Saturday, 23 July 2016

Stepping back into the C18th

Louisbourg, Nova Scotia

23 July 2016

From Halifax we drove to Sydney, Nova Scotia. We had good roads, with three lanes, one for each way and a third that alternated as a passing lane for each way.

Louisbourg Lighthouse in the fog

Louisbourg is about a 40 minute drive from Sydney. I knew there was a lot to see, so we wanted to have a full day there. It had been a foggy, but warm and humid in Sydney, so we wore shorts. By the time we drove to Louisbourg, the fog had gotten heavier and the temperature had got a lot colder. After seeing a sign for a lighthouse we went to investigate and nearly didn’t see it in the fog.

Fortress of Louisbourg

Louisbourg in it's heday
the gate to Louisbourg

You can’t drive directly to the Fortress of Louisbourg. At the visitor’s centre, you have to wait for a bus which takes you down to the old settlement. It was still foggy and cold, so we put on our jumpers. We hadn’t counted on waiting for the bus for over 20 minutes when we wanted to do a walking tour at 10:30am. The ride down there seemed to take forever and we still had our tickets to buy at the other end of town. Luckily we made it. The tour really made the whole experience.

the French military uniform of the day

After the British left the fortress fell into ruins. In the 1800’s a few people lived in Louisbourg but they didn’t build on the old foundations. It was designated a national historic site in the 1920’s. When they excavated they had to go down 6-18” to find the foundations. Upon these foundations they rebuilt one fifth of the buildings during the 1960’s, ’70’s and ’80’s when the coal miners were out of work. But it wasn’t as simple as just rebuilding. After they got the original plans from Paris, they had to teach the tradesmen how to build these buildings the same way that they had originally been built so that they looked like they were from 1740 and not the 20th century. Carpentry techniques have changed over the past two hundred years, so they had to cut, hew, hand plane, bead and dowel all the wooden features. They weren’t used to shaping wood, stone and iron. With training they soon acquired the skills they needed. And what a wonderful job they have done. You can see the tools they made as they couldn’t use modern tools. You can see the big wooden beams for floor joists. From detailed records, they know who lived where and what they did for a living.

We didn’t take hats in with us due to the fog, so when the cloud lifted we got very sunburnt.

We were there on a Sunday and there was a Cultural Fest going on, so there were a few other activities going on that normally wouldn’t have been there.

Meticulous detail of recreating the buildings

Our tour ended in time for us to watch the cannon and musket demonstration at 12pm.

Another musket demonstration

Louisbourg started out as a French colonial seaport. It became a fortress which means it was a fortified village. So while there was a military base here, there were also civilians. It was built by the French and as they were not allowed to build anything without French approval, plans were sent to Quebec and then onto Paris, back to Quebec, then back Louisbourg. They never built a church as they would have had to have the plans approved, and didn’t want Quebec telling them who their priest would be.

The very, very, short version of their history is that it was built by the French, the British attacked and got all of the New France colonies into the bargain. A few years later everything was given back to France and then the British took it back again. The British then made sure it could never be used as a Fortress again by blowing up the fortress walls and that was the end of that. A link to the long version is at the of the post.


There were 300-400 slaves in Louisbourg, some from African descent others were indigenous people. Six slaves obtained their freedom. One because he saved his master on the battlefield. Marie Margaret Rose got her freedom in her 30’s. She married a Mi'kmaq (first nations) man and they built a business. So being freed was a good and bad thing, who was going to employ a woman in her 30’s, which is the equivalent now of being 40-50?

Military Band

The Brother’s of Charity ran the hospital which was self sufficient. It had it’s own bakery, mortuary. They had land to build their own church but don’t build it as they didn’t want the Bishop in Quebec to assign a priest to them. They were a Roman Catholic community, but no church was built. The community love the Rackalay Fathers who are part of the Franciscan Order so they use the military chapel.

The flag pole would tell people many things. The white flag lets you know this is French territory. A red flag meant caution, there is ice in the harbour. Yellow flag meant quarantine. There were two small pox epidemics in the 1730’s.

Local shops

The wall around the town has disintegrated as the weather is very harsh and the tradesmen of the 18th Century may have cut corners and not washed the salt out of the sand.

The houses are furnished in period pieces

Under the English system, when your husband dies, everything goes to the oldest male. Under the French system they had prenuptial agreements. 50% goes to the wife and 50% is held in trust for the children.

The establishments had signs with pictures as most people couldn’t read. Greenery hanging on the door meant that alcoholic beverages were served. You didn’t drink the water. They drank wine, cognac and spruce beer which was a good source of vitamin C. The main community well was right in the middle of the drainage system, which is basically the centre of the street. All their rubbish was tossed out the windows and eventually made it down to the harbour. Most of the wells were flush to the ground, they didn’t have sandstone walls around them, so anything coming down the street went straight in there. So you didn’t want to drink the water. The water from the wells were only used for cleaning and cooking.

the main town well
We got to try some of the pastries they had baked

The picture above is the Engineers residence, he didn’t own it, the Government did. He is like a town planner. Plans were sent to Quebec, then onto France, okayed or not, then sent back to Quebec and back to Louisbourg, that was the chain of command. Garden’s in Louisbourg were styled like Versailles. Raised beds, geometrically designed, mirror imaging. Each plot is a mirror image of the other plot. They grew root crops for this climate. Carrots, turnips, beets, currants, gooseberries. They also grew flowers, which may have been eaten, used for medicines, dyes and soap. They also had animals, chickens, and geese. The soil for the vegetables had to be imported from the Myra river as the soil in Louisbourg was full of rocks.

Fixing the wounded

Ladders were left on the roof so that you could get up there and put out any chimney sparks. One spark could mean that you would loose a whole section of town. There also should be a ladder on the ground to get up onto the roof. The 18th C style was wide a the bottom, narrow at the top.

Public shaming for crimes

There was a red pole near the waterfront. People who had been convicted of a crime were marched through town and down to this pole in the morning. The iron collar was put around their neck and a sign was put around your neck saying what their crime was. But of course, 80% of the population couldn’t read or write! They would be left there for 3-4 hours for public humiliation. Then it would be done again the next day and the next. The interrogator wouldn’t use torture during his interrogations if he knew you weren’t guilty.

Wooden houses were easier to maintain

They built the houses they were used to back at home

If you are interested in a more depth account of the history of this area, then read on....

The History of Louisbourg
The Life of a soldier

Note: C18th means The 18th Century - 1700-1799


  1. Brilliant reading your blogs especially the historic tales

  2. Thanks Kay, I'm really enjoying the history too. Funny I never did like history at school, but being here where it all happened makes a huge difference