The Fortress of Louisbourg
is the largest reconstruction project in North America. The original settlement was founded in 1713 by the French and developed over several decades into a thriving center for fishing and trade. Fortified against the threat of British invasion during the turbulent time of empire-building, Louisbourg was besieged twice before finally being destroyed in the 1760s. The site lay untouched until well into modern times, when archaeologists began to reconstruct the fortress as it was in the 18th century.
Thanks to their efforts and the work of Parks Canada and the Fortress Louisbourg Association, you can now experience life in Louisbourg during its heyday. There are more than a dozen buildings open to the public including three authentic working 18th century restaurants. During the summer months hundreds of re-enactors or “animators” of all ages, from wealthy merchants to poor soldiers, populate the streets of the restored fortress working, playing, and living life as they would have in 1744.
So come experience living history at the Fortress Louisbourg. You can explore on your own, take a guided tour, or view daily demonstrations of music, dancing, cooking, military drills, and much more. Take home a taste of the past with bread from the King’s Bakery. You can even purchase 18th century replica gifts and Fortress memorabilia from our 1744 Boutiques.
The Lartigue Property
The first house you approach on the quay was one of the most admired in the town. Its owner, a Gascon named Joseph Lartigue (c1683-1743), came to Louisbourg with the first settlers from Placentia, Newfoundland. He had been a fisher¬man and trader, but here he accepted public office, becoming a member of the Superior Council and serving as town magis¬trate. Business sense, family alliances and official favour raised him to prominence in the town. Lartigue had the original of this house built here in 1734.
The house, a timberframe structure with rubblestone fill, is soundly built and handsome, but would we share the envy of Lartigue’s peers? The house is not large and part of it was used as a courtroom, yet Lartigue and his wife Jeanne lived here with several servants and many of their twelve children. Lar¬tigue was prosperous when he built this house and thought himself well favoured by it. Acknowledging his satisfaction, we begin to see that ideals of space and privacy change, and that the Lartigues accepted different standards than we might.
Except for four years of exile in France, Mme. Lartigue lived here through the whole existence of French Louisbourg, one of a few colonists to see both its foundation and its fall. Exiled again, she died in 1763.
Today the Lartigue home serves as a boutique, operated by the Fortress Louisbourg Association, offering reproductions of eighteenth products and souvenirs for sale.
The Dauphin Gate
There were only three land gates and a couple of wharves to give entry to Louisbourg. This one, the principal land entrance, was manned around the clock by an officer and thirty soldiers. Fishermen, wagoneers and children could pass in and out all day long, but each night the sentries ceremoniously locked the gate and raised the bridge. Do you begin to sense the authority of a fortress town? And, in the coat of arms and trophies around the gate, its majesty too?
The gate is carefully designed, from the sluice gate controlling water levels to the musket loopholes staring at you from the walls, to the graceful sentry box called a guerite (3) observing you from high above the ditch. But brute force is a fortress’s stock-in-trade-most of these details were pounded to rubble in two sieges of Louisbourg. Archeologists recovered fragments of the original sculptured trophies here, and their duplicates were cut in limestone from the same French quarry.
Through the massive doors the path is flanked by guardrooms, soldiers’ on your right, officers’ on your left. Beyond the soldiers’ guardroom is a sea-drained latrine, neatly built into the wall but silted in by the 1740s. On the left a six gun battery called the épéron (4) juts into the harbour. The wooden structure at the end is another latrine.
The King’s Bakery
The smell of baking bread is characteristic of the eight¬eenth century town. Most people got most of their nutrition from bread, and this colony without farms brought in 500 pounds of flour per colonist every year, mostly from Canada. Crop failures there threatened this supply in the 1740s, and shortages loomed on the eve of war.
Several commercial bakeries competed to serve the towns¬people, while this royal one, finished in 1732, supplied the garrison. The four bakers employed here lived upstairs. To the troops they doled out one six-livre loaf per man every four days. A little salt pork and some dried vegetables completed the soldiers’ rations.
The original bakery was destroyed by a fire that also claimed the artillery storehouse in 1756, but the floors have been preserved intact in this reconstruction. Here visitors may buy a loaf of soldiers’ bread, baked daily in these ovens from dough of 80% whole wheat and 20% rye flour.
De la Perelle Property
Jean-François Eurry de la Perelle (c1691-1747) was town major in the 1740s. Commanding the military administration of the fortress kept him busy. In 1745 his military duties included the painful one of negotiating the surrender of his town to the besiegers from New England and the Royal Navy.
A local carpenter built the original of de la Perelle’s tight little frame house in 1725, and the storehouse at right angles to it was added in 1734. The framing timber may well have been local, but the glass was imported from France and the board siding might easily have come from a sawmill in New England. Boston schoonermen sailed to Louisbourg to buy French West Indian rum and molasses, and the “planches de Baston” they sold in exchange cover the town. Some New Englanders got to know de la Perelle’s storehouse well in 1744 - it housed prisoners of war that summer.
Today de la Perelle’s home contains an exhibit “the Sisters of Louisbourg,” about the lives of and work of the sisters of the Congregation de Notre Dame who ran the only formal school in Louisbourg.
The neighbourhood changes as you descend Rue Tou¬louse. As you approach the quay, inns and taverns proliferate. Here the sign of the Epée Royale attracted well-to-do mer¬chants and visiting captains. Innkeeper Jean Seigneur, nick¬named “La Rivière”, charged more for a month’s pension than many men earned in that time, but the service was good: guests entertained their clients and friends with pork, duck, casseroles and meat pies. Of course the liquor bill was extra -Seigneur offered French wine and brandy by the jug, bottle or keg. Your servant could stay too for a small fee, eating the scraps and perhaps sleeping in the storehouse at the back.
Jean Seigneur was respected by his community. His daugh¬ters married well, and he was often asked to manage estate set¬tlements for his neighbours. A widower for ten years, he died in this house in 1745, and the rooms where you may dine have been furnished according to the detailed inventory made to help settle his own estate.
Hôtel de la Marine
This big masonry house was one of Joseph Lartigue’s properties, but in 1743 a fisherman named Pierre Lorant and his family rented it to run a tavern. Sailors and soldiers and workmen gathered here, but the building was larger than Lorant needed, and in 1744 part of it was being used to house prisoners of war from captured ships and outposts of the enemy. Today the tavern operates again, reviving the name of a tavern that preceded Lorant’s on this site.
Louisbourg’s drinkers chose from a substantial range of beverages. Most of the colony’s wine came from Bordeaux, but wines from a score of other regions were represented, along with brandies and liqueurs. Rum was becoming popular, and the cod trade to the West Indies that made rum readily available also provided the newly fashionable drink of coffee. Beer was less common, though soldiers and workmen drank sapinette, brewed from an infusion of spruce needles in water and molasses.
If you order a meal in this working class tavern, you may get only a spoon to eat with, for most people carried their own pocket- knives. Pierre Lorant would not serve meat in his establishment on Fridays and Saturdays or drink during hours of divine service – he had to obey the law.
The Grandchamp Property
These buildings were the retirement plan and insurance policy of Julien Auger dit Grandchamp (1666-1741). He brought his family to Louisbourg when he came as a soldier, and the inn he started here employed him after he left the ser¬vice in the 1720s. After his death it continued to support his widow.
Grandchamp’s early clients may have been his former troopmates. Many Louisbourg taverns were tiny; sometimes just a kitchen where the family of a sergeant or master artisan entertained men who had few other places to gather. With its busy quayside location, Grandchamp’s home grew into a larger business that kept two slaves busy, but a 1741 inven¬tory confirms that it was furnished much like any private home. Playing cards, drink, and a stock of clay pipes were adequate to equip a tavern like this one.
You can dine in the style of the common people of Louisbourg in the first of Grandchamp’s buildings. In the smaller tavern you may meet a soldier or fisherman who has stopped to share a song or story over a glass.
The Destouches Property
The military engineers hoped to see imposing masonry houses enhancing their quayside facade, and the 1737 fire that destroyed three wooden buildings here seemed to provide their opportunity. But by 1745 only one house stood in the gap - the straightforward rubblestone home built for retired soldier Nicolas Pugnant dit Destouches. Destouches ran a commercial bakery, and fire prevention may have been his motive for going to the extra expense of building in stone.
Like his neighbour Grandchamp, Destouches left a home and business to support his family when he died in 1740. Women worked in Louisbourg. Marie Brunet, the baker’s widow, had probably been active in the business long before his death and, like Jeanne Galbarette (1) and the widow Grandchamp (48), she successfully managed the family busi¬ness for years. One son lived here, and the rest of the house could have housed apprentices, indentured workmen and lodgers.
Through the ornate arch that dominates your view down the length of Rue Toulouse came most of the peo¬ple, news and merchandise of the colony. Orders from the king arrived here - the gate’s name honours the royal minister who managed France’s colonies and navy. So important an entrance naturally reflected Bourbon majesty in its proud bulk and careful proportions. Construction of the gate in 1742 completed Louisbourg’s circle of fortifications on the eve of war.
