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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
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"Blogging Our Thoughts"

Posted 3/14/2008]


Louisbourg's accelerated 0 & M maintenance and Re-Capitalization programmes have placed an unfair burden upon the Structural Design and Technical Maintenance Teams as they are presently constituted. Because the Park has charged these two related teams with the responsibility for recommending period solutions to present-day maintenance and re-cap problems, they are the de facto protectors of the historical accuracy of Louisbourg's as-built assets. Unfortunately, these teams today lack a vital player.

From 1961 until 1972, Louisbourg's developmental capital construction phase sputtered along without the services of a resident restoration architect. Problems, which appeared solvable in those early, heady years, simply festered into lingering disputes over time. Then, in 1972, the project hired its first, and to date, only restoration architect. By any standard, he increased the efficiency and effectiveness of the project's effort in dramatic fashion.

In 1982, Louisbourg passed from its developmental to its operational phase. In this new regime, the Park regarded the services of a resident restoration architect as non-essential, and it did not re-write the position. Unfortunately, time has proven this decision flawed, and shortsighted. Once again, Louisbourg's 0 & M and Capital programmes are displaying many of the same characteristic shortcomings of the pre-1972 era: work delays; unsure actions; inappropriate, spurious, or creative designs, communication gaffes, misunderstandings, and re-inventions of the wheel, amongst others.

Since 1983, and for the first time since 1972, a restoration architect has not chaired the Structural Design Team. As a result, the team functions, as it did in the 1960's, much like a ship without its captain. Its crew, though competent, is ignorant of its proper destination, or of what dangers lurk in the waters of historical fact in which it has set sail. Yet, the ship continues on, landing upon one solution after another, hoping that each will stand the test of time and historical scrutiny.

Clearly, if the Structural Design Team is to succeed in achieving its goals, its chairman must be a knowledgeable restoration architect, permanently established, here, with an eager desire to conduct research in the Archives/Library, where the record of Louisbourg's unique construction and architectural heritage is to be found. The job description, responsibilities, and language requirement must be the same as it was as for the previous incumbent, Yvon LeBlanc. The position must also be indeterminate.


In 1962, the Department stated that it was unable to recruit a suitable civil service "Restoration Architect' anywhere in Canada, the United States or Europe, as one was neither available nor ready to move to Louisbourg. (1) As a result, beginning in 1963, Louisbourg decided to contract out many of its period and modern design services to the Canadian, R. Calvert, working out of Toronto, while retaining the Frenchmen, Maurice Berry, President of the "Compagnie des Architectes des Monuments Historiques," as a technical advisor to the project.(2) Calvert, by his own admission, was not a trained restoration architect, while Berry, though well versed in 18th century architecture, was but an occasional visiting architect to Canada, who resided otherwise in France. (3)

In particular, this system displayed serious shortcomings:

(1) While Calvert was the one who prepared the designs, he was not the one who supervised actual construction, be it by contract or by the Department's own forces;(4)

(2) Neither the contract nor the visiting architects had daily, routine contact with the research staff and their findings, nor, for that matter, with each other, since they were not centrally located at Louisbourg. This naturally led to many misunderstandings ;(5)

(3) Calvert, since he was not a trained restoration architect, had to learn his practice on the job. He also had to travel to France on several occasions to acquaint himself with assorted technical details.(6)

With the tendering of the first architectural designs in 1965, the Department, though half-heartedly, again tried to obtain a bilingual resident trained restoration architect to replace the existing Calvert/Berry style contract system. (7) At the same time, it embarked upon developing an architectural capability in Ottawa, with, ultimately, a plan for stationing a restoration architect in Halifax, and architectural "specialists" in Louisbourg.(8) Notwithstanding this undertaking, because of the investment which the Department had made in Calvert and Berry, in terms of money and accumulative expertise, the Department decided to continue with the Contract system until 1968.
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From time to time, exceptional blogs will be transferred from recent postings, or from elsewhere, and placed here at  "Blogging Our Thoughts". Replaced blogs will be archived for future reference.

[Posted 2/18/2008]


In the annals of Canadian reconstruction, the Louisbourg Restoration Project (1961-1982) broke from standard practice in several important areas. Of the changes, perhaps the most innovative departure occurred in its decision making process. For the first time, a reconstruction project actively encouraged a multi-disciplinary team approach. As a sanctioned methodology, the considered viewpoint of diverse experts upon each and every construction issue was nothing short of radical.

In an attempt to cement together this unusual alliance, the project placed a common goal before the different groups: each, in a team format, in its own individual way, was to contribute to an accurate as possible, partial rebuilding of 18th century Louisbourg.

Of these groups, the research component would demand the closest adherence to historical accuracy. Its official role, to define research standards, was to ensure an authentic reconstruction. Not surprisingly, its viewpoint often placed it in opposition to other groups, and, in particular, to those wishing to introduce modern intrusions.

In order to define these historical standards, research had to both develop and participate in processes. Process is therefore the main topic of this discussion.

Well-grounded and justifiable historical premises lie in the presentation of reconstructed Louisbourg. In process is found an instrument for demonstrating this fact.

