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June 1974 AN HISTORICAL MAGAZINE Volume 1 Number 4
A SPECIAL ISSUE
Eric R. Krause
[Illustration: Presently unavailable - View of Louisbourg]
Louisbourg, 1731. Somewhere across the harbour, on the north shore, the "Côté du Nord," or perhaps in a boat lying off one of its beaches, two men, Etienne Verrier and son, gazed upon the town. What each saw, we see today in their famous "Veues de Louisbourg."
The Fortress of Louisbourg expressed the eighteenth-century concept of a protected community ringed by Vauban-inspired fortifications. Behind and guarded by a series of bastions and demi-bastions had grown a crowded but, through direct government intervention, neatly laid out town, with long, straight-running streets and planned, rectangular town blocks. Louisbourg was architecturally mature by 1731 with all the major types of wooden and masonry buildings ever associated with the town built. Yet, like all communities, this town too had its humble beginnings.
Just eighteen years earlier there was only virgin forest and an empty harbour. Acadia and, to a much lesser degree, Placentia were then the prime areas of French settlement on the North American seaboard. But quite soon France lost both colonies to the English and an earnest search for a spot to relocate France's loyal but now displaced colonists began. With initial reluctance French authorities chose Havre à l'Anglois on Isle Royale or Cape Breton. However, only the inhabitants of Placentia ever accepted in mass the government's offer of new lands and new challenges. The much larger Acadian population had generally decided to trade their loyalties to the Mother Country for a continuation of their relatively wealthy status on lands they already occupied. In all, about 160 people arrived in Louisbourg in 1713. On September 23, 1714 the last of the French fugitives of Placentia fled the island. By 1715, there were about 746 people settled in Louisbourg.
[Illustration: Presently unavailable - View of Louisbourg]
Among those sent in 1713 from Placentia to the new settlement were carpenters ordered to prepare houses, storehouses and fishing areas for the expected influx of people. Thus it was Newfoundlanders who determined the direction of early construction activity at Louisbourg. No one in the colony, or for that matter no official in France, knew if the king would ultimately choose Louisbourg as the chief administrative and military centre of the new colony. Therefore, the carpenters and inhabitants who came naturally followed the traditional, as well as the least expensive, building practice of the island from whence they had fled. It was quick, especially necessary in the first two years when settlers arrived late in the season, and, most importantly, it, was proven. Experience in Newfoundland had demonstrated that such houses were reasonably weatherproof and structurally sound, and hence, suitable for their present and perhaps temporary needs at Louisbourg. Yet over the years these buildings also revealed their capability of withstanding the trials of relative permanency.
[A "Charpente" ; B "Piquet" ; C Sod ; D Government Masonry]
[Illustration: Presently unavailable]
[Illustration: Presently unavailable]
The colonists soon settled into their new homes - "piquet" they called them - protected from the inhospitable elements by walls made of felled trees, the closely spaced, upright posts placed beside each other to some depth into the ground. These houses, described as "de piquets de bout couverte de planche or d'écorce d'arbres" (of vertical pickets with board or bark roofs), were reminiscent of those which they had abandoned in Placentia - "de pieux couvertes écorce d'arbre" or "de piquets couverte de plan de bois" (of posts or pickets with bark or wooden slab roofs). In both Placentia and Louisbourg the terms "pieux" and "piquets" were used interchangeably.
First of all, let us imagine an inhabitant constructing a "piquet" building. He is in the forest near Louisbourg looking over a stand of trees, choosing those suitable for wall making. Armed with crude tools, quite likely just an axe, he begins felling the quota he needs of tree stock approximately six "pouces" [one "pouce" equals 1.066 inches] in diameter, reasonably round in its natural state, either to be left round or squared off, yielding pieces of perhaps nine to ten "pieds" [one "pied" equals 1.066 feet] in length. After he finishes this task he still must haul these "piquets" back to his building site in the town to set each one upright into the ground in a line, either by driving or more likely by placing them into a prepared trench, to a depth of some two "pieds". In order to tie or hold the vertically standing "piquets" together, thus forming a rigid wall, he might either nail to them a long, narrow and horizontally running piece of wood, a ribbon or rail, or attach to the top of them a length of horizontal wall plate, with "piquets" and plate then coming together in a mortise and tenon joint. Of course, if help were available, he might more efficiently construct these walls, or parts thereof, entirely on the ground. Then using these added hands he could set larger sections into his trenches. Occasionally he might prop other "piquets" against the outside facing of these walls in the interest of further rigidity.
