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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


A.J.B. Johnston, The Summer of 1744: A Portrait of Life in 18th-Century Louisbourg (Ottawa: National Sites, Parks Service, Environment Canada. 1991)


Louisbourg and Isle Royale An Explanatory Note

The colony of Isle Royale (which included modern Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island) was founded by the French in 1713 in the aftermath of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-13). With Nova Scotia and Newfoundland ceded to Great Britain by the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht, France established the new colony with three major goals in mind: first, to be able to continue to exploit the valuable cod fishery; second, to develop a trading and transhipment centre for intercolonial and transatlantic trade, and third, to maintain a strategic base in the region. Within a few years of the establishment of Isle Royale, Louisbourg became the economic, strategic and administrative centre of the new colony.

Isle Royale was but one of numerous regions or sub-colonies which made up the larger colony of New France. The most populous and best- known of the regions was Canada, the area along the St. Lawrence from Montreal to just north of Quebec City. After 1713 other regions included Labrador, Louisiana, the Postes du Roi (from La Malbaie to Sept-Iles on the north shore of the St. Lawrence), the Pays d'en Haut or interior, and the "Western Sea." It was too vast a territory to be administered directly from Quebec City where the governor- general and intendant resided, so each sub-colony had its own government. In the case of Isle Royale, the senior positions in the government were a govemor or commandant and a commissaire-ordonnateur, who generally corresponded directly with their superior in France, the minister of the Marine.

Although a formal colony was not established on Cape Breton until 1713, fishermen from France and other European countries had used its harbours on a seasonal basis from at least the early 1500s. The first attempt to begin a permanent settlement occurred in 1629 when a Scot, Lord Ochiltree, erected a fort at Baleine, just north of where Louisbourg would be founded 84 years later. Ochiltree's fort was destroyed by Charles Daniel, a French captain, soon after it was built. Daniel, that same summer of 1629, established a fort and small community of his own at St. Ann's, Cape Breton. The settlement there lasted about a dozen years. During the latter half of the 17th century Nicholas Denys established a small settlement, including a fort, at St. Peters. Fire destroyed that tiny community in 1668 and there were no colonizing efforts on the island before the founding of Isle Royale in 1713. At that time it was reported that there was but a single Frenchman and 25 to 30 Micmac families on the island.

The settlement party that sailed to Louisbourg in 1713 numbered about 250 men, women and children. By 1734 Louisbourg's military and civilian population was recorded to be 1683; three years later it was over 2000. There are no census data on the town for the 1740s but its population in 1744 is thought to have been between 2500 and 3000 people, an estimate that does not include the hundreds of sailors and fishermen who came into port during each shipping season.