Most large ships anchored offshore. The crews launched boats and then pushed and carried their cargo over the wharf and through the narrow gateway. The sailors who landed here represented a score of ports. On a busy summer’s day you might have heard them speaking French, English, Portuguese, Basque and Breton, joined by the German of the Swiss troops and the Mi’kmaw of the native people. Business houses, inns and taverns made the quay a gathering place for townspeople as well as mariners. Idling or going about your business here, you would have seen public announcements, auctions and even the punishment of criminals.
The Engineer’s Property
This stately house was one of Louisbourg’s most imposing homes. The military engineers who lived and worked here were town planners, architects and construction engineers all in one – their influence pervades the town. The royal engineers laid out the streets and blocks, planned the fortifications and outlying works, and designed all the colony’s public buildings. Consulted on all scientific and technical issues, they even influenced military tactics in the sieges.
Etienne Verrier (1683-1747) was chief engineer here from 1725 to 1745. For most of those years his wife and daughter remained in France, and Verrier sometimes spent the winter there. The two sons who had accompanied him here assisted his work, so the air of the residence is masculine and professional, except in the kitchen where the cooking creates a warmer atmosphere. Ask them what’s cooking.
The garden is formal, combining vegetable beds, herbs and some flowers in geometric patterns and varied shades of green. Not every garden was so elaborate, but each was appreciated for the fresh food it added to a dried and salted diet. Beyond the garden are a laundry and stables and a poultry yard.
Etienne Verrier was criticized for his siege craft and he vastly overspent his estimates to build his house, but if you appreciate the aesthetic flair of Louisbourg and its public architecture, give the designer his due.
This was another house full of children, for Lieutenant Pierre Benoist (c1695-1763) had seven children in his two marriages. One died young killed with her mother by smallpox. Benoist was hardly rich, but military families had to maintain an air of refinement - in 1743, while Benoist was serving at Port Toulouse down the coast, a charitable bequest was paying for his daughter’s education at the convent school of the Sisters of Notre-Dame.
The convent, Louisbourg’s only formal school; taught devotions, craftwork and decorum to the daughters of the elite, but other children did not go uneducated. The literate minority could instruct their children at home with alphabets and primers, and all children were expected to learn prayers and catechism. Soon after puberty, boys were apprenticed into trades and professions and learned the skills they needed on the job. At about this age, both sexes began to enter adult society, but parents would retain responsibility for their child¬ren for many years. Benoist’s care for his children resulted in one advantageous marriage: the signing of the marriage contract of Benoist’s daughter Geneviève to the nephew of his neighbour Carrerot in 1753 brought together the military and commercial elite of the colony.
The bare storehouse walls on the left side of Rue Toulouse are interrupted by a large public well, one of several in the town for those without wells in their yards. Some com¬mentators thought the local water healthy, though the town wells are shallow and surrounded by latrines. Few drank water in any case.
The King’s Bastion Barracks
Listen for the bell ringing the hours from the slim tower - the clock below it has only an hour hand. Sense the solidity in the warm stone as you follow the long lines out to either end, where the prevailing symmetry has been broken by a delay -now an endless one - in raising the right end of the roof to match the left end.
The defects of this elegant barracks harassed its builders and residents almost from the start of construction in 1720. Its roof slates were fire resistant but leaky, its mortar and beams and floors prone to crack or rot, its fireplaces drafty and smoking. One governor pleaded for a new barracks, another commandeered the engineer’s house, but the barracks survived as long as the town.
This was no priest-ridden colony. Though almost all the people were Catholic, the Church had neither abundant property nor independent wealth. The Récollet missionaries who provided spiritual care never got their parish church, and so the community worshipped in this military chapel. The patron above the altar is the saint-king of France, Louis IX. Three people were honoured with burial beneath the floorboards of the chapel: Governor Duquesnel, who died in the fall of 1744, the Duc d’Enville, who perished leading a doomed attempt to retake Louisbourg in 1746, and Michel de Gannes de Falaise, who died in 1752. There are also the remains of an unidentified child buried here.
The Governor’s Apartments
Beyond the chapel, the apartments of the governor dominate this wing and all the citadel. Most of the governors who lived in these apartments were middle-aged navel officers, more practiced in military affairs than in government. Representing the king’s majesty in person as the fortress does in stone, the governors lived lavishly and dispensed ceremonial leadership and royal favour, leaving administrative headaches to the royal bureaucracy. Their Superior Council, which met in the chambers downstairs, had no legislative function and served principally as the colony’s court of appeal.
