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Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada
WHAT TO DO WITH OUR AGEING
AUTHENTICITY AND THE MEETING OF CHALLENGES
Fortress of Louisbourg
APT Talk: Ottawa, October 1, 1993
(Fortress of Louisbourg Library Report Number 97296-08)
The optimist sees in our ageing reconstructions an opportunity to increase levels of historical accuracy; the pessimist, a losing battle to save an old friend. Then there are those who view a reconstruction, whether new, old, or proposed, as but a modern asset, devoid of cultural resource value.
In order to plan a pro-active course of action for our ageing reconstructions, we must first understand three things: what reconstructions are, not what we say they are; why we view them as we do; and how they became that way. As a case example, I will use the Fortress of Louisbourg where I have worked as an historian and archivist since 1972.
DEFINING A LOUISBOURG
First of all, no matter what you have been told, or want to believe, Louisbourg is not the Jurassic Park of the reconstruction world. That is, it is not, and was never intended to be a 100 percent accurate reflection of a previous moment in time.
Secondly, contrary to popular belief, its "as built" assets are not stuck in the year 1744, or, for that matter, mired in any particular year, whether of the 18th century or of the 20th.
Like the 1990's, the 1960's, the 70's, and the 80's were equally challenging times, with their own budgetary restrictions, requiring us to adapt our building practices, or else face the wrath of the gods above.
OUR VIEW OF A LOUISBOURG RECONSTRUCTION
Part of the business of Louisbourg, according to past, as well as proposed Canada programme policy, has been to communicate "accurate ... information", to "conduct and encourage basic and applied research to meet its own requirements", and "to learn about the past". Consequently, even as I speak, Louisbourg is planning to implement a long-term directional management plan with mission and vision delivery of service statements which include the following pronouncements:
[Our Mission:] By the year 2010, the Fortress of Louisbourg NHS will be a centre of excellence in the ... presentation of cultural ... resource integrity ... Historical accuracy will be a primary consideration in maintaining the reconstructed buildings, structures and landscapes ...
[Our Vision:] to present a sense of the 18th century past through the reconstructed Fortress ...
With bold statements such as these two, no wonder, even within our own department, there is the continued, but misguided expectation that not only does Jurassic exist at Louisbourg, but also, like Jurassic, it contains, materially-engineered beasts feeding off a limited resource:
This desire [at Louisbourg] to authentically replicate the past has resulted in more frequent replacement and maintenance activities, hence higher costs to the Program.
Statements like this, we have vigorously denied, interestingly, not by arguing for our correctness, but rather by highlighting our accuracy shortcomings. As the recorded minutes of some 30 years of structural design clearly show, every Louisbourg reconstruction reflects not only concessions to the most modern of construction techniques, but also, in varying degrees, deterioration directly associated with modern applications (or their misapplication in some extreme cases). Indeed, it is the performance failures of far too many 20th century materials and techniques, rather than the failures of any 18th century counterpart which has increasingly become the benchmark against which we measure the need to improve.
As a result, whether an 18th century technique, or appropriate material, would have performed as well, or equally as poor, as a modern counterpart remains, too often, a moot point.
HOW LOUISBOURG RECONSTRUCTIONS BECAME WHAT THEY ARE
Louisbourg's concept of an "accurate reconstruction" has evolved continuously over the years, and is still evolving today. Why? Mainly because its decision making process lacked a consistent "nuts and bolts" accuracy standard to which to aim, and by which to judge and gauge results. Thus the Louisbourg Team (whose membership was also in flux) constantly divided over the recurring issue of degree of accuracy; that is, to what degree was Louisbourg, as an example of 3-D applied science, to be a reflection of the current knowledge of the 18th century.
To explain further.
From 1961 until today, Louisbourg's stated working principle, to rebuild as accurately as possible, has meant to compromise when necessary but not necessarily to compromise. In actual fact, over the years, various "challenges", (perceived or otherwise - be they funding levels, political direction, strength of leadership, personality, etc.) have so often caused us to "necessarily compromise" as to give a new dictionary meaning to the word "accurate". A number of watershed statements on the need-to-compromise illustrate this point:
It is believed the restoration should be a replica of the original works and so true or authentic in manner that it will achieve genuine respect from all who visit and appreciate such work ... [but] In the common sense interest of the project, compromise with a true and fixed definition of work as was originally done, will be necessary to ensure stability, long life and minimize maintenance. However, deviation from the principle of replica should not distract from the original appearance, nor should the visitor's pleasure be spoiled by components that are obviously not in true perspective ....
Given time for research, information could be gathered ... [to] produce ... a reasonable authentic pattern for the entire restoration both in exterior appearance and in interior appointment. Any deviation then from an authentic restoration would be negligible.
A successful restoration of Louisbourg can only result from the close co-operation of the Government, the architects, the engineers, the historians and archaeologists, not to mention consultants ... We all have our limitations and it is not always easy to see the forest for the trees. When serious differences of opinion arise, compromise will often be the only practical expedient ...