Four walls of closely spaced "piquets," with a covering roof, would go far by themselves in protecting anyone within from wind, rain and snow without. Nevertheless, driven weather would still enter between the cracks where unshapen, sometimes squared "piquets" met neighbouring, different sized "piquets," producing more of a barn-like environment than a cosy and comfortable residence. "Piquets" would also expand and compress because of changing climatic circumstances. Hence, like their boats, the French caulked their houses. Caulking materials might be moss, clay, earth or straw in combination or singularly-often with a lime and sand roughcast mortar finish ("crépi") applied afterwards. For even further air and water tightness the French might then add a bevelled siding of weather-boarding (but not of the New England clapboard type).
The years between 1713 and 1718 were times of indecision for the inhabitants of Louisbourg. The main question on many minds must have been how much of an investment they should make in homes and storehouses. Was Louisbourg destined to be the colonial capital of the island or was it in a spot shortly to be relegated to the status of hinterland? Imagine the effect when it was decided in 1715 to move the government to Port Dauphin (Englishtown), many hard and difficult travelling miles away. Building activity in Louisbourg reflected this lack of permanency and security in two ways: the inhabitants continued to press upon the beaches of the harbour in the manner of fishermen and merchants living in a crowded fishing village rather than in an organized urban community; and they continued to construct their homes and storehouses in the "piquet" style, except for a few sod fish houses which they built on jetties.
[Illustration: Presently unavailable - Private "Charpente"]
But finally France gave its nod to Louisbourg. Thus royal funds in 1718 built the first recorded alternative to "piquet" construction in the new capital-designate. The inhabitants now saw in this huge government building, the seat of civil and military administration, and in its social, structural, and technical implications the permanence that the authorities had denied to the town for so many years. Shortly after a private concern echoed the government's lead, beginning with a competition with "piquet" that would end only with the final fall of the town in 1758.
[Illustration: Presently unavailable - Private Masonry]
The French in Louisbourg called the technique "charpente". It was essentially in the heavy timber or half-timber tradition, meaning buildings with heavy framed walls of horizontal and vertical wooden members. One can today still see throughout France and England examples of this unique craftsmanship surviving from the eighteenth century or earlier. However, in Louisbourg examples of "charpente" are non-existent because of war and neglect. Even before the British abandoned the town in 1768 many buildings were already in ruins. By 1785 only four houses of unknown type were still standing. When these fell or were torn down, the disintegration of the old town was complete.
"Charpente's" most conspicuous and fixed feature was its open frame. If confronted by the face or wall of a "charpente" building during its construction stage, one would notice its definition in its immense frame of horizontal and vertical hand hewn, squared wooden members, as large as one "pied" through. However, one might think upon closer examination that only those tiny wooden pegs protruding out of places where horizontals and verticals intersected were holding these huge wooden members in place. The idea of combining obvious strength with apparent weakness would seem foolish indeed. We would, of course, be mistaken, for these pegs only signal the more significant which lay hidden: the eighteenth-century philosophy of making woodwork, the tying together and anchoring of different thrusts so as to balance or counterpoise their respective powers, the concern with coming together instead of flying apart, or, as it were, mortise and tenon joinery. Here then pegging was more of a safety measure than a structural necessity in that no one would expect pegs to carry heavy loads, although in poor joinery this might subsequently occur and with surprisingly good results. Rather the French expected the frame and its joinery to share the structural needs of these buildings.
Thus in this single wall the frame reveals horizontal members, the ground sill(s) and the wall plate(s) above. At each of the two corners is a vertical post called a corner post. In the space between the corner posts are relatively widely spaced intermediate posts. The other walls further around the building are constructed similarly with the corner post of one wall also being that of the adjacent wall. This then is the basic skeleton of a "charpente" building. Added to the structure might be diagonal wind braces running from plate to corner post, tying the two together even more rigidly. Other verticals and horizontals, such as headers and sills, although contributing also to the rigidity of the frame, could be omitted like the braces and not affect the structural soundness or the technical completeness of the building.
Unlike "piquets" buildings with the four walls and the roof completed, the elements would still enter practically unhindered. While the "piquets" in "piquet" buildings were closely spaced, the intermediate posts in "charpente" buildings were quite wide apart, necessitating further craftsmanship to close off these open spaces. Thus a builder would normally introduce a filling material inserted between intermediate posts from sill to plate. He might set "piquets" one against the other and then caulk and roughcast them as he would have done in a totally "piquet" house. A slightly more elaborate method involved a total masonry fill with a "crépi" finish, where he would build a wall of large stones (rubblestone) or bricks much in the same manner that he would have constructed a masonry house, except here he would be working within a wooden frame. As a further precaution against weather entering, or if he had not introduced a filling material, a builder might nail a bevelled siding of weather boarding to the framing members.
