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  Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada

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Anne Marie Lane Jonah

.. Were lobsters eaten by the inhabitants of 18th-century Louisbourg?

Yes, even the upper class ate lobster.

In our archives of in-house memos for the Fortress of Louisbourg we have two research memos, one by John Johnston and another by Hope Dunton, with lots of evidence that lobsters were known to the French in the 18th century, and were liked by many. Fishermen on the coasts of Normandy and Brittany in France exported lobster to England. Many of Louisbourg’s fishermen came from that region, and so, undoubtedly knew how to catch and prepare lobsters. Many of the records of 18th-century Cape Breton mention lobster, and other shellfish, being plentiful and liked. Lobster shells do not survive for long in the ground, and therefore there is not much archaeological evidence of lobsters; however, there was a lobster claw shell found in an 18th-century context in the well on the Loppinot property, block 16.

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In times of shortage, such as the spring of 1744, and almost a century earlier in a bad year described by Nicolas Denys, some people had to live on only shellfish. This does not mean that people disliked or disdained shellfish, but that they had nothing else, no bread, no vegetables, or any meat. Richer people may have had access to other foods in times of shortage, but the poor did not. Shellfish are easier to get in Cape Breton, but this does not mean that the wealthy would not enjoy them from time to time.

In our modern presentation of Louisbourg we have shown lobsters as part of the ambigu on feast days, and there are lobster traps at the DesRoches property. Lobsters are not routinely offered in the restaurants for operational reasons, not because of interpretation.