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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg
National Historic Site of Canada
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Lieu historique national du Canada

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LOUISBOURG HISTORICAL NOT-FOR-PROFIT SOCIETIES

Louisbourg Heritage Society

The Louisbourg Heritage Society
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The Louisbourg Heritage Society is incorporated under the Societies Act for Nova Scotia. It has tax-exempt status as a registered charity.

The object of the Society is to preserve and study, develop, present and interpret the heritage of Louisbourg in particular and Cape Breton Island in general.

You can review the Society's PUBLICATIONS at another page on this site. The directors include:

Patricia MacDonald, Chairperson
Sheila Fudge, Secretary
Margie Cameron, Secretary
Jean Kyte, Director
 

The History of Louisbourg | The Reconstruction of Louisbourg | The Summer of 1995 | Activities of the Society

HOW IT BEGAN

The Society originated as part of a community effort to save the St. Bartholomew's Anglican Church Rectory, one of the outstanding buildings of the town. The rectory, constructed in 1887, was in danger of demolition because of the inability of the congregation to pay for upkeep of the structure. The Heritage Society obtained the building on the basis of an annual lease and undertook major repairs. It managed the rectory as an exhibit gallery for several years before the building was turned over to the Louisbourg District Planning and Development Commission in 1993.

For the past 6 years the Society has focused much of its energy on publishing heritage related materials.

COMMUNITY OF LOUISBOURG

The community of Louisbourg is located on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, 34 kilometres ( 21 miles) from Sydney and 467 kilometres (290 miles) from Halifax. There are 1265 residents. Immediately adjacent to the community is the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, an impressive reconstruction of a portion of the 18th-century French fortified town.

HISTORY

Louisbourg was a French fortified town from 1713 to 1758 and the capital of the colony of Isle Royalle. It was the centre of the lucrative cod fishery and a mercantile transhipment point between Europe and the New World with regular commercial contact with France, the West Indies, Quebec and New England. The community of 1200 civilians was protected by stone fortification walls and a garrison of 500 soldiers employed by the Department of the Marine and managed by a hierarchy including a governor and civil administrator with the associated bureaucracies. Louisbourg was a community of homes, warehouses, gardens, wharfs, a massive barracks, royal storehouse, lighthouse, careening facility and monumental entrance gates.

In 1745, the Fortress community was attacked by a New England military force supported by an English naval contingent. After a siege of seven weeks the garrison and civilian population surrendered. Most of the inhabitants were sent to France and Louisbourg was garrisoned by New England and then English troops until 1749. In that year the town was returned to the French and for the next decade flourished as a commercial centre.

In 1758, as part of the major English offensive against the French, Louisbourg was besieged and once more captured. In 1760 the fortification walls were systematically dismantled and by 1768 the garrison moved to Halifax.

After 1785, when Sydney became the new capital of Cape Breton Island, Louisbourg was by and large deserted by the local bureaucracy and fell into ruin, its iron hardware, brick and cut stone salvaged for buildings in Sydney and Halifax.

For the remainder of the 18th century and the early 19th century the population around the harbour, numbered less than 200 persons, some descended from soldiers of the English garrison and others from Irishmen who came from Newfoundland or directly from Ireland. In 1842 a lighthouse was constructed to assist the coastal trade which was carrying coal from the mines in Sydney to Atlantic ports.

In 1875 there was a short lived attempt to establish a narrow-gauge railway and dreams of Louisbourg being the North Atlantic terminus for a steamship from England.

1895 was a significant year in the life of the community. The Dominion Coal Company amalgamated a number of Cape Breton coal mines, purchased a fleet of coal boats and prepared to supply coal to the east coast of Canada and the United States. To accomplish this on a year round basis a rail line, the Sydney & Louisburg, was constructed to the ice free harbour at Louisbourg. A large coal pier was constructed to load ships. The coal pier and the railway meant a generation of full employment for Louisbourg. In 1901 the citizens of the north shore of the harbour incorporated the Town of Louisbourg. The Fortress on the south-west corner remained a part of the County of Cape Breton and was referred to as "Old Town" or "West Louisbourg". In 1912 Marconi opened a wireless receiving station in West Louisbourg. This operated until 1927. The 1930s were hard on the local community though this was the era of the large catches of swordfish and attempts by the local Board of Trade to establish a sports fishing industry for swordfish. The second world war brought a small contingent of artillery, navy and air force to the town. An anti-torpedo net was strung across the harbour to protect the coal loading pier. A ship repair facility employed up to 200 local men. The coal pier would remain a central part of the life of the town until the 1950s and the decline of the coal industry.

By the 1960s the Sydney & Louisburg railway ceased to exist and the coal pier had been dismantled Before the end World War II a local committee recognized the need for new industry in the community and convinced the Provincial Government and private companies to open modern fish processing plants here. These operated for a generation until the depletion of north Atlantic cod stocks caused the closure of the largest plant operated by National Sea Products Ltd in the early 1990's. This meant that several hundred people were unemployed. There is still a small fishing industry in the area in lobster, sea urchins, crab and shrimp with some seasonal processing.