"Charpente" buildings also differed from "piquets" in that they generally rested on a foundation, normally of bonded stone (rubblestone), and, in at least one example, on piles driven into the soft earth of a drained, swampy area. A Spanish traveller, Don Antonio De Ulloa, writing in his "Relacion Historica Del Viage A La America Meridional," reported during the 1740s that foundations in Louisbourg rose to heights of two to two and one-half yards ("varas"). On the other hand, French documents suggest only in some cases as much as one-half story, while in the majority they point towards foundations of two and one-half "pieds" or less. At any rate, "charpente's" stone foundation kept wooden members out of direct contact with the damp earth below, thus more effectively arresting rot and reducing maintenance costs than was possible in "piquets" buildings.
As we saw earlier, the choice of Louisbourg as capital provided the impetus for the resulting explosion of "charpente" construction in the private sector of the town. However, in the public sector "charpente" played but a minor role. Government officials, with royal funds at their disposal, instead favoured masonry constructions whenever possible. Block One, an area totally in control of the authorities, with its storehouses, forge, bakery, arsenal, laundry, stables and chief engineer's house; Block Two, almost entirely in private hands but with the impressive house, storehouse and stables of the government's financial commissary; Block Thirteen, with its massive hospital occupying the entire area; and the King's Bastion with its barracks, containing the governor's residence, at that time the largest structure in North America, were all blatant examples of the government's and the military's devotion to masonry. In the private sector, however, masonry buildings were rare. Perhaps less than twenty times, and on a much smaller scale, did private builders attempt to meet the challenge of high costs in construction materials and in labour - and then only in residences and important storehouses.
[Illustration: Presently unavailable - Block Thirteen Hospital]
[Illustration: Presently unavailable - Block One A. Storehouse ; B. Engineer's House ; Laundry and Stables ; D. Bakehouse and Arsenal]
[Illustration: Presently unavailable - Block Two Residence of the Financial Commissary]
[Illustration: Presently unavailable - Barracks and Governor's Residence]
Private masonry buildings were either of stone (rubblestone) with a roughcast finish, or of brick. However, brick structures were rare. Because similar techniques, unlike for "piquet" and "charpente," are still employed to a large degree in general masonry practice today, they are thus easily recognizable, and may pass without comment. It is interesting to note, however, that bricks from New England measured seven by three and one-half by one and two-thirds "pouce" thick while those made near Louisbourg were eight and one-quarter by four and one-sixth by a little over two "pouces". In practice French builders preferred those from New England because of their better composition. Bonding mortar was of lime and sand - one part lime to two parts sand. There are, of course, other particulars which have changed, but one thing has remained the same: for anyone building in the private sector, masonry buildings were just as relatively expensive some two and one-half centuries ago as they are now.
Hence, most of the townsfolk of Louisbourg explored the advantages of wood. They found that for major buildings, their homes and their storehouses, non-masonry techniques were usually of a particular advantage. In wooden buildings, from the mediocre to the elegant, from squalidness to opulence, a man's costs and his means were nearly always reconcilable. Many chose the "piquet" technique because they could build less costly than in "charpente" and yet still maintain acceptable standards for living or for storing valuable merchandise. On the other hand, others selected "charpente" because they could develop higher expenditures than in "piquet" and yet avoid the capital investment demanded by masonry. Between these two extremes, "piquet's" costs sometimes exceeded that of "charpente". On the average, however, construction costs rose from "piquet" through "charpente" to masonry. Because a man would build in "piquets" when he had the option of spending the same in "charpente," he must have also considered factors other than cost. He might have thought one building type superior or inferior to the others. Because of the poor content of the mortar at Louisbourg, and the havoc which salt played upon it, the masonry fortifications were always in need of repair, with some sections in danger of crumbling. This alone would have persuaded many men of means to build in wood, likely in "charpente". However, for those of lesser wealth, who chose "piquet" over "charpente," costs being equal, it would be difficult to suggest any reason based on superiority of techniques.
