August 2013 - Louisbourg Nova Scotia
Louisbourg Fortress was a highlight of our recent trip to Nova Scotia. I have used their site for the information below.
You board a bus at the Visitors' Centre for a five minute drive to the Fort. As you disembark you are greeted by a fisherman outside his cottage.
The Fortress of Louisbourg is the largest reconstruction project in North America. The original settlement was founded in 1713 by the French and developed over several decades into a thriving center for fishing and trade. Fortified against the threat of British invasion during the turbulent time of empire-building, Louisbourg was besieged twice before finally being destroyed in the 1760s. The site lay untouched until well into modern times, when archaeologists began to reconstruct the fortress as it was in the 18th century.
The Dauphin Gate
There were only three land gates and a couple of wharves to give entry to Louisbourg. This one, the principal land entrance, was manned around the clock by an officer and thirty soldiers. Fishermen, wagoneers and children could pass in and out all day long, but each night the sentries ceremoniously locked the gate and raised the bridge.
The gate is carefully designed, from the sluice gate controlling water levels to the musket loopholes staring at you from the walls, to the graceful sentry box called a guerite (3) observing you from high above the ditch. But brute force is a fortress’s stock-in-trade-most of these details were pounded to rubble in two sieges of Louisbourg. Archaeologists recovered fragments of the original sculptured trophies here, and their duplicates were cut in limestone from the same French quarry.
Through the massive doors the path is flanked by guardrooms, soldiers’ on your right, officers’ on your left.
Thanks to their efforts and the work of Parks Canada and the Fortress Louisbourg Association, you can now experience life in Louisbourg during its heyday. There are more than a dozen buildings open to the public including three authentic working 18th century restaurants. During the summer months hundreds of re-enactors or “animators” of all ages, from wealthy merchants to poor soldiers, populate the streets of the restored fortress working, playing, and living life as they would have in 1744.
The Lartigue Property
The first house you approach on the quay was one of the most admired in the town. Its owner, a Gascon named Joseph Lartigue (c1683-1743), came to Louisbourg with the first settlers from Placentia, Newfoundland. He had been a fisher¬man and trader, but here he accepted public office, becoming a member of the Superior Council and serving as town magis¬trate. Business sense, family alliances and official favour raised him to prominence in the town. Lartigue had the original of this house built here in 1734.
Through the ornate arch that dominates your view down the length of Rue Toulouse came most of the people, news and merchandise of the colony. Orders from the king arrived here - the gate’s name honours the royal minister who managed France’s colonies and navy. So important an entrance naturally reflected Bourbon majesty in its proud bulk and careful proportions. Construction of the gate in 1742 completed Louisbourg’s circle of fortifications on the eve of war.
Most large ships anchored offshore. The crews launched boats and then pushed and carried their cargo over the wharf and through the narrow gateway. The sailors who landed here represented a score of ports. On a busy summer’s day you might have heard them speaking French, English, Portuguese, Basque and Breton, joined by the German of the Swiss troops and the Mi’kmaw of the native people. Business houses, inns and taverns made the quay a gathering place for townspeople as well as mariners. Idling or going about your business here, you would have seen public announcements, auctions and even the punishment of criminals.
This was another house full of children, for Lieutenant Pierre Benoist (c1695-1763) had seven children in his two marriages. One died young killed with her mother by smallpox. Benoist was hardly rich, but military families had to maintain an air of refinement - in 1743, while Benoist was serving at Port Toulouse down the coast, a charitable bequest was paying for his daughter’s education at the convent school of the Sisters of Notre-Dame.
The bare storehouse walls on the left side of Rue Toulouse are interrupted by a large public well, one of several in the town for those without wells in their yards. Some commentators thought the local water healthy, though the town wells are shallow and surrounded by latrines. Few drank water in any case.
la Plagne Property
Pierre-Paul d’Espiet de la Plagne, who owned the house on the corner in the 1740s, was the son and nephew of garrison officers and both his brothers had served here with him. His kinship ties extended throughout the colonial elite, and he received choice postings around the colony. De la Plagne sometimes used his troops as domestiques in his home, and a young soldier called La Fleur later used the knowledge he had gained working in this house. On a dark night in 1740 he scaled the fence, forced a window and robbed his captain of a few coins. It was not a planned theft - swift discovery and conviction saw the soldier branded and whipped through the streets.
Some photos of the women at work.
Many Louisbourg taverns were tiny; sometimes just a kitchen where the family of a sergeant or master artisan entertained men who had few other places to gather. With its busy quayside location, Grandchamp’s home grew into a larger business that kept two slaves busy, but a 1741 inventory confirms that it was furnished much like any private home. Playing cards, drink, and a stock of clay pipes were adequate to equip a tavern like this one.
You can dine in the style of the common people of Louisbourg in the first of Grandchamp’s buildings. In the smaller tavern you may meet a soldier or fisherman who has stopped to share a song or story over a glass.
This tavern owner told us that Louisbourg had twenty-four taverns and women were more than welcome in them.
The King’s Bastion Barracks
Listen for the bell ringing the hours from the slim tower - the clock below it has only an hour hand. Sense the solidity in the warm stone as you follow the long lines out to either end, where the prevailing symmetry has been broken by a delay -now an endless one - in raising the right end of the roof to match the left end.
The defects of this elegant barracks harassed its builders and residents almost from the start of construction in 1720. Its roof slates were fire resistant but leaky, its mortar and beams and floors prone to crack or rot, its fireplaces drafty and smoking. One governor pleaded for a new barracks, another commandeered the engineer’s house, but the barracks survived as long as the town.