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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


Fortress of Louisbourg ~ Forteresse-de-Louisbourg

Mi’kmaq Trail

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Panel 1 - Mi'kmaq Trail

Circular walk to look-off, about 15 minutes

Panel 2 - The Mi'kmaq

For untold generations much of the Maritimes was the exclusive domain of the Mi'kmaq. The territory was divided in seven districts.

Cape Breton Island was Unama'kik. Life was centred on the Bras d'Or Lake for travel and food.

The Mi'kmaq harvested resources inland and along the coast. They knew well the land and its waterways. They travelled along the coast in ocean-going canoes and, later, in European boats.

Panel 3 - A First Nation Society

The Mi'kmaq are a vital part of today's Nova Scotia. Living in 13 major communities, they number about 10,000 individuals.

The values that guided their ancestors remain important, passed on by elders to younger generations. The family was - and is - the most important unit in Mi'kmaw society. Family and marital ties knit the communities closely together.

The Mi'kmaq used hieroglyphs as graphic symbols, from at least the 1600s and likely earlier. French missionaries later adapted hieroglyphs for religious purposes. This document from 1739 - in Mi'kmaq, French and hieroglyphs - discusses a code of punishment.

Panel 4 - The Mi'kmaq and Louisbourg

Though the Louisbourg coast is not thought to have been the site of a village, the Mi'kmaq were familiar with the area.

In 1593, the English crew of the Marigold encountered Mi'kmaq at or near this harbour. The log reads: "wee founde certain round pondes artificially made by [the Native people] to keepe fish in, with certaine weares in them to take fish." The encounter ended abruptly, with the English firing muskets at the Mi'kmaq.

During the time the French were at Louisbourg, the Mi'kmaq visited the fortified town. Some came to discuss military affairs with the governor; others to trade or to baptise children. In 1737 a chief was buried at Louisbourg with military honours.

Panel 5 - Alliance

The Mi'kmaq were among the first of North America's Aboriginal peoples to encounter Europeans. From the days of Grand Chief Membertou in the early 1600s through to the fall of Louisbourg in 1758, the Mi'kmaq and French enjoyed a close relationship. Representatives from both sides renewed the alliance annually.


For 150 years the Mi'kmaq resisted British expansion into their homeland. Near Louisbourg in 1745, 77 Mi'kmaq and 80 French battled several hundred New Englanders until forced to retreat from lack of ammunition. In 1757, hundreds of Mi'kmaq and other First Nations came to Louisbourg's aid when there was a threatened British attack.


Where the French established an alliance with the Mi'kmaq without ever signing treaties, the British preferred to sign formal documents for peace. The most notable of several Mi'kmaq-British treaties is that signed in 1752, which was entered into by Jean-Baptiste Cope and other Mi'kmaq leaders. The treaty has been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada. It is renewed on October 1 of each year with a ceremony in Halifax.

Panel 6 - Spirituality and Religion

Soon after the French came to Port-Royal in 1605, Grand Chief Membertou led the Mi'kmaq to embrace Roman Catholicism. Ste. Anne, Christ's grandmother (and therefore an elder), quickly became a beloved patron saint. Acceptance of Christianity did not mean that traditional spirituality disappeared.

French missionaries - Abbé Pierre Maillard is the best-known - often lived among the Mi'kmaq. First at Malagawatch and then at Chapel Island, Maillard devoted his life to the Mi'kmaq.

One of the most spiritual places for the Mi'kmaq of the Maritimes is Chapel Island, on the Bras d'Or Lake. This site has strong links with missionaries of the Louisbourg period, especially Abbé Maillard.

The French erected Chapel Island's first church in 1750. There have been five replacement churches since. The island is the site of an annual, late-July Ste-Anne's Day mission, which attracts Mi'kmaq from across Canada and from the United States. Chapel Island is sometimes described as the Mi'kmaq "capital."

Panel 7 - The Eight-Pointed Star

The eight-pointed star is a symbol which has been used by the Mi'kmaq for centuries. It is a symbol for the Sun, which was a powerful figure in traditional spiritual life. Early missionaries remarked on the great spirituality of the Mi'kmaq, as they would salute the Sun both at its rising and its setting.

The eight-pointed star has countless variations. It has been found as a petroglyph tracing at a rock art site in Bedford, dating back more than 500 years. It appears as a common design motif on 19th-century quillwork, and today continues to enjoy widespread popularity.

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