Certainly many early "piquets" buildings, such as those in Block Four, stood as long as "charpente" buildings erected only some years later. Yet rather than the technique of "piquets" being equal or superior to that of "charpente," the determining factor must have been how well these buildings were initially constructed and/or maintained. Because Louisbourg remained in French hands for only forty-five years, the town was a poor testing ground for well-built, well-maintained "piquet" structures. However, over a longer period "charpente" doubtless would have shown its superiority and demonstrated to many inattentive inhabitants that "piquet's" relatively short-proven strengths were deceptive.
Besides costs or strengths, other factors or their combinations could have influenced a building choice: aesthetics, expected resale value, maintenance costs, the availability of skilled carpenters or masons, or susceptibility to fire. In short, why one man chose "piquet," another "charpente," and yet another masonry must be judged individually. What is known is that most chose wooden buildings.
The three major construction techniques of Louisbourg were thus "piquet," the standing of verticals; "charpente," the framing of verticals and horizontals; and masonry, the massing of walls. However, after defining each of these building types one notices technical modifications or variations within the three themes. This becomes particularly evident in "charpente" buildings. Here numerous combinations can occur in the shuffling of the meeting points of horizontals and verticals. For instance, a builder might tenon the ground sill into the mortise of the comer posts in one structure, while in another he might tenon the posts into the sill. Such variations thus point to the danger of suggesting a normal application of technique for any building type. Yet research has revealed certain trends in both the general techniques and the details of private buildings in Louisbourg.
The French put private buildings to a great variety of uses. A building might function exclusively or in combination as residence, storehouse, boutique, tradesman's working area, inn, pool hall, bakery, tavern, outside kitchen, fish house, forge, outside oven, food shed, salt shed, summer house, storage lean-to, latrine, cabin, animal shed, stable or barn. However, because of its high costs, French owners used masonry only in the first eight functions or those of a prime or significant user class. On the other hand, they constructed "piquets" and "charpente" buildings which embraced all functions, although in unimportant structures they preferred "piquet". Of the buildings in the prime user class the greatest numbers were in residences and storehouses.
Major wooden constructions were generally twenty "pieds" wide with the greatest extreme being a "charpente" structure of thirty-three "pieds". Because there were only a few private masonry buildings in the town, an average width would be ill-reckoned. However, since the known, extreme was forty-six "pieds," masonry widths were likely generally wider than in wood, no doubt because of load-bearing partitions which wooden buildings seem to have avoided. Thus the width of wooden structures was restricted to the length capacity of joists or beams, that is, twenty-five "pieds," plus or minus.
Any distance in length was perhaps feasible in both masonry and wood, depending on the desired use and on the desired cost, with monetary restrictions most significant in masonry structures. Because the known extreme in masonry was sixty-two "pieds," the average length likely was greater than forty "pieds". Thus, while French masonry technology was capable of far greater lengths, as the 365 feet of the government barracks of the King's Bastion unequivocally illustrated, the lengths of private masonry structures were far more modest because of their costs. On the other hand, wooden building lengths exceeding the known maximum for masonry were frequent in the private sector. The two hundred "pieds" of a "charpente" government barracks and various "piquet" constructions exceeding one hundred "pieds" showed that long wooden buildings also appeared in the public sector.
Private wooden homes averaged forty "pieds" in length. As expected, private wooden storehouses, unlike other functional structures, were of all lengths and predominated over all others within the larger ranges. Yet, as in other non-residential constructions, functions more than costs would have set their lengths.
All construction types, both wooden and masonry, varied in shape, from the small square to the larger rectangular to L-shaped buildings. However, owners by far favoured the rectangular. Other shapes, such as the pavilion used at least once by the government, were generally ignored by builders.
The tallest private buildings were masonry or "charpente," standing at two and one-half storeys. At least one half of all masonry constructions met this height, with "charpente" structures rarely as tall. In fact, only occasionally did "charpente" even reach a full two storeys. Instead, one and one-half storey was common with the upper floor habitable. On the other hand, "piquet" buildings were always one storey, with the roof space or attic above, as often as not, seemingly uninhabitable but perhaps still us- able for storage.
Knee walls were the solution in the one and one-half storey building where it was necessary to have head room to create a more efficient living area. Builders would extend outer walls some two or three "pieds" above the floor level of the half-storey, which would result in a higher placement of the roof vis-à-vis the floor. While half storeys were therefore common, basements were on the other hand rare, due in large part to the rocky and water-logged soil in Louisbourg.
