the largest structures in North America when it was built. It is surrounded by substantial ramparts with cannons. In front of it is the Place d'Armes and Guardhouse where soldiers mustered for roll call and changing of the guard. The guardhouse was one of five located round the town.
The Chapel and Governor's Apartments and large barrack block are found here. The Governor was the King's representative and responsible for the management of the garrison and good condition of the fortifications. He presided over diplomatic relations with New England and the local Mi'kmaq Nation. His apartments were built to impress.
The King's Buildings is a large complex with masonry walls and an imported slate roof. It included the artillery storehouse, blacksmith, bakery, King's storehouse, old storehouse, laundry, stables and Engineer's residence. The Engineer was a trained architect and responsible for the layout of the fortress and the defensive tactics to defend it.
The Commissionaire Ordonnateur's House is a large house near the quay where he could watch all movement in and out of the harbour. He was second in importance to the Governor, in charge of the treasury, trade and finance and responsible for all provisioning for the Fortress. All goods had to be imported from France and the colony was not allowed to make or produce anything for sale. This was regarded as a treasonable offence (stealing from the King) and offenders could be shot.
Around the town are a number of houses belonging to high ranking officers or merchants. Several of these are open and include Dughaget House with garden, De Gannes House with ice house, De La Valliere House with storehouses behind. People with property along the quay eg Grandchamps House and Inn, often opened their houses to paying guests. A spruce branch over the door showed they sold alcoholic drinks. This was brewed using a native recipe from the tender tips of spruce and molasses. It had a high ascorbic acid content so helping prevent scurvy.
The town was designed and built on a strict grid pattern with blocks. If existing houses lay across grids owners were encouraged to pull them down. All buildings had to be built along the line of street and not behind it. They were provided with gardens used for growing vegetables, herbs and medicinal plants as well as keeping animals.
There were strict rules governing the construction of buildings. Broken bottoms of glass bottles were used in the foundations to deter rodents. Other rules concerned the development of vacant lots, penning of animals in back yards (important as merchants kept geese, hens, turkeys, pigs, goats and sheep) and clearing ice away from houses. There is an exhibition on building technique in the Carrerot House.
A variety of building styles can be seen. 'Piquet' was a vertical log construction popular with many colonists as buildings could be erected quickly. Trees were stripped of their branches and set in a trench in the ground. Outsides were clinked with mortar to keep out cold winds and snow. Some were covered with wooden boards to increase insulation and help protect the mortar from the corrosive effects of fog and salt air.
'Charpente' (half timber frame) was more expensive and used for larger houses of high ranking officers. The frame was built from thick square timbers fitted together using mortise and tenon joints held by a wooden pin. Infill depended on financial status. Piquet was the cheapest with wooden poles placed between timbers and held in place by mortar. Masonry and decorative brick infill were more expensive.
Window glass was imported and cut into small panes and fitted into a latticed wooden frame using glued paper. Wooden shutters were used at night and also as protection against blowing snow.
Steeply pitched roofs stopped snow from settling. Flared eaves directed it into street. Hand shaped shingles were firmly nailed onto the roof boards to try and stop fine blowing snow getting in.
A lime kiln was built behind the Lartigue House. The lime was shipped from quarries in Port Dauphin (Englishtown) and Bais des Espagnols (Sydney). Virtually all the town structures were held together using mortar made from mixing sand and slaked quick lime. The local limestone contained traces sandstone which weakened mortar which also suffered from freeze thaw action during the winter. Masonry structures began to crumble after few years and many were covered with wood to help protect them.
The old museum at the far end of the site has a few artefacts found during excavations of the site and a bit of information about the excavation. The most interesting exhibit is a model showing the extent of the Fortress in the 1740s.
Mobility around the site is good although there may be a small step up into houses.
Parks Canada web site on the Fortress of Louisbourg: www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/ns/louisbourg/index.aspx
Website of our pictures of Fortress of Louisbourg: