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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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THE FORTRESS OF LOUISBOURG
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The story of 18th-century Louisbourg cannot be told without mentioning war. The town was founded at the end of one war, suffered defeat in a second, and then largely faded from history at the conclusion of a third.
The French came to Louisbourg in 1713, at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession. Under the terms of the treaty that ended that conflict, France ceded to Great Britain its territory in what are now Newfoundland and mainland Nova Scotia. France retained Ile Royale (Cape Breton Island) and Ile St.-Jean (Prince Edward Island).
The settlement that became Louisbourg started out as a simple base for the cod fishery. But as the town prospered and trade grew (with France, the West Indies, Québec, New England, and Acadian settlements in Nova Scotia), Louisbourg developed into one of the most important ports in New France. By the 1730s, more than 150 ships were sailing into Louisbourg harbour every year, making it one of the busiest seaports in North America. By the 1740s, Louisbourgs year-round population ranged from 2,500 to 3,000. Hundreds more arrived during each shipping season.
Because of its economic and commercial importance, Louisbourg emerged as the administrative centre for Ile Royale and Ile St.-Jean. At the same time, Louisbourg became the main French military stronghold in the Atlantic region. As a fortress, it resembled a European fortified town: it was completely enclosed by walls and had batteries and outer works as well. In North American terms, the fortified town ranked among the most heavily defended settlements on the continent.
Louisbourgs inhabitants were mostly French; that is, they were men, women, and children from France, Acadia, the settlements along the St. Lawrence River, or the French West Indies. Yet some of the people of Louisbourg also came from other cultures. The town was home to several hundred Basques, as many as 150 Germans and Swiss, a sizeable number of Africans, and smaller numbers of Irish, English, and occasionally, Mikmaq peoples.
In 1745, after three decades of peace and prosperity, Louisbourg was attacked and conquered by a combined British and New England force. Its citizens were deported to France, and the town was occupied by an enemy army. Four years later, after the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) gave Ile Royale back to France, the French returned to Louisbourg.
For nearly a decade, the inhabitants of Louisbourg once again led peaceful and prosperous lives. Then, during the Seven Years War (1756-63), the British came again. They captured Louisbourg for a second and final time in 1758. Once more, the French soldiers and settlers were sent back to France. With Louisbourg eliminated as a strategic stronghold and naval base, the British went on to conquer Québec (1759) and Montréal (1760). The Treaty of Paris in 1763 confirmed that New France had become part of British America.
The fall of New France spelled the end of Louisbourg as a fortress, of seaport and of community. The once formidable bastion of New France faded quickly from the world scene. The British systematically demolished its fortifications in 1760 and withdrew the last of their garrisons in 1768. For the next century, Louisbourg was little more than an isolated fishing village, remarkable only for its heaps of stones - the ruins of what had once been historic 18th-century Louisbourg.
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