Therefore, the French went upwards and outwards rather than into the earth to increase space. As most homes were either "piquet" or "charpente," their standard height was one story or one storey and a half, their length approximately forty "pieds," their width twenty "pieds" and their shape rectangular. Thus houses had an often familiar or recurring floor plan. First of all occupying each end, contiguous or nearly so, might be two rather large divisions: in one would be the kitchen with a high cooking fireplace; in the other would be the "chambre," normally containing a smaller heating fireplace. The "chambre" served one or more of a number of possible functions-dining room, sitting room or bedroom, for example-and likely was the best decorated room in the house. The kitchen and "chambre" fireplaces often shared the same chimney in the centre of the building.
Within each of these two divisions would be other rooms, small "cabinets" placed against the exterior walls of the house for sleeping quarters, offices or storage. If the floor above were habitable, a wooden staircase, unlikely attached to an outside wall, would provide accessibility- perhaps to a large "chambre" with fireplace and its "cabinets" or simply to a series of small "cabinets." If this floor were not habitable, it might be used for storage, reached by ship-type ladder.
Of course, French owners did not always follow this familiar plan because many home were larger, smaller, taller or dependent o their own individual tastes. Partitions for the division of room spaces were also easily removable to meet changing conditions, such births, marriages and deaths, because they were of boards and not framed into the outside walls. Thus homes might have alcoves containing built-in beds, corridors to direct traffic from entrance doorways, interior store porches, wardrobe rooms, pantries or other rooms which were larger than "cabinets" but smaller than "chambres," perhaps used for receiving or entertaining guests.
Nonresidences like storehouses, inns or pool halls would normally have had different layouts from houses. Many residences also served dual functions with perhaps a part set aside for the retail of goods or as a storehouse. This in itself had a decided effect on the residential plan of a home. Yet even here, in that part left for living quarters, the "chambre," kitchen, "cabinet," fireplace, staircase characteristics might not change, or the entire building might still have the familiar plan form, with the "chambre" however devoted to billiard, tavern or other nonresidential activities.
Anyone familiar with Louisbourg, often shrouded in summer fogs, buffeted by high winds and attacked in winter by snow and ice, would understand why the French often revetted the exteriors of their wooden buildings. They would nail boards of either one or two "pouces" in thickness directly on the walls of "piquet" buildings or on the frames of "charpente" structures. Sometimes local in origin, sometimes imported from Boston, the boards were bevelled along their length to a depth of two to four "pouces," so that when applied to the walls, board meeting board, presumably horizontally, the bevel above would be placed over the matching bevel below, thus creating a flush and, hopefully, watertight joint. We notice that such weatherboards were not of the overlapping clapboard style found in the New England colonies (even in France, except for some mills, clapboard was not then customary). The French rarely seem to have protected this revetment with paint or whitewash.
French builders would have caulked and roughcasted "piquet" buildings or the "piquet" filling material in "charpente" structures before deciding upon a board revetment. However, many owners thought this initial weatherproofing was sufficient and a wooden revetment unnecessary. Normal practice in masonry buildings, at least those of rubblestone, was to roughcast the exterior walls with a lime and sand mortar. The stones found in the fill of a "charpente" building received the same treatment.
Both wooden and masonry finishes applied to the inside of exterior walls were popular. The common, decorative wood finish was "lambris": local or Boston boards, one "pouce" thick, planed on one side, tongued and grooved, nailed presumably vertically from floor to ceiling. Other wooden finishes, like expensive board panelling with elaborate stiles and panels, were rare in private buildings and only somewhat more frequent in public structures. Similarly, because elaborate mouldings placed at the top and bottom of "lambris" were both costly and wasteful of wood, carpentry here was simple or not moulded at all. Called "tringles," perhaps only one-half to one "pouce" wide, they in fact served the functions of the more expensive cornices and baseboards, both in their decorative features as well as in their structural capabilities.
The most common interior finishes in mortar were "crépi," a rough cast of lime and sand, and "enduit". The latter was a finer, smoothing layer to be applied over a "crépi," made either of sand and lime, of earth (or clay) and lime, or of plaster. The evidence is so far inconclusive as to whether French owners then painted or whitewashed the "enduit" or the "crépi". However, they often did apply a "lambris" over these same mortar finishes.
