Fortress Louisbourg

We made the cruise from St. Peter’s to Louisbourg, arriving in Louisbourg on Thursday afternoon. The weather was ideal, light winds and calm seas, one of the calmest ocean runs we’ve had.

Short history lesson

Louisbourg is the site of Fortress Louisbourg, capital of the French colony of Isle Royale. A Fortress differs from a fort in that a fort is strictly military, a Fortress is a city within a fortification. Construction began on the Fortress in 1713 and was completed in 1744, the year it fell to a British siege. It was subsequently returned to the French under terms of a treaty in 1748, but in 1758 it fell again to the British who insured it would not again be returned to the French by destroying the fortress by 1760. During the period leading up to the seige of 1744, Louisbourg was one of the 4 busiest ports in North America, rivaling New York and Philadelphia in trade and commerce. Boston was Louisbourg’s closest competitor. The fall of Louisbourg marked the ultimate withdrawal of France from the Maritimes, and the shift of France’s interests to areas further north in Quebec, and of course in Louisiana. The purge of the Acadians in the 1750’s saw many French-speaking colonists fleeing to New Orleans, where many settled, and became known as Cajun. Acadian with a southern drawl, I suppose! The return of the Fortress to the French by the stroke of a pen also did not sit well with the New Englander’s who fought to take the fortress the first time, and sheds some light on the destruction on the second go-round, as well as how more seeds of unrest were being sewn in New England to the south.

The Fortress fell into ruin, much of the building material was dismantled, carted off to build elsewhere, or just left to the ravages of time and the sea. Because the site was essentially abandoned and nothing was rebuilt there, much of the history was well-preserved. That, in addition to the paperwork that was required at the time it was initially built- Louisbourg was a military project, and as such was a planned city, so all the French bureaucracy came into play during the original construction. Nothing could be started before half a dozen wigged bureaucrats had approved drawings and plans submitted to the Crown…. so all that contributed to accurate detailed historical records, enabling a very accurate reconstruction. There are original drawings that show construction details, plot plans, elevations, all with the required approvals. We think bureaucracy is bad today! (Shawn???? )

In the 50’s with the collapse of Cape Breton’s mining industry, unemployment was staggering, with no relief in sight. The Canadian government decided to re-train the miners, and the Fortress Louisbourg reconstruction was proposed… reconstruct one quarter of the original fortress using re-trained local miners as the trades work force. The original cost estimates of $25M brought some complaints, but the planned 20 year project began in 1961 with research and archeological digs. The miners were doing a different sort of digging!

The reconstruction is not exact, it is a hybrid of new and old to include modern day construction methods to present the Fortress as it appeared in 1744. We spent the day Friday visiting the Fortress. Costumed presenters portray characters of the period, and are ready to answer questions about their time and place in the history of the fortress. You can have lunch in one of the period hotels or taverns, where meals are served in the custom of the period. It is exceptionally well done, and a worthwhile visit. The staff are all interesting and interested, it was a worthwhile day, and only helped by the perfect weather, sparkling clear skies and light breezes. (More pics in the Gallery, follow the links at left or above, or here)

Our accomodations in the town of Lousibourg were at the municipal recreational boat wharf. The wharf has a floating dock on one side, and we were able to tie with our stern to the floating dock. There is no charge for the dockage, and although there are no services on the wharf (power or water), the adjacent RV park allows visiting boaters to use their facilities. They were very gracious, and even drove us to the fortress and picked us up at the end of our day’s tour! The fortress is on the opposite side of the harbor from town, about a 4km drive. Too far to walk! Thursday evening we took in a show at the adjacent Louisbourg Playhouse. The playhouse, modeled after the Globe theater from Shakespeare’s time, was donated by a production company filming a Disney film. Local labor dismantled it and moved it to the present location on the waterfront where it serves as a venue for a variety of entertainment. The show we saw runs for 8 weeks, and is a mix of music and comedy skits in the Cape Breton tradition. Local talent, the show was excellent!

We chatted with a local fellow who keeps his fishing boat at the dock, he was out on Friday when we returned from the fortress, and when he returned to the dock after being out diving with a couple of his younger buddies, he presented us with a soggy Budweiser beer carrier… lined with lobsters they had retrieved from storage tanks since they’re not really in season… We treated the guys to Dark & Stormy’s and a tour of Maerin as they coached us on the best cooking technique. It was an enjoyable visit as we learned a bit about the guys and their Cape Breton home. The lobster was superb!

We decided to shove off Saturday morning, weather permitting. Skies were overcast with a few sprinkles, and winds 15 to 20 kt. Since the winds were easterly, we headed out, knowing we’d have the winds on our quarter, not an uncomfortable ride, despite 3-5 ft seas. Our 8+ hour cruise to Canso was not smooth, nor was it uncomfortable. So we’ll overnight in Canso, a small fishing town on the Nova Scotia mainland. Canso will mark the beginning of our cruise down the eastern shore, the Bluenose Coast, to Halifax and Lunenburg toward the Bay of Fundy. We’ll likely be back in the USA in about a week as we reluctantly wind up the Canadian portion of our Down East Loop cruise.

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