Friday, 23 October 2015

I have been to ... the Fortress of Louisburg, Nova Scotia, Canada

During our recent cruise, Sue and I had the opportunity to visit the Fortress of Louisburg, which is located on the south-east coast of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. We both agreed that this was a very impressive site, and we could easily have spent a whole day exploring it.

The Fortress of Louisburg was built on the site of an earlier settlement called Havre à l'Anglois. This was a fishing port, and had been settled in 1713. In 1720 construction of the fortress began, and is was completed twenty years later, by which time it had developed into a major commercial port as well as being one of the most extensive European-built fortifications in North America.

In 1745, during the War of the Austrian Succession, the fortress was captured by a force of British colonists. It was returned to the French in 1748 in exchange for several border towns in what is modern-day Belgium. Ten years later during the Seven Years War it was recaptured by British forces, after which its fortifications were systematically destroyed by British engineers.

The site remained a ruin until the 1960s, when the coal mining industry on Cape Breton Island declined. Faced with the problem of trying to find work for the now unemployed miners, it was decided to use them to reconstruct the fortress, using as much of the original stonework as was possible. Over a quarter of the original fortress has now been reconstructed, and work continues although at a much slower rate.

Some idea of the size of the site can be gauged from the following satellite photograph:


The King's Bastion Barracks dominates the skyline.


When we arrived at the guardhouse outside the barracks, we were met by an interpreter who was dressed as a member of the Artillery unit that was stationed in the fortress in the 1740s.


In character he described his recruitment from prison into the French Troupes de marine. He explained how the Troupes de marine were paid and treated, and that without being able to undertake paid manual work in the fortress's docks during his off-duty time, he would have been in perpetual debt to his company commander. He further explained how he learnt to read and to do mathematics, and that this had enabled him to transfer to the artillery and to reach the rank of Sergeant.

He then demonstrated how his musket was loaded and fired.




We then set off to look around the reconstructed buildings that form part of the town that was built within the fortress.






One of the houses we were able to look around was that belonging to the fortress's engineer, Jean-Francois du Vergery de Verville.




Jean-Francois du Vergery de Verville's office contained numerous survey instruments ...


... and a desk on which were ...


... copies of some of the plans used in the fortress's construction.



Outside we came across a member of staff who was playing a hurdy-gurdy.


We then made our way back to the King's Bastion Barracks. The only way one can enter is via a wooden bridge ...


... over the dry moat ...


... in which were kept some of the garrison's animals.


The bridge over the moat is quite narrow ...


... and as we crossed it we were met by another interpreter, who was dressed as a member of the Troupes de marine.


On entering the gateway we saw the prison cells on our right ...


... and the chapel on our left.


Once through the gateway we could see the huge area enclosed by the bastion's walls.


On top of the main rampart ...


... we met the Sergeant again, this time with one of his beloved cannons.


Standing atop the rampart, it was possible to see the entire length of the barracks ...



... including the stockade in which some of the garrison's the livestock was kept.


As the time we had left was limited, we were only able to spend a short time looking inside the right-hand end of the barracks.


On the ground floor were various rooms used to prepare food for the garrison's senior officers ...





... and where some of their soldier-servants lived.



Upstairs ...


... were the apartments used by the senior officers and their families.








Our final stop was in the information centre, where a large model shows what the fortress would have looked like in 1740.


16 comments:

  1. I've made 4 trips there in 30 years and in 1999 was lucky enough to spend 3 days at the Fort during a Grand Encampment of re-enactors in company with Rob Dean and family. Its still worth another trip some summer.

    You didn't mention food so I presume you did not get to have period lunch in either the inn or the tavern? The bakery makes excellent if rather heavy black bread.

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  2. An extensive photographic survey - thankyou for posting BOB. Regards. KEV.

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  3. I meant to add that it was interesting to see the New Englanders (Bostonais ) referred to as British Colonists. Strictly true but these would have been largely 3rd or 4th generation Americans acting on their own initiative not requested/ordered by the crown despite being aided of course by the RN.

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  4. I have long found Louisborg fascinating, and recall writing at least one paper about it back in school. The most surprising thing is that it fell relatively easily each time. If I recall correctly that was due both to some significant design flaws, and a garrison far less than the huge fortress needed for effective defense.

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  5. It was built in the wrong place. it should have been placed either where lighthouse battery was or where the modern town is now.

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  6. I was a Gorehams Ranger at the 1995 Grand Encampment

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  7. Ross Mac,

    I bet that the Grand Encampment was something worth seeing!

    Unfortunately, due to the problems I mentioned in my blog entry about our recent cruise, we were over an hour late leaving Sydney and only had just under two hours at the fortress. We would have loved to have been able to try the food in the tavern, but we just didn't have the time.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  8. Kev,

    Sue and I took a lot more photos, and I had to be quite ruthless about which ones I used otherwise this would have been an even longer blog entry!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  9. Ross Mac,

    After the many hours of Patriot 'propaganda' I listened to during our trip to Boston, Lexington, and Concord, I was determined to refer to the people who successfully took the fortress in 1745 as British colonists! :^)

    All the best,

    Bob

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  10. Gonsalvo,

    The location of the fortress does appear to be less than ideal, but I suspect that it was built there because the original pre-fortification settlement was there, and it was easier to do so. It did manage to resist the besiegers on both occasions for a reasonable amount of time (i.e. long enough for a relief force to arrive had one been sent) but the garrison never seemed to be large enough to defend the entire perimeter effectively, and its design relied on the inland swamp and rough coastline as much as the stone walls to keep the enemy at bay.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  11. Irishhighlander,

    I agree that the position of the fortress is less than ideal, and that the alternatives you suggest are equally or more viable.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  12. Irishhighlander,

    It sounds as if you had an interesting time at the Grand Encampment. Are there any photos of you in costume?

    All the best,

    Bob

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  13. Bob, even as a child I found it weird that the American rebels were (and still are) characterized as patriots, and I live here (well, 1400 miles west).

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  14. Stu Rat,

    I suppose that one man's rebel is another man's patriot ... but it would be nice - once in a while - to hear a slightly more balanced telling of the story of the American War of Independence/Revolution.

    Some years ago I was asked to write an article for a magazine about George Washington, and as I did my researches it became obvious that he had thought long and hard before breaking his oath to serve the King. It was not something that he did without regrets and without realising the consequences of his action. I wonder how many of tour guides showing tourists around New England actually know that.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  15. A very thorough photo essay Bob. Thank you very much. It really is rather a lot bigger than I expected.

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  16. Conrad Kinch,

    Thanks for your kind comment about this blog entry.

    The site is vast ... and we just did not have the time to see it all. That would take at least a day. I would recommend a visit if you are ever able to visit Cape Breton Island.

    All the best,

    Bob

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