Two door types predominated in Louisbourg: those "emboitée" and those "à barres" -- Doors ... will be made of one [or two] "pouce thick pine boards, "emboitée" at both ends with oak or [type of ] birch, well planed, with tongue and groove joints well pegged --- Thus the two horizontal "emboitures" at the top and bottom of doors were of hardwood for greater structural strength while the vertical boards were of softwood: the vertical boards tenoned on their narrow ends into the connecting "emboitures" while tongued and grooved to each other on their long sides. In other doors, horizontal battens ("barres") nailed near the top and bottom (often with a diagonal batten between) acted like "emboitures" in holding the vertical tongue and grooved boards together- but at a much lower price. Either type could be single or double-leafed, with transoms above if there was sufficient space. Three other infrequently used door types were glassed, panelled or double layered.
Most buildings had at least two exterior doorways, one entering from the street and one exiting into the yard. Most rooms also had doors. Favoured for exterior doors were two "pouce" thicknesses; for interior doors, one "pouce". However, French owners avoided ornate decoration, trim or mouldings around or above these doors because of the high cost.
The inward-opening double casement window and the upwards sliding double-hung window were the normal window types, but the casement was by far the most popular. The documents mention fixed and storm windows only infrequently although, as will be noted, the numbers of fixed windows must have been greater. On the other hand, mention of dormers, small, gabled and with rectangular openings, was common.
Pane sizes in all openings were small, the most common being seven by eight "pouce," averaging perhaps twelve panes to a single- leaf casement or to a sliding sash, and twenty-four to a double-leaf window. However, dormers would have had far fewer panes. While Europe had discovered and used mastic or putty relatively early in Louisbourg's history, the technique apparently never came into use in the colony until its final days, despite previous knowledge of it in the town. Instead "papier collé et points" (glued paper and [metal] points) served the same purpose.
Exterior shutters normally closed off window openings except on dormers. While shutters would, of course, protect the glass behind, or shut off the light from without, they were perhaps more necessary for security reasons, particularly on ground floor, street side windows. Thus they were sometimes omitted in first-storey windows. However, the incidence of interior shutters on any opening was rare.
Of significant effect upon building activity in the town was La "Coutume de Paris" or Custom of Paris. Certain clauses of this civil code, first codified in France in 1510 and revised in 1580, outlined the rights and obligations between adjoining property owners. For example, the code stated that any owner could place in his house a window directly facing the house or property of his neighbour only if he left at least six "pieds" between, only if he placed this window higher than nine "pieds" above the ground floor level or higher than seven "pieds" above the floor level of any storey above, and only if he then garnished this window with a trellised iron grill work with openings no larger than four "pouces," and with a fixed window and glass panes - both well secured. All this in the name of privacy and security: a window too high to look out of and too restricted to throw or exit from.
As previously noted, because wooden houses averaged forty by twenty "pieds," they often had either one central chimney with back-to-back fireplaces or one chimney on each end wall with single flues for single fireplaces. Many times the fireplace plan would repeat itself on the floor above. At least one fireplace, usually on the ground floor, would be for cooking, designed high with perhaps a baking or warming oven, while all others in the house would normally be for providing heat. Masonry and larger wooden homes could, of course, have more chimneys and fireplaces; one masonry building had at least eight fireplaces. Functional considerations would determine the number or lack of chimneys in other buildings and s rarely did a storehouse have a chimney.
While the width and height of known fire boxes of heating fireplaces seem adequate for providing sufficient heat, their narrow dept seems an inadequate design. However, since the "cabinets" nearly always had doors, and since such firebox design persisted over the years perhaps for conserving the wood pile, these fireplaces would have given off sufficient heat for main rooms if the "cabinets" were closed off. Sometimes, if necessary, an owner would place a wood burning, brick stove in one of his "cabinets". However, iron stoves were rare, as was coal which came into infrequent use as a fuel in private homes only in the last eight years of Louisbourg's existence.
Louisbourg floors were extremely solid, generally constructed out of two "pouce" tongued and grooved boards, likely ten to twelve "pouce" wide, and planed. When attached to the joists below, the nailing pattern would reveal two nails to a joist, centre to centre perhaps three "pieds" between joists.
Sometimes "piquet" buildings had "piquet" flooring. Yet flooring in materials other than planks was rare and depended on the function of the building in these cases. Thus certain outbuildings, such as storehouses or crude constructions, had earthen, gravelled or cobble-stoned floors.
One or two "pouce" boards, placed vertically, planed on both sides, tongued and grooved together, and fastened to floor and ceiling with nails and "tringles" generally set off room divisions. Since these were not framed partitions owners could easily take them down and re-set them wherever needed, as they often did. They also used "piquet" partitions but much less frequently than boards, finishing them off with a mortar covering. Panelled partitions were rare or non-existent in private structures because of their cost. Load-bearing interior partitions, normally associated with masonry constructions, seem to have been absent in wooden buildings, perhaps explaining the normal width of approximately twenty "pieds" in structures of "piquet" or "charpente".
