By Corey Sandler
Louisbourg is about 20 miles southeast of Sydney, on what was once a particularly lonely piece of coastline in Nova Scotia.
The times we have visited—even in summer—it has often been shrouded in fog and mist, sometimes nearly wintry. Today was reasonably temperate, but very windy; we were lucky to be able to anchor the ship and get ashore.
Here’s our ship at anchor:
The principal attraction here is the Fortress of Louisbourg, a partial reconstruction of the 18th century fortress. The French named the port Havre Louisbourg after King Louis XIV. And the Fortress of Louisbourg was made the capital of the colony of Ile-Royale.
The location on the southernmost point of the Atlantic coast of Cape Breton Island was chosen because it was easy to defend against British ships attempting to attack Quebec City. The fort was also built to protect France’s hold on one of the richest fishing grounds in the world, the Grand Banks.
South of the fort, a reef provided a natural barrier, while a large island provided a good location for a battery. These defenses forced attacking ships to enter the harbor via a five hundred foot channel.
It was given the nicknames ‘Gibraltar of the North’ or the ‘Dunkirk of America.’
The original fortress, constructed between 1720 and 1740, was one of the most extensive (and expensive) European fortifications in North America.
The expense was so great that King Louis XV was said to have joked that he should be able to see the buildings from his Palace in Versailles.
Louisbourg was a large enough city to have a commercial district, a residential district, military arenas, marketplaces, inns, taverns and suburbs, as well as skilled laborers to fill all of these establishments.
For the French, it was the second most important stronghold and commercial city in New France, behind only Quebec City. In 1719, the fort was home to 823 people. The population would eventually reach more than four thousand.
The fort was surrounded by two and a half miles of wall. On the western side of the fort, the walls were thirty feet high, and thirty-six feet across. On the eastern side of the fort, fifteen guns pointed out to the harbor.
That said, it had a fatal flaw: its design was based on protecting against assaults from the sea. The back door, the defenses facing toward the land were relatively weak. And that, of course, was where the principal attack occurred.
The British would go on to advance into the Saint Lawrence River valley to take Quebec City and displace the French from New France.
The British ended up destroying the fortress and it lay in ruins for two centuries. In the 1960s, the Nova Scotia and Canadian governments helped pay for a massive reconstruction based on the original plans, creating a tourist attraction and providing much-needed jobs for unemployed coal and steel workers in the region.
Today dozens of locals work as interpreters.
Other Visits to the Fortress
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