Thursday, May 15, 2014

Fortress of Louisbourg

There is one advantage to visiting places in the off season. They are often free. The man at the park gate was very helpful in directing where to go. He was right too. When the park is not in operation it really only takes about an hour to walk through it.

A bit of the history around Louisbourg. In 1713, with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, Great Britain was given Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. About 150 French people from Newfoundland came to Cape Breton (or Isle Royale) and founded the village of Louisbourg. After visiting this location I really questioned why anyone would want to settle and, especially, build a fort here. It is beautiful but it didn't seem to warrant a fort in my mind. Gary, at the Ponderosa, explained that it was because of the fish. The cod stocks were plenteous then (The stocks are now depleted. The Europeans - mainly the Portuguese and Spanish - fish for cod just outside the 200 mile limit but there is no commercial fishing within the Canadian boundaries.) The French, being Roman Catholic, ate fish five days a week. This made anything to do with fish very important. So the remote tip where Louisbourg was established warranted a fortress to protect it.

In 1717 Louisbourg was made the seat of government for Isle Royale. Construction on the fortress started in 1719. In 1722 the troops arrived. These included Swiss and German mercenaries whose primary responsibility was to work on the fortifications.

In 1744 France and Britain were at war again. In 1745 Britain besieged and gained the fortress, In 1748 with the Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle, Cape Breton was given back to the French in exchange for some other territories. (In 1749 Halifax was founded to counter the Fortress of Louisbourg - interesting how various places tie together.)

In 1754 France and Britain were back at it again. These two just could not get along. In 1758 the British, with 13,000 men, defeated the French with 4,000 and the fortress was once again in British hands. The British destroyed the fortress in 1760. Two hundred years later Parks Canada decided to restore it.

I took many, many pictures but I could only find descriptions for a few when I got back to my computer.

There were three land gates into Louisbourg. The Dauphin Gate is the principal one. It was very carefully designed. The wooden walkway you see is actually a bridge over a moat type structure. There was a sluice gate for controlling water levels. Along the walls of the fortress were musket loopholes. There was also guerite, which I think is a little tower with slits for observation and muskets. The sentry box you see had a soldier in it when Owen visited in 1993. He questioned Owen and his family and seemed quite perturbed that they were English. He wasn't going to let them in. Owen had me practicing my high school French all the way so we could get in. Not much I know beyond Bonjour. Comment ca va? Back in 1987 I had visited Montreal and tried a bit of my university French. I got asked if I was Italian. I thought I might be able to tell the sentry I was Italian. Maybe I could get away with my horrendous accent and pronunciation. Of course we didn't have to worry as there are no guards in the off season.

Louisbourg does get used as a location for movies. In 1993 Disney was filming there - perhaps the Three Muskateers. Gary was telling us that a week before we got there it had been used for a film with Cuba Gooding Jr. Darn, we miss all the fun.

As we walked back to the Fortress and village Owen noticed the canons. Walking up to one we noticed it was pointed at another gate. This one would have been at the end of a wharf. I assume the canon was so pointed to protect it although Owen thought that wasn't a very bright idea.

This is the Frederic Gate. It is through here most of the people, news, and merchandise came. The ships would anchor offshore and boats full of cargo would be lunched from them. It is also through this gate that orders from the king arrived. There is a bit of a square behind it where the people could gather in front of the shops to see and hear what was happening. It is named after the royal minister who looked after France's colonies.

The Kings Bastion Barracks dominates the profile of the fortress.

This was locked. We were able to look through some windows. Most of them had curtains on them or were just empty. The one room we were able to see into was the chaple.

There was no parish church and little money for a religious community. The community worshiped in the military chapel.

As we walked further down behind the building we saw a building at right angles to it. The door was ajar. Owen went to peak in though the doorway. He quickly jumped back with a bit of a gasp. Staring at him was a racoon. I thought it rather appropriate as the building appeared to be some sort of jail and racoons do look like bandits. I very cautiously approached the doorway. A little head glimpsed up at me and then tried to hide itself on the steps.

We did manage to get pictures of the inside of one more building. One of the pieces of literature described it as the military chaplain's house. Looking inside I am not so sure.

Out behind the barracks was a line of cannons looking over the land. Owen and I wondered looking at the surrounding terrain just why anyone would want this place. Gary informed us that originally there were no cannons along this line of defense. The French just never thought there would be any danger from the land and focused on the sea approaches. This is how the British were able to take the fortress the first time. They then placed cannons along this back line.

Without any proper maps or guide books explaining the buildings to us there was really no point in lingering long. So we decided to head into Syndney and our Bed and Breakfast. We got the name of a place to eat that would cater to my diet. We spent a quiet evening with Owen dozing in his chair and me catching up on my computer games. We got to bed early so we could face the long day ahead. When we got home on Wednesday night we added up our mileage for the two days - 12 kilometres plus walking and touring times.

Love and Prayers,

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