Historical compromise is also a fact of reconstructed Louisbourg. In example, however, their numbers are low relative to those numbers authentic. Notwithstanding, they serve a useful function, revealing a certain mind-set and room for improvement.

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[Posted 2/18/2008]

As I stated earlier, Louisbourg is not the Jurassic Park of the reconstruction world. Yet, Louisbourg was to be an experiment, a model of the past to be built as accurately as possible. But the fact that the increasing pressure to compromise will surely kill off the experiment is not to say that an experiment without compromise was ever possible. Clearly, a 100 percent accurate reconstruction, from a philosophical, evidential and practical point of view, was never possible, nor was ever attempted.

On the other hand, Louisbourg, without the restraint of an agreed-upon "accuracy" benchmark, has continuously metamorphosed, with each subsequent change "less accurate " in general thrust (despite windows of opportunity) than the previous one. If we continue to treat our reconstructions as we have in the past, I think that one result is obvious: Louisbourg will become an example, perhaps even a profitable example, of a theme park where glitter rather than substance rules.

Ironically, before that happens, given present pressures to adapt, the Fortress Site might even end up full circle, to attain again that which it had once before, in the 1930's. Then, Louisbourg was an important player in a movement now known as the romantic approach to the presentation of Canadian history. In this scenario, buildings may look historical, as does the Louisbourg 1935-1936 Museum, but improvements would merely reflect the antique flavour of the fortress without any concern for any dogmatic scientific presentation of site specific evidence.

 [More of this blog by Eric Krause ~ Another Web]



[Posted 2/18/2008]


What could easily become known as the Primedia Debacle is merely one of a number of disturbing examples contributing to a growing trend to compromise the historic site in the name of achieving one end or another. These ends, I think, be they increased visitor numbers or comfort or even revenue are admirable but without an overriding, identifiable philosophical bench mark as a basis for our actions, the means by which we achieve our goals may vary almost at will.

The reference bench mark with respect to physical development and intellectual interpretation of the site has always been "authenticity." In physical matters, "authenticity" has meant a healthy respect for what research has established to have been the 18th century "line, level and fabric" of objects, be they buildings, reproductions or antiques. If "line, level and fabric" was also to have a spring of 1745 date in the reconstruction process.

Intellectual interpretations were also to be "authentic" or as "authentic as possible." Fact (truth), or at the least what research thought that to be, was the bench mark to which claims of "authenticity" in our interpretation programme were to refer. As a general rule, the facts were to reflect the summer of 1744. Special animated portrayals of events which occurred at Louisbourg in years other than 1744, also now seem appropriate, whenever desired and feasible .

To sum up the discussion to this point, the overriding, identifiable philosophical bench mark upon which physical and intellectual interpretations of historic Louisbourg are based is "authenticity." Secondly, "authenticity" is defined by reference to known or reasoned facts (truth) at a given period in the history of 18th century Louisbourg.

The thin edge of the wedge that threatens to distort the "authenticity" of historic Louisbourg is actually double edged and has affected both the physical and intellectual interpretation of the site. In the first instance, insufficient maintenance funding levels have seriously compromised the "as built " line, level and fabric" of our buildings. In the second instance (with one glaring example in our physical interpretation programme) it is fiction which threatens to undermine the "authentic" presentation of historic Louisbourg.

The maintenance programme was originally envisioned as a process to preserve the "as built" lines, levels and fabrics" to their presumed spring of 1745 appearance. Predictably, the passage of time has proven this goal to be folly as our reconstructed buildings themselves began to age naturally. Nevertheless, the assumption remained that despite the deteriorating appearance of our buildings, at the least, the integrity of "as built" "line, level and fabric" would be protected during the maintenance process.

At the moment, the maintenance process revolves around the excuse, real or imagined, that in certain instances "as built" features will not be brought back to their original "as built" lines, levels and fabrics during a major maintenance operation. Rather, repairs will be effected as required, though the result will always be in keeping with traditional 18th century methods.

Clearly, the above process compromises the Louisbourg definition of "authenticity" when that bench-mark is tied to a particular date but not when it is linked to the development of Louisbourg in general. The question to resolve in light of National Historic Site Policy that "in restoration and reconstruction of historic structures that line, level and fabric shall be as true to the original as possible" and "that departure from this rule shall be justified by over-riding necessity or for the purpose of substantially increasing the life expectancy of the structure, and only then when modern materials and techniques can be effectively concealed" is:

Do we maintain the 1745 date and hence the "as-built" "line, level and fabric" "authenticity"?
Or do we maintain the 1745 date for justifying which buildings or features were reconstructed but choose traditional 18th century repair.
The other edge to the wedge introduces the concept of fiction to the historic town. Some fiction is unavoidable - such as smoke and heat detectors - some is avoidable but placed for creature comfort - washroom signs some is policy, to further historical interpretation modern exhibit settings and others are inappropriate or outright mistakes rivetted hinges or error-ridden interpretations. The problem here is defining the line that separates the proper use of fiction at the expense of non-fiction.

 [More of this blog by Eric Krause ~ Another Web]

Last Update / Dernière mise à jour: June 19, 2017 12:01