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Sunday, October 21, 2007

National Historical Site : Fortress of Louisbourg

One of the most popular historical sites in North America is the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Park, in Nova Scotia. It offers a wide range of activities for the whole family and makes learning history, a great pleasure for all. It is on the eastern seaboard, on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia and is the site of the challenge, set between the French and English cultures for the domination of North America in the mid-eighteenth century.

At the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Park, the enactment year is 1744, the year before the battles began. Dozens of costumed animators become the reconstructed town's residents for the summer. There are the Kings bakers, the Governor and his kitchen help, blacksmiths, foot soldiers and many others, who act the part of the population of the day. Surrounded by ramparts, the King's Bastion is a fort within a fortress. The Bastion Barracks is the largest building on the site and in its day was one of the largest buildings in North America. Within its walls are the Chapelle St. Louis, Louisbourg's garrison chapel. Artifacts found during 20 years of archaeological excavation are on display in the building. Talk to a soldier, a baker, maid or a smithy. You'll find them happy to tell you about guard duty, living conditions, armaments, security, food, a soldier's life and the lives of the people in general.

If lucky, the unsuspecting visitor could accidentally come across an archaeological dig, in progress. At the beginning of the 2007 season, a body had become unearthed in a section of the old part of the ruins, not yet restored. As it turned out, archaeologists from several universities found thirty bodies who had been buried in a common grave under the dirt floor of the foundation of a building. As of yet there is little information as to why these bodies were placed there, in such a fashion. This one was headed by Dr. Bruce Fry of the University College of Cape Breton (UCCB).

At its peak, Louisbourg was a town of several thousand inhabitants and since the cod fishery was the foundation on which the economy of Louisbourg and Île Royale (Cape Breton) was built, the local fish merchants dry and display their merchandise, while life around the town bustled on. It was both an inshore and offshore fishery and organized into two seasons, which dominated the colonial economy and was of great international significance. Fish, preserved by salting and drying, was an important foodstuff in Europe. Competition for fish stocks often led to international rivalries. The per capita value of Île Royale's dried cod exports in 1737 was about eight times greater than the value of Canada's fur trade, during the same period. Major export markets were in France and the West Indies.
Thanks to its spacious, ice-free, well-protected harbor, its lucrative fishery, and its near-perfect location on the Atlantic edge of North America, Louisbourg quickly developed into an important center of merchant trade. Ocean-going vessels from France, the West Indies, and Canada - and coastal ships from New England and Acadia - used Louisbourg as a trade and transshipment center. An average of 150 vessels a year sailed into the Louisbourg harbor, making it the busiest seaport in New France and one of the busiest in North America. Louisbourg's importance as a trading center was demonstrated by its many warehouses, its careening wharf, admiralty court, the harbor defenses and what was Canada's first lighthouse.

In 1961 the Government of Canada began a $25million project aimed at reconstructing approximately one-quarter of the original town and fortifications. Within this area the buildings, yards, gardens and streets are being recreated as they were during the 1740s, immediately preceding Louisbourg's first siege.

The work at Louisbourg has required an inter-disciplinary research effort. Archaeological excavation has yielded millions of artifacts as well as the ruins of fortifications and buildings. Some 750,000 pages of documents and 500 maps and plans have been copied from archives in France, England, Scotland, the United States and Canada. The historical evidence reveals much about life at Louisbourg and provides an excellent base for the study of the French in North America. The Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Park is the crown jewel of the Canadian Park Service and is the largest historical reconstruction in Canada.

In taking a self guided tour and asking questions to the various tradesmen and women of the town, one can enjoy many hours of living history. There are historical games and activities where children can come and play with the interpreters, making the trip a learning experience for the whole family. A guided tour is given, so that all the information is presented in order, but there are many places that are not covered in the tour. Authentic meals and refreshments can be had at one of two eating establishments, one for the lowly folk and another for the more well-to-do class. It is a full day of activities at the National Historical Site of the Fortress of Louisbourg, so be prepared to have good walking gear.

1 comment:

Marja said...

I love history and would have loved to be there. Thanks for your interesting story.