The immediate future of Louisbourg revolves around tourism. In 1960 a Royal Commission recognized the value of 18th century Louisbourg. Of course there had always been those who had seen Louisbourg's history as its great strength. Throughout the 19th century visitors came to muse on the grass covered ruins. Early in this century David Kennelly, an Irish businessman, became enamoured of the site, obtained provincial legislation to protect the ruins, stabilized the remains of the stone casemates and planned on building a memorial tower with an equestrian statue of Edward VII. He died before he could carry out his dream. But the idea of interpreting the French presence at Louisbourg was carried on by John Stewart McLennan, businessman, newspaper owner and Canadian senator. McLennan wrote the history Louisbourg: From its Foundation to its fall in 1917 and was instrumental in having the site declared of national historic significance in 1926. He and his daughter Katherine were rewarded when in the 1930s some of the major ruins were stabilized and a museum and curator's house constructed. Katherine became the honourary and unpaid curator for the next 25 years. McLennan had envisioned the possibility of reconstructing the French community as early as 1908 having seen the restoration work being carried out at Fort Tichonderoga in New York state. But it was the collapse of the coal industry, unemployed miners and the recommendations of the Royal Commission on coal that made the difference. Referring to Louisbourg,, I. C. Rand wrote. " Here are resources of profundity as well as of enjoyment; the scenes are a national property to be brought to an attainment of their potentialities. What is proposed will not only be of economic benefit to the Island; it will introduce elements to regenerate its life and outlook."

THE FORTRESS OF LOUISBOURG RECONSTRUCTION

Unemployed coal miners teamed with archaeologists, historians, engineers, interpreters, exhibit designers and administrators to bring to life a significant aspect of Canada's past. A generation of work has resulted in 20% of the walled town being reconstructed - 60 buildings on their original foundations, stone fortress walls, a waterfront, yards and gardens. This reconstructed environment is interpreted through exhibits, tour guides and interpreters wearing costumes of the period. The immensity of the Louisbourg resource is communicated somewhat when one realizes that there are over 850 unexcavated archaeological sites associated with the remaining town and siege works, 5 million excavated artefacts, 750,000 pages of microfilmed and paper historical data, 12,500 antiques and reproductions in the buildings and 250 costumes. A team of archaeologists, historians, archivists, curators, costume designers and artisans still work at Louisbourg to keep this amazing work of art operating as an accurate representation of Canada's past.

THE 1995 SUMMER

1995 had its highs and lows for Louisbourg. The low occurred when the Town of Louisbourg, incorporated in 1901, ceased to exist and became a part of a new regional municipality. (see below)

The year 1995 represented the 275th anniversary of the official founding of the 18th-century town of Louisbourg, the 250th anniversary of the New England siege and the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the Sydney & Louisburg Railway.

Major events were held over the entire summer to commemorate these events. Canada Post Corporation issued a special Louisbourg stamp and the Canadian Mint a Louisbourg $100 gold coin.

A highlight of the summer was the Grand Encampment - a gathering of 1200 military reenactors from all across North America and a convergence of a Great Lakes and Atlantic flotilla of sailing vessels.

Associated with the events was infrastructure. Major renewal of the waterfront and main street along with the development of Country Inns and guest cabins by the private sector.

TOWN OF LOUISBOURG NO LONGER

As part of a process of restructuring the eight municipipal units in Cape Breton County, ( Towns of Louisbourg, Glace Bay, New Waterford, Dominion, North Sydney, Sydney Mines, City of Sydney and County of Cape Breton) were joined in a new regional municipality. This came into effect on 1 August 1995. The Louisbourg Town Council disagreed with the move and presented a brief to the appropriate levels of government but to no avail. On Monday, 6 June 1994 there was a municipally-sponsored plebiscite. Of the 570 ballots cast, 478 were in favour of Louisbourg retaining separate municipal status, 84 against and 8 ballots were spoiled. The provincial government was not required to respect the outcome of the ballot since it was not official.

ACTIVITIES OF THE LOUISBOURG HERITAGE SOCIETY

1987 Anglican Church Rectory, constructed in 1885, saved from destruction.

1987 Exhibit, "Churches of Our Past", five church structures from the Louisbourg area no longer existing.

1987 Louisbourg Heritage Notes started in monthly Seagull newsletter.

1988 Exhibit, "Victorian Church Architecture in Industrial Cape Breton". An introduction to Victorian architecture highlighting churches in the communities of Industrial Cape Breton.

1989-91 Research programmes on early 20th century newspapers, interviews of citizens of Louisbourg.

1989 Beginning of publications programme.

Submission of Sydney & Louisburg Railway Station and Freight Shed to the Advisory Council on Heritage Property resulting in the S&L being the first railway station in Nova Scotia to gain be designated a Provincial Heritage Property.

1993 Submission of the Louisbourg Navy League Hut ( the Lions Den at present) to the Advisory Council on Heritage Property and its recognition at a Provincial Heritage Property. The first WWII structure to be designated in Nova Scotia.

1994/95 Initiated the return of the Louisbourg Cross from Harvard University to the Fortress of Louisbourg. The cross was taken from the fortress after the siege of 1745 and was given to Harvard University before the end of the 18th century. There have been a number of attempts at having the cross returned this century.

HERITAGE CHRISTMAS

Begun in 1987 in the Rectory. Held in early December. Features a kissing bough, Victorian Christmas tree, cranberry punch, local choirs and carol singing. Open to the entire community.

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