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Fortress of Louisbourg (continued)
Cape Bretton, Nova Scotia
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Read the full storey here

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Everyone visiting the fortress by sea came eventually through the ornate Frederic Gate. This guard would, in 1744, likely be watching over valuable goods on their way from the dock to the King's Warehouse just up the street.  The details on the side of the wooden are that look like giant slot machine handles are decorative only.

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Here's another shot of the King's Bastion. Our puny digital camera cannot do the massive stone building justice. Visitors can tour the milirary barracks, chapel and governor's quarters indoors. There's a neat little museum display on the bottom floor and military drills would have been practiced here in the courtyard. We were looking just today at a faux medieval mansion in Connecticut that cost the state there $11 million to rebuild. How the Canadians rebuilt this whole city for $25 million if beyond our ken, not including the exchange rate. Must be a loaves and fishes miracle.

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Across from the prison, inside the King's Bastion, you'll find this chapel, ornate considering that in 1744 it was as inaccessible to France as the moon is today. That is fortress namesake Louis IX depicted on the portrait behind the chandelier.

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Louisbourg does a superb job of making the most out of a very small army of paid and volunteer reinactors. Here two women greet us and fill in the backstory of their master who was apparently away for the day on business. Yes, that's a rabbit hanging on the left. 

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Another key re-enactor station is the lace-making display in the parlor of the Michel de Gannes home at the top of the street. De Gannes was a military captain in 1744, having worked his way up in Louisbourg society for 20 years. We were amazed to see how precisely events going on in the reconstructed town match those promised in the guidebooks. The underlying planning and scholarship never detracts from the lively interpretation due to what must be superb training which begins when potential cast members are very young. Re-enactors still appear to be spontaneously moving and working around the city, despite what is a clearly orchestrated regime of tasks. Bravo!

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The presence of a small and tidy group of domestic animals enhances the realism. Geese hook, sheep graze and goats eye visitors from the neatly kept pocket gardens of village homes. Each residence has a garden, some lush, carefully planted and honed to fit the era.

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All three of the main eateries offer local 1744 cuisine only. Potatoes were not eaten at the time and tomatoes were considered deadly, so there were none to be seen. The appropriately limited menu here included a wonderful soup of root vegetables, coarse bread and butter, tea, blocks of cheese and beer. Lower-class visitors like us must wear a naplin the size of a tablecloth and eat only with a giant pewter spoon. Those who cannot handle the realism can get sandwiches in a little modern stand nearby, one of the few bows to modern technology visible. Luckily the rest rooms where state-of-the-art 21st century.   

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When you go to Louisbourg we strongly suggest that you take the narrated tour in the morning. Then wander in the afternoon. Our guide was a native of the town across the harbor and offered a brilliant introduction to the city.

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We wandered into a bit of local justice. A Louisbourg man (who had previously been a soldier at the gate) was led through the town and sentenced in front of an angry mod. Re-enactors led the crowd into a jeering session as the prisoner taunted back. The kids in the audience loved it. "Cut off his head!" one young American boy shouted to the man accuesd of petty thievery.  Obviously TV has had no effect on our youth.  

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Punishment, not rehabilitation, was the order of the day, and it could be severe in an isolated town where the elements alone were often punishment enough.  Here our local rascal is subjected to a few moments of public humiliation. Shackled in neck, arm and leg irons, he insists on his innocence. The crowd was not buying it, but he was released on a technicality and a pledge of good behavior.

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More than 1,000 New Englanders lost their lives, largely to exposure, disease and harsh conditions while mounting the six month siege that brought down the fortress in June 1745. A portion of Louisbourg has been left in ruins and today makes a beautiful seaside walking tour on a sunny day.  A few tombs remain along with interpreted archealogy. The momument on the right was erected at the turn of the 20th century by a colonial preservation society from New England, a group that also installed monuments around this region in the USA.

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A light rain was falling the following morning as we took our leave of Louisbourg. But we still had to get a look at the location where the New England troops first came ashore and established a stronghold outside the walled fortress. Try to imagine thousands of troops on shore and ship, many sick and homesick, sutviving here through a brutal Nova Scotia winter. Today visitors picnic and cross country ski here. Louisbourg, for our money, lived up to its repuation as the finest historic restoratoin in North America.


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Visit the official Louisbourg Fortress web site (which is kind of confusing)
or try entering Louisbourg via this gate 


Opinions and photos courtesy of J.Dennis Robinson
Text copyright 2002 SeacoastNH.com. All rights reserved.

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