The floor above in most buildings was the ceiling below, with the joists finished simply and exposed. Such was the case even in the topmost floors, although occasionally boards might be nailed directly to the underside of rafters and tie beams, thereby hiding the roofing members from view.
Wooden stairs with wooden hardware allowed the needed communication between floor levels, sometimes cutting through joists, sometimes exiting between. They were normally not framed to outside walls.
The five major roofing materials used in private Louisbourg buildings were bark, "plan de bois," "plan de terre," boards and shingles. In early Louisbourg as in Newfoundland before, bark, "plan," and board roofs were common and shingles rare, with bark and "plan de bois" continuing as the popular choices. No doubt the principal contributing factor of this similarity was the transference of the "piquet" technique to Louisbourg. The stripping of the "piquets" for "piquet" buildings (and of course, of any tree in the forest) would produce great quantities o bark, while the squaring off of "piquets" would turn out "plan de bois," or wooden slabs. Also when a tree trunk was cut into boards, the firs and last cuts might have produced the necessary "plan de bois," slabs flat on one side but curved, with the bark still attached on the other. However, with the introduction of government regulations forbidding further construction of bark roofs in the town proper because of the danger of fire and of the damage to the forest, and with the growing availability of boards and shingles as trade increased, it is much easier to explain the disappearance of bark and "plan de bois" roofs than to ascertain for certain how they originated.
"Plan de terre," or slabs of earth or sod with grass and plants still attached, occurred some times on the top of buildings as it had previously in Newfoundland. Its use, however, was not widespread, and likely soon disappeared except perhaps on crude constructions.
When the government forbade bark as roofing material it predicted that one day slate would become abundant in the colony and prevalent on the roofs of private structures. It was mistaken, for the price of slate remained so exorbitantly high throughout Louisbourg's history that only the public sector could absorb its cost. However, until such time that slate should become available, the authorities suggested that inhabitants use wooden shingles. Soon they were the most common roofing material by far. The most important alternative, once bark and plan went out of general use, were boards, most often described as single thickness but sometimes as double. The exact method of attaching these boards, like bark and plan, is unfortunately unknown.
Shingled roofs do not present an attachment problem but they do display an interesting technique. Beneath these wooden shingles Louisbourg developed its own style of construction. Normal practice in France, as in the case of slate, would have builders first nailing laths or roofing strips to the rafters before attaching the outside protective covering. When builders attempted the same in Louisbourg the violence of the climate-driven water and powdered snow-penetrated to the inside of buildings, causing extensive damage to wooden members and materials. To remedy this dangerous and destructive condition they therefore first nailed a board sheathing to the rafters identical to the bevelled board sheathing employed in the exterior revetment of walls. Then they nailed the split shingles, lapping them so that only one third of any shingle was ever exposed to the weather. A king-post truss system with a ridge beam normally carried such a roof. The roof itself could he hipped or gabled or a combination of hip and gable.
Independent storehouses were, at least in number, the most important non-residential buildings. Yet often they were physically appended to other buildings, sharing many of the attributes of residences. They were normally "piquet" or "charpente," sometimes masonry; of the same average width; one or one and one-half storey high, rarely with basements; revetted with the same wall coverings; with doors, windows and stairs of the same style; with similar floors and partitions if desired or necessary; and carrying the same type roofing materials in the same proportions.
On the other hand, like residences, their own particular uses also dictated their own set of rules. Therefore, storehouses predominated over houses in the larger lengths, had perhaps no familiar or recurring floor plan, did not use interior decorative wood finishes such as a "lambris," often had shutters closing the windows rather than glass panes, rarely had chimneys, could have non-wooden floors and likely did not have closed-in ceilings in structures of one storey.
Although "piquet" and "charpente" dominated building activity within the private sector, "pièce sur pièce" is documented at least once. Builders placed vertical posts with continuous grooves from top to bottom into the ground some distance from each other, likely ten "pieds" apart. Hence, if the building were longer than ten "pieds," it would have comer and intermediate posts as in "charpente" structures. They would then drop the ends of individual horizontal posts into the grooves of adjacent verticals, one piece above the other. Presumably, they chinked the spaces between these horizontals after the fashion of "piquet" construction.
