There's something special about standing on ground where historical events took place hundreds of years ago. Recently, I visited the Fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. A National Historic Site of Canada since 1928, the Fortress of Louisbourg is North America's largest reconstructed historical site and a fabulous place to spend a day.
Founded by the French in 1713, during its heyday, the fortified walled town housed 4000 residents (mainly French Roman Catholics) and was the third busiest seaport in North America. It was the capital of the colony known as Isle Royale. In 1758, during the seven-week British siege of Louisbourg, 27,000 British troops led by commanders such as the famous General James Wolfe, defeated the French (outnumbered 4 to 1) and captured Louisbourg.
I started the day at the Louisbourg Lighthouse, site of Canada's first lighthouse and North America's second (The Boston Light, 1713, is the oldest). First lit in 1734, the Louisbourg light could be seen for 18 miles. The light was supplied from codfish oil in an open bronze basin (3 feet in diameter, 10 inches deep) fed through 31 pipes in a floating copper ring to the wicks which gave the flame. Not surprisingly, fire destroyed the first lantern in 1736; a second lantern was lit in 1738 and mysteriously demolished sometime before 1798. The lighthouse built in 1842, burned in 1922 and was quickly replaced. A stunning lighthouse landscape, volcanic rock juts out into the Atlantic Ocean with bare rock islands nearby. There is a clear view of the fortress across Louisbourg Harbour, but unseen are the many shipwrecks in the water. The sense of history here is powerful.
After the French capitulated in 1758, Louisbourg became British for the second time and the following year served as a British base for a larger attack on Quebec (which resulted in Wolfe's victory for the British on the Plains of Abraham). Unfortunately, the British soon destroyed Louisbourg to prevent it from falling back to the French.
Reconstructed Louisbourg is massive in size, covering 12 acres with 60 buildings (only 20% of the original Louisbourg). At the Visitors Reception Centre, shuttle buses transport people to the outside edge of the fort, right beside one of the many fish houses that were located on Louisbourg Harbour.
And what a brutal life for fishermen: every day, hundreds of 30-foot open boats (shallops) with 3-4 fisherman each would venture out 10-12 miles into the wicked Atlantic Ocean, bringing back 300 pounds of cod per day. After being dried and salted, the fish was shipped by Louisbourg's wealthy fish merchants back to France in 110-pound fish bundles.
At the fortress, dozens of costumed interpreters - from musicians, soldiers and merchants, to street vendors, bakers, servants and fishermen - walk the streets, talking to visitors, just like they would have done in 1744.
There is so much to see and experience at Louisbourg: the Quay, cannons on stone ramparts, period houses, historic gardens, exhibit, bastions, astronomy room in the engineer's house, King's bastion barracks (the largest building on site, and in its day, one of the largest buildings in North America), 18th century restaurants and taverns (I had a delicious lunch of pea soup and turkey with gravy and turnips), Chapelle St. Louis (the garrison chapel) where Catholic merchants would hang ship models in the window to say thank you for saving their ship on a rough journey (reports say at times, there were ships in every window) and you may see the ghosts (one story was featured on TV's Creepy Canada).
Fortress of Louisbourg and area is at the top of my 10 best places to visit in Canada.
Elle Andra-Warner is an author, journalist and photographer based in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Garden, overview of fortress, Louisbourg harbour in front and town of Louisbourg in background, arch and streets of fortress, soldiers, looking out on fortress with lighthouse in background, street scene, inside a building, streets, town crier, fishing boats, volcanic rock at lighthouse site, where historic battles were fought 250 years ago, landscape looking out on Atlantic Ocean, Louisbourg lighthouse amidst ruins of early lighthouse.
If you go
Nova Scotia's Official Tourism Website:
Fortress of Louisbourg, Parks Canada:
Louisbourg Harbour Inn B&B:
Louisbourg 2008 Encampment:
The Official Research Site for the Fortress of Louisbourg:
The Grubstake Restaurant:
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