Governor Jean-Baptiste-Louis Le Prévost Duquesnel died here in his bed in October 1744. His body, exhumed from beneath the chapel floor in 1964, revealed the range of illnesses that had killed him - he had lost a leg in combat and also suffered from arthritis, arteriosclerosis, and dental abscesses. The long detailed inventory made of the estate he left guided both the design and the furnishing of these reconstructed rooms.
The stable, dovecote and yard, sitting oddly between the luxury of the governor’s apartments and the military severity of the bastion, housed the governor’s carriages and stocked his larder. The troops could drill and muster in the space that remained. The rows of doorways beneath the gun platforms at either end open into casemates, bombproof shelters in the arches of the bastion’s flanks.
The Commissaire-Ordonnateur’s Property
Close scrutiny of this big building can reveal how an empire was run. To maintain royal sway over far-flung colonies, paperwork was as vital as fortresses and fleets. While the engineer built Louisbourg and the governor symbolized its authority, the man who lived here kept the colony running.
In the offices overlooking the quay, the administrator and his clerks filled up books of correspondence, maintained the colonial accounts, and compiled their statistical reports for the Ministry of Marine. They paid the colony’s bills from the well-guarded treasury here - see the barred windows - and filled the storerooms behind with their supplies. Everything from economic policy to civil justice was managed from here, and the power of the commissaires- ordonnateurs sometimes excited the governors’ jealousy. Built as a private residence, the house became royal property in 1733 and expanded with the power of its occupants.
The administrators were professional servants of the Crown who hoped to win promotion by proving themselves here. François Bigot established his reputation by able and devoted service as Île Royale’s commissaire-ordonnateur from 1739 to 1745, while his sharp investments simultaneously laid the foundation of his wealth. Duly promoted, he went on to both fortune and disgrace as the last Intendant of New France.
The main floor of this house is furnished as Bigot’s working and living space. The top floor houses an exhibit, Vestiges of Louisbourg, which contains artifacts from eighteenth century Louisbourg, and a gallery with paintings and ship models recreating aspects of Louisbourg’s busy port.
The stables behind the residence, at the corner of Rue Royale, are another sign of authority. Boats were needed more than horses in this colony. Few homeowners built large stables like these and a horse and carriage proclaimed wealth and prestige.
Beyond the surgeons’ house, the Beauséjour home and storehouse included a tavern called "Le Billard”. This establishment catered to the well to do of Louisbourg and their taste for gambling. Here visiting captains and merchants, waiting for their vessel to be reloaded for the return voyage to Quebec or France, could play cards or other games of chance.
Marguerite Dugas, the widow Beauséjour is the proprietress of this establishment. Born in Acadia, she came to Louisbourg in 1717 the widow of a corsair captain, a privateer, with three young children. Her second husband François Cressonet dit Beauséjour built this establishment, which she operated since his death in 1742 with the help of her Irish servant Salle Forlan. She is surrounded by family in Louisbourg, as many of her grown children and the children of her cousin, Joseph Dugas, live nearby.
In the open square facing Le Billard stands a carcan- a post with an iron collar- where those found guilty of relatively petty crimes, such as minor theft, might be sentenced to stay so that the public could witness their punishment. Justice was demonstrative: part of its value was that the general public see it was carried out and thus be satisfied that justice was done or be deterred from crime themselves.
De la Plagne Property
Pierre-Paul d’Espiet de la Plagne, who owned the house on the corner in the 1740s, was the son and nephew of garrison officers and both his brothers had served here with him. His kinship ties extended throughout the colonial elite, and he received choice postings around the colony. De la Plagne sometimes used his troops as domestiques in his home, and a young soldier called La Fleur later used the knowledge he had gained working in this house. On a dark night in 1740 he scaled the fence, forced a window and robbed his captain of a few coins. It was not a planned theft - swift discovery and conviction saw the soldier branded and whipped through the streets.
The house has a timber frame beneath its siding - only the adjoining storehouse is masonry. There are two chimneys. In houses that were often partitioned into many small rooms, fireplaces meant heat. As you explore the furnished homes of Louisbourg the location of the fireplaces can hint to you about the comfort of each room.
After the first siege of Louisbourg, de la Plagne retired to his estates in southwestern France. His reconstructed home houses an exhibit on the important relationship between the French colonists and their Mi’kmaw allies. Here you can learn about the military and cultural connections between these peoples and about the modern Mi’kmaw community in Cape Breton.