... the partial restoration of the Fortress of Louisbourg done as accurately as, in the opinion of the minister or of the officer designated by him for this purpose, he shall determine ...
I agree with you that, within reasonable financial expenditures, we should be, say 85% truly accurate and authentic. Anything above that we can properly go to France for the typical and not be censured. I am not prepared to spend say another $100,000.00 to do research and archaeology to make it 86% authentic ....
It is the policy 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 only 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 ....
... and where necessary, by accurately restoring or reconstructing aspects essential to an understanding of the site's history ...
... historic structures or objects ...
... when sufficient historical and architectural data exist to permit an authentic reconstruction ....
Period reconstructions and reproductions are by definition contemporary work and have no a priori historic value ...
Reconstructions and reproductions of past forms should not be confused with what is genuinely the work of the past. Reproductions and reconstructions will be suitably marked so as to distinguish them from the original ....
PLANNING THE FUTURE FOR OUR AGEING RECONSTRUCTIONS
Although CRM relegates all reconstructions in status, it does provide for undefined evaluation mechanisms where some reconstructions may rise in importance above others, either by achieving partial citizenship (known to CRM as level II standing) if the five combined principles of CRM score high enough to deem them "of historic value"; Or, when 40 years or older, by attaining one of two protection levels, where, under Federal Heritage Buildings Policy (FHBRO), combined historical, architectural and environmental criteria score them either "classified" or "recognized", and, hence, a cultural resource.
To be blunt, neither CRM policy (like earlier policy), nor Level II standing, nor FHBRO protection will guarantee Louisbourg a future based on any semblance of historically accurate reconstructions. Indeed, if Louisbourg structures were not to attain level II or FHBRO protection, current rates of compromise would undoubtedly accelerate, though, paradoxically, these same features might receive better intellectual treatment in a regime promoting modern asset protection rather than one purporting to encourage historical accuracy.
Louisbourg's meeting of challenges has proven to be a mind game played out against a backdrop where maximizing historical accuracy never stood a chance. By this I mean, despite the blips we call windows of opportunity where Louisbourg has actually improved historical accuracy, process continues to ignore extant (some of which is quite new) historical evidence rather than to apply it in any scientific manner. With this emphasis on modern adaptations, at some point sooner rather than later, we will surely witness the end of now 30 (plus) years of metamorphic growth. With this change in form complete, the demise of an experiment of applied science, begun in 1961 as the "Louisbourg Restoration Project", will become apparent.
Interestingly, even we at Louisbourg, as our proposed management plan clearly shows, have chosen to ignore this inevitability. Why? The explanation lies in at least the following reasons: Our trades continue to manufacture lines, levels and fabrics of the highest quality; Our unique multi-discipline team approach to structural design and maintenance continues to operate, to provide expert direction; And the critical research findings of the historian, of the archaeologist, and of the restoration architect continue to be heard.
Suffice to say, their efforts are merely postponing the inevitable.
Since 1961, the reconstruction process at Louisbourg has functioned in an atmosphere where, theoretically, it might have chosen a lesser dictionary meaning of accuracy or a more extreme degree of compromise than it has. Yet, that it's factually correct to argue that Louisbourg has to date, in total, generally gotten it MORE RIGHT THAN WRONG is simply a testament to good intentions operating within a set decision making process rather than to any rigorous application of scientific principle.
However, that's not the point.
That, despite its dedication, the Louisbourg maintenance and recapitalization programmes, in intent, are getting it INCREASINGLY WRONG is the point;
That we are INCAPABLE OF MEASURING AND DECLARING HOW WRONG OR HOW RIGHT we really are, is the point; That we make decisions WITHOUT REFERENCE TO AN AGREED-UPON ACCURACY BENCHMARK, is the point; And that some day soon, this accelerating pressure TO USE INACCURATE COMPONENTS will make meaningless the scientific application of known historical evidence at Louisbourg is the point.
CONCLUSION: WHAT TO DO
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.
So, why not give up the "accuracy" charade now, before its too late, agree to a sustainable line, level and fabric "nuts and bolts" standard, and allow for a more innovative and honest reconstructed model.
In a world of 85 percent accuracy, or 50 percent accuracy, or whatever percent chosen, we would demand long-term funding support balanced against known life cycle options. We would define accuracy and inaccuracy by reference to line, level and fabric benchmarks. For example, in such a regime, hidden foundations of concrete rather than of earth-fast wood might prevail, thus reflecting a need to compromise for an over-riding necessity such as to substantially increase the life expectancy of the asset. Balancing off this approach, we might never accept sawn, roofing cedar shingles where split, pine ones were more appropriate. Likewise, we might try to maintain and improve, as new information came available, a set number of structures as accurately as possible, as a scientific experiment, but maintain others to a lesser, but defined, degree of measured accuracy.
Or, we could simply continue to stick our heads in the sand, hope for the best, and expect the worst, as seems to be the trend today.
Note: Slides accompanied the original discussion, but are not included here.