Also making its appearance in Louisbourg was the New England "charpente"-type building. The first house frames or "prefabs" arrived by ship at least as early as 1732. Some were destined for transshipment but some remained. Frames for barracks and storehouses also arrived during the first English occupation of Louisbourg. When the English left, these buildings stayed behind. In all cases the French described them as "charpente," and their subsequent comments confirmed that the English and French styles coincided closely.
Here then were some of the patterns of domestic architecture in Louisbourg. Information has been gleaned from contracts of private sale or rent, from criminal cases or civil disputes or occasionally from private building contracts or plans. Unfortunately, while these descriptions revealed trends, they often neglected details. Thus the most valuable sources were the official construction accounts of the French military engineers and draftsmen who designed and built the fortifications as well as the civil and military edifices in Louisbourg. Their plans, work accounts, repair bills an official correspondence with France proved in valuable in detailing domestic building techniques and such features as floors, partitions, "lambris," interior and exterior finishes, door an window types and ceilings. They showed that the same artisans and soldiers worked in both the public and private sectors; they showed to that there were many differences. While domes tic buildings were normally in wood, major civil and military constructions were general in masonry and hence, were usually more costly and better decorated with fashionable architectural adornments such as mouldings, cut stone from France, panelling, cornices or baseboards. Sometimes civil designs incorporated architectural niceties such as non-defensive town gates, while many of the fortifications were crumbling.
[Illustration: Presently unavailable - Frederick Gate]
However, even civil designs contained information which helped to explain techniques of domestic architecture. Because a design called for a wooden sheathing on the masonry of the Frederick Gate, a cross section on the plan revealed a bevelled siding which must have been similar to that described in the written, domestic sources. In addition, one of the few examples of an elevation of a wall with an exterior wooden revetment was on a part of the hospital, another civil structure.
Since most elevations and profiles were produced by military engineers and draftsmen, vistas of civil and military constructions were most numerous. Sometimes they would also show private structures due to their proximity to a government building. However, in plans and in several views of the town, private, military and civil structures often appear together, by design, because Louisbourg was a planned urban community as well as a planned civil and military establishment.
The placement of the landward fortifications restricted the growth of the town to a small peninsula. The authorities also regulated building activity by establishing a grid system of streets which formed blocks numbered one to forty-five, and two unnumbered ones, the "Isle du Quay" and "Presqu'isle du Quay". In four areas, the last two and Blocks Four and Five, where settlement first took place, the grid system went unenforced when their influential citizens refused to accept the boundaries. In other blocks, where buildings protruded into the newly-designated streets, the owners tore them down or realigned them, within their blocks.
[Illustration: Presently unavailable - A. Presqu'Isle du Quay ; B. Isle du Quay ; Rochefort Point ; D. Non-Designated Block]
[Illustration: Presently unavailable - A. Dauphin Fauxbourg]
The authorities further regulated building activity within each block. They divided them into properties, as designated by the letters of the alphabet, for which the inhabitants had to receive an official concession. The owners then marked off these properties with "piquets" fences which also protected buildings, gardens and yards from man or beast. The authorities also reserved certain blocks or properties for their own civil and military needs. They sometimes even ignored the town's limits, as when they decided to erect new fortifications within the original eastern boundaries. They simply expropriated the blocks through which the fortifications were to run and effectively closed off at least eleven blocks to new growth.
However, not all town growth was within the fortifications or blocks. The "Dauphin Fauxbourg" and the "Côté du Nord" were Louisbourg's suburbs containing inns, pool halls, fish houses, residences and storehouses. Rochefort Point, on the peninsula, which was not subdivided into blocks, saw some growth. Also one non- designated block, just west of Block One, was allowed to exist without official sanction for a number of years. Joseph Lartigue, one of the town's wealthiest inhabitants and its first judge, simply refused to move from his home despite official prodding.
Wood was the most common building material used in Louisbourg. No matter where a private individual stood in society or how he earned his livelihood, he nearly always built in wood. Thus the general, outward appearance of many buildings was often similar. Only within, by the relative sophistication of construction, type of furnishings, or organization of plan form might one surmise social status or profession. It would be erroneous to suggest that a building could ever explain a man, but it goes far in revealing how well he had accepted the exigencies of life and society at Louisbourg.
1. Archives Nationales, Colonies, Series C11B, Vol. 14, fol. 319v, Marché pour les ouvrages à faire à l'Isle St Jean, 23 septembre 1733.
© 1974, by Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada, Limited, ISBN 0-03-927903-0