The amazing National Historic Site of the Fortress of Louisbourg is located on the eastern coast of Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia, Canada. A day trip to the Fortress of Louisbourg is a fun experience, well worth your time.
Costumed interpreters stroll along the streets for an immersive historical experience including music and carts rolling down the street, the smell of baking bread and the taste of meals from past times. You can touch and see vintage fabrics and catch the scent of gunpowder in the air. The sights and sounds of the 18th century surround you in the reconstructed homes and exhibits throughout the site. It is fun to stroll along observing (and occasionally participating in) the leisurely activities of the rich beside the back-breaking work of the fishermen, soldiers and servants.
As you approach the site, one of the first exhibits encountered is the reconstructed Des Roches Fishing Property. In the mid-1600s, a French fishing community named Île Royale was established to take advantage of the abundant cod resources off the Atlantic coast. The site was chosen to sit between establish Mi'kMaw seasonal camps. Cottages like this would have processed tons of cod. Many similar fishing stations would have crowded Louisbourg's harbourside and every nearby cove, each with a little wharf and its own flotilla of fishing boats.
The French came to Louisbourg in 1713, after ceding Acadia and Newfoundland to the British. France's only remaining possessions in what is now Atlantic Canada were the islands of Cape Breton and Prince Edward, which were then called Isle Royale and Isle Saint-Jean. The French used these islands as a base to continue the lucrative cod fishery off the Grand Banks. The early French settlers actively worked to create friendships and alliances with the local First Nations people, as part of their defense strategies.
In 1719 they began to construct at Louisbourg a fortified town which was only completed on the eve of the first siege in 1745. The town and settlement along the harbour shore soon became a thriving community.
As you wander around the site, the interpreters talk about "their" lives, often giving a very amusing but realistic view of life for the residents. Each has deeply developed their character. This fellow drunkenly lamented his troubles finding a wife. The serving girl suggested he might have better luck if he left the tavern once in a while. He wasn't convinced.
Louisbourg became a hub of commerce, trading in manufactured goods and various materials imported from France, Quebec, the West Indies and New England, while also establishing the businesses needed for daily life in the area. Visitors can watch the interpreters as they work on heritage crafts or explain how the soldiers earned their daily bread ration
Despite the incredible fortifications the Fortress was attacked and besieged twice. The first attack came in 1745 following a declaration of war between Britain and France. when New Englanders mounted an assault on Louisbourg. Within 46 days of the invasion the fortress was captured. To the chagrin of the New Englanders, only three years later the town was restored to the French by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.
In 1758 Louisbourg was besieged again. Without a strong navy to patrol the sea beyond its walls, Louisbourg was impossible to defend. Attacking with 13,100 troops supported by a 14,000 crew onboard 150 ships, a British army captured the fortress in seven weeks.
Determined that Louisbourg would never again become a fortified French base, the British demolished the fortress walls.
In 1961 the Canadian government decided to reconstruct one quarter of the town and fortifications. The reconstruction was aided by unemployed coal miners from the Cape Breton area who learned 18th century French masonry techniques and other skills needed. This work and the fortress were and continue to be incredibly important to the local economy. As the entire region continues to struggle economically with the decline of the cod fishery, and the loss of the mining industry, youth are migrating in huge numbers to populated areas outside of the area for education and employment opportunities. Covid has definitely hurt the area, so spend your tourist dollars freely, once you are ready to travel!
While you are in the area, check out the Foggy Hermit Cafe, where they make the best seafood chowder ever, complete with a hearty potato bap (bread roll)! It was so good, I had it two days in a row.
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