Fortress Louisbourg, Cape Breton

 A visit to Fortress Louisboug takes you back in time to when the French controlled what was then  Île Royale as a part of New France.  Established in 1713 due to the cod fishing and adjacent deep water port it became a primary commercial port for the French.  Here you get a taste of the French and Acadian influences across Cape Breton.

The entire Historical Site is a reconstruction of about a quarter of the town.  The story of the reconstruction is as interesting as the site itself. The French kept meticulous records.  As this was one of the first planned French communities in North America, those records survive to this day.  Every building in the site is constructed on it’s original foundation, according to the architectural plans, furnished and decorated according to inventories completed at that time.  An official inventory of personal possessions was taken at the death of the owner, to ensure that all outstanding debts and taxes were paid.  Reconstructionists used these plans and inventories to complete their work.

Much of the reconstruction took place in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s and employed out of work coal miners for the task.  These workers where taught new skills and trades, and then had jobs completing the work.

The place is massive and will take up an entire day to see it properly.  It’s all the more impressive when you understand that only about a quarter of the fortified town has been reconstructed.  Very little of the fishing village, outside of the walls has been reconstructed.

 Your visit begins at the Parks Canada Visitors Center where you board a shuttle bus that takes you to the entrance.  You arrive at the Desroches House, representative of the numerous homes of the fishermen who drove an industry that, for France, was more valuable than the North American fur trade.


The house is constructed of wood, and has a foot compacted dirt floor. Just able to shelter the occupants, a large fireplace was built to cook food and warm the occupants.  In order to make ends meet, and earn a bit more money, most of these homes also served as taverns, where you could get a cooked meal and something to drink.


A short walk past this humble home, you approach the Dauphin Gate, the entrance to the fortress and the Dauphin Demi-Bastion.  You are addressed by a French sentry who informs you of the rules.  Establishing that you are English, he informs you that should you be encountered after 5PM, when the gates are closed, you would be considered a spy and dealt with accordingly.

 Once past the Dauphin Gate you can explore the Dauphin Demi-Bastion.  The city plans indicate that there were a total of five Bastion’s connected by the fortified walls.  These protected the fortress not only from the sea, but from land as well.  The reconstruction includes only two of these.  The Dauphin, and the King’s Bastion.

Included in the Bastion are the Barracks, Powder Magazine and the Postern Tunnel

Once past the Bastion, you begin to see the city lay out before you.  The foreground are the houses of the military officers and merchants.  On the horizon you see the King’s Bastion and the home of France’s Governor.

 The town is laid out in wide avenues and blocks.  We took the optional guided walking tour that discussed the history and the people of 17th Century New France.  The fortified town was home to the wealthy.  It also was the primary warehouse and distribution point for the commerce in and out of the area.  The dried cod was stored and shipped from here.  Commodities from Europe and the Caribbean arrived and were stored here.  The homes belonged to town officials, military officers, and merchants.  Most homes had gardens, because the owners were wealthy enough to keep them.  Animals were kept for food, milk and wool.  These too were kept in coops and stables next to the homes.  The military stored supplied and arsenal here.  The blacksmith and baker worked here as well.

While the “government” remained in the King’s Bastion, one of the primary town officials was the Engineer.  A civilian, he was responsible for the construction and upkeep of the fortress.  Plan’s and designs took place at his home, as did entertainment.  His home had perhaps the most expansive kitchen of all.

Military Supplies

Blacksmith’s Shop

The King’s Bakery

The Engineer’s Office

The Engineer would entertain in his parlor.  Throughout the site enactors in period costume were available to talk about life in the city.

An expansive kitchen suitable for meals and entertainment

The clock like mechanism controlled the rotation of the fireplace spit while at the same time worked as a kitchen timer

The Frédéric Gate accessed the harbor directly.  It was here that a prisoner would be “ringed” to a stand, awaiting transport to a French prison elsewhere.

 The King’s Bastion was the seat of French rule in the territory.  The Governor who resided here reported directly to Quebec which was the center of New France.  The Bastion was also the center of the military defenses for the fortress.  It was also the center of the catholic religion represented by the military chapel.

Soldiers would muster and drill on the open parade ground.  Government and the courts conducted business in the accompanying apartments.  Today many of the rooms contain exhibits about the history, archeology and reconstruction.

Today, you can reserve a night for an 18th century camping experience on the parade ground of the King’s Bastion.  Sadly, we were unable to secure a site for AIROSMITH.


The Governor’s apartments were extensive, supported by a large kitchen and a variety of reception areas and sitting rooms.  Oddly, many of these areas contained a bed, for the Governor.

On the upper floors of the Ordonnateur’s Residence were several contemporary murals that depicted what the Louisbourg harbor would have looked like at it’s height.  This view is from the clock tower at the King’s Bastion.

This would be the view from the harbor, looking toward the city.

Louisbourg fell by siege to the British twice.  Once in 1744 and again in 1758.  Each time, the fortress city was returned to the French by treaty.  When the French did leave for good was because they needed to focus on bigger problems for them in Europe.  By that time, the British had moved their commercial and military operations to Halifax which provided a more secure, and ice free center for commerce and defense.  The French fishermen, farmers and merchants moved back to Louisbourg securing the strong Acadian culture in the area.  You will find this interesting mix of Celtic and Acadian influences throughout Cape Breton. 

Not to be lost in all of this history are the original settlers of this land.  The Mi’kmaq lived here for thousands of years prior to the arrival of the European settlers, who then stole their land.  Throughout our travel in Canada, we always find references to the Mi’kmaq, and other First Nation Peoples who’s land upon which we stand.  The Canadian government at least acknowledges that this land was unceded lands.  We have found this unique to these public lands in Canada and would hope to see similar acknowledgment about the native lands within the States.


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