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Fortress of Louisbourg
Cape Bretton, Nova Scotia, Canada
(jump to part 2

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MysticBefore the American Revolution the French had a powerful hold on North America. They lost it in 1745. The walled Fortress of Louisboug on the eastern tip of Nova Scotia in Canada was the gateway to the St. Lawrence River leading all the way to the Great Lakes. It also gave the French a stronghold to protect its fishing industry that brought in the cod necessary to the Catholic holy days. And it was a hop, skip and jump from British colonies in New England. So in 1745, a huge New England militia of 4,000 made their way up to Louisbourg and took the fort. It was the largest military event ever mounted by New England at the time, and it was led by William Pepperell from right here in the NH and Maine Seacoast.

The taking of Louisbourg rocked the European world and gave New Englanders early evidence that they could tackle a major enemy. Nearly 4,000 French citizens of the city were shipped back home and eventually the fortress was knocked flat by the British. It languished for two centuries. Then in the 1960s the Canadian government mounted a massive 20 year project to rebuilt the historic fortress as it looked in 1744, just before the New England raid. The project initially cost $25 million, and just one-fifth of the site has been lovingly rebuilt. It costs more each year to maintain what has become the most elaborate historic tourism site in Canada. And it is worth every penny.

This is no paper-thin Hollywood stage, but a real city of hewn beams and stone. Re-enactors relive the story daily in dozens of buildings that visitors can wander freely. There are no souvenir stands or Pepsi machines. Food is served by authentic serving women in metal bowls much as the diner would find in 1744. English and French speaking guides from the actual town of Louisbourg nearby interpret the fascinating tales of the difficult life in colonial Nova Scotia. Itís a dreamland for history buffs since each room in each building is so carefully rebuilt.

Donít look for animated figures, hi-tech video screens or underground tunnels. Louisboug feels real because it is. Whatís missing, of course, are the thousands of residents, haggard soldiers and the stink and bustle of a population far from home. But it doesnít take too much imagination to fill in the details.

Visitors should arrive early and plan to spend the entire day. We did, and still never made it into all the buildings. Although the climate is often cold and foggy (which is why the New England siege took months in 1745), we toured on a warm sunny August day. The fact that we came from the very town where many of the attacking troops lived only added to the drama and realism. We were the invaders, spying on the doomed city as it was, just months before the end. Ė JDR

NHS

We arrived very early (and hungry) in the town across the bay from the fortress. We stopped here for breakfast, but alas, the dining area overlooking the fortress didn't open until noon! We were among the earliest visitors at the Visitor Center, bought our $12 tickets (just $8 American) and waited.

Louisbourg

 And waited, and waited. Suddenly a Canadian film reporter jumped onto the bus and interviewed us. Turns out locals from Louisbourg, angered that the fortress had hired workers from out of town, were blocking buses to the fortress. Eventually tempers cooled and our driver took us the one mile to the entrance of the park. Here the driver is opening the gate and the reconstructed 1744 walled town is in the distance. 

Louisbourg

Rather than deliver visitors right to the gate, the bus dropped us off at a reconstructed fisherman's cottage just outside the walled city. The grass roof cottage represents the civilian population of fishermen who lived near, but not inside the fortress.

Louisbourg

The fisherman, Jeanne Galbarette, and his wife were home, laying out the morning's cod  catch to dry on the fish flakes just outside his cottage. This is the same way New Hampshire's original settlers made their living from the very early 1600s, at Rye and at the Isles of Shoals. The dried or dunned cod was a delicacy in Europe, traveled well, and could be eaten months, even years later after being soaked in water and pounded back to life with a hammer. Yum!

louisbourg

Approaching the Dauphin Gate entrance, the fortress looks impregnable. In fact, in 1744, there were English spies inside and the military was in desperate shape for lack of food and supplies. The tidal "moat" we were told, is not full of crocodiles or even water, but mostly would have held the noxious effluents of the crowded city inside -- a good deterrant in itself.

Louisbourg

The gate is an impressive site and the first powerful example of the detailed reconstruction paid for by Canadian taxpayers. Just inside are the quarters of the guards. 

louisbourg

It's clear why the French thought the fortress could not be taken by the English in 1744. What they hadn't counted on was the sheer number of New Englanders who would lay seige to the outpost.

louisbourg

Atop the King's Bastion we met a friendly soldier. Turns out we had almost run the poor guy off the road in his little red car earlier in the morning as he was rushing down the highway to work. The French had not expected the invaders to come from the distant high ground dragging cannons across the frozen swamps. For months soldiers taunted eachother verbally over the walls. Eventually, French deserters ran to the Yankee lines with information that let William Pepperell of Kittery, ME know how weakened the city had truly become.

louisbourg

This view from the King's Bastion shows the actual town of Louisboug in the distance and the elaborate extent of the 1744 reconstruction in the foreground. Louisbourg residents built much of the fortress between the 1960s and 80s as the coal mines in the area slowly closed.

louisbourg

Looking for lunch, we spotted the welcoming sign of fresh branches, an indication that food and drink are within. The waitress perched in the window seems a serendipitous photo-op, but we're guessing it's all part of the Canadian plan. Clever those Canadians.

CONTINUE THE TOUR:
A dozen more images of Louisbourg in PART 2

By J.Dennis Robinson
Text and photos copyright © 2002 SeacoastNH.com. All rights reserved.

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