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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




Eric Krause

Historical Records Supervisor,
Fortress of Louisbourg

December 1987

(Fortress of Louisbourg Library
Report Number H F 89)


On 6 October 1959 the Government of John G. Diefenbaker appointed the Honourable I.C. Rand as a one man Royal Commission "to enquire and make recommendations upon certain matters pertaining to [the economic crisis in] the Canadian coal industry." On 31 August 1960 Judge Rand presented his report. In it, he had included a survey of the Cape Breton mines, their history, their current economic decline, and their poor record of high unemployment levels and persistent labour strife.

For Rand, the solution to the island's difficulties lay in the taking of two courses of action. Not surprisingly, one of the strategies, being traditional, was to suggest that government make direct assistance available to Cape Breton's surviving mines to ensure their continued operation. The other proposal, however, was less conventional. It, instead, recognized the need "to build up alternative means of productive wealth" in the Sydney-Glace Bay-Louisbourg area. Here, where the mines dominated the local economy, the threat of further reductions in the volume of coal to be brought to the surface for sale was real. To reduce this reliance upon a single extractive industry, Rand thought that Cape Bretoners should, instead, more fully exploit the natural, historical and cultural assets of the island. Some of the resources that came immediately to his mind included forestry, sport fishing, animal husbandry, and tourism.

Of the sixteen recommendations in the report, two directly addressed the issue of "introducing new wealth into Cape Breton." The first proposed the establishment of a Trade School and a Vocational School in the Sydney area to provide the youth with a "means to become skilled in the techniques of today." The second was as follows:

That beginning not later than in the year 1961 work on a scheme of reconstructing the ruins of the Fortress of Louisbourg as an historic site be commenced and that it be carried through to an appropriate completion; that assistance be given to the Government of Nova Scotia in completing a modern highway between Louisbourg and Point Tupper as incidental to the reconstruction of the site; that at the same time measures be taken to exploit fully the attraction possibilities of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park; that both projects be planned in substantial dimensions to extend over a period of from 15 to 20 years, during each of which not less than approximately an expenditure of $1,5000,000 will be contemplated.

In Rand's own words, "what is proposed will be not only of economic benefit to the island; it will introduce elements to regenerate its life and outlook, dissolve the climate of drabness and let into human hearts and intelligence the light of new interests, hopes and ambitions. Mechanical industry remains uncertain , but there are pursuits of deeper purpose lying within the will and action of people and governments." Accordingly, for him a "symbolic reconstruction of the Fortress of Louisbourg" made as much educational as economic sense because of its potential "as a revelation of European life of that century and a reminder of the vicissitudes of North America's development."

In reconstructing Louisbourg, Rand thought that "not each item in the total scene ...[had to] appear but sufficient [should] to furnish a comprehensive representation of the material and cultural forms set up in a strange land inviting settlement." In other words, he was saying that it was possible to selectively rebuild Louisbourg with enough examples to explain the total of its 18th century history. Whether Rand held any reservations or foresaw any problems with the concept of reconstruction as an accurate forum for presenting historical evidence, he did not state it in his report. However, as time would prove, the question of authenticity was to become the focal point of much debate among those involved in the Louisbourg project.

In actual fact, Rand was quite aware of some of the problems which the practical application of historical reconstruction theory could create. However, the high degree of optimism which he encountered in the special studies that he had solicited as background material from the National Parks Branch of the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources probably whisked away any except the most obvious of possible reservations he may have held. For example, according to one of the reports:

There ... [were] limitations to the present day reconstruction of works built over two centuries ago. These, however ... [were] not insurmountable because numerous sources of information exist.... 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.

The report also maintained that "none of the reconstruction considered to be necessary for the successful restoration of Louisbourg present[ed] ... any difficulty with the exception of certain items of interior furnishing and interior finishes of some buildings .... Prior knowledge ...would resolve all ... building construction difficulties."

Even when the report made mention of deviations from the department's stated goal that "the restoration work ... [was] to be done in an authentic manner," it stressed that "all of these deviations ...[were] but minor and of [sic] vital importance to the success of the restoration." Some examples of the compromises which the authors of the report thought were necessary included the placing of [visible] fire hydrants, the substitution of portland cement for a weaker lime mortar, mild steel [for wrought iron], and the introduction of hidden modern techniques such as a water distribution system, drainage, pilings, reinforced concrete footings, gravel fills, membrane waterproofings, and wooden materials pressure treated with preservatives. To the authors, the application of the "techniques and skills of modern engineering science" in such instances were "essential for good and lasting results." In fact, they concluded,

Truly the work proposed will be stronger and better built than the original. It will be built as envisaged by the early designers, of them as of men today their grasp exceeded their reach. Too, the Fortress will be built as was seen by the attackers, as a strong and formidable redoubt. It will be a true restoration.

This general optimism can also be found in the author's proposed definition of in an "authentic manner" as the guiding principle for rebuilt features. As they wished to clarify,

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. The temptation to make concessions for speed or convenience will exist, particularly so if the problem to be solved, or the information to be gathered, is particularly difficult. This tendency must be resisted and much will be done to reinforce the desire for a really true restoration if thorough and persistent research is continued prior to, and throughout the building program. 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 detract from the original appearance, nor should the visitors' pleasure be spoiled by construction components that are obviously not in true perspective.

While admitting that historical compromise might be necessary on occasion , the authors of the report were hopeful that "all work ... [could] be done with a high degree of skill and of such workmanship as to provide a first class product of long life expectancy ... [and that] hand labour ... [could] be used in preference to machines wherever practical throughout the project." They also felt that it was essential to maintain the [historical] "environment or atmosphere of the restoration .... In a sense intangible...," a proper environment, to their mind, had "to resemble the original ... be of original type ..." and be void of "incongruous" or "extraneous" features like "parking facilities within the fortress " or like the existing 1930's museum, whenever there was a "practical alternative."

Unlike Rand's suggested plan for a partial reconstruction, the recommendation that came out of the Department was for a "reasonably complete restoration" spread over 20 years. At an estimated cost of 40 million dollars, this was substantially higher than the amount which Rand's had suggested in his proposed construction schedule. While the authors of the two reports were no doubt convinced that their respective funding levels were sufficient to achieve their own particular reconstruction goals, they cautioned, nevertheless, that they had based their figures on at least two important assumptions.

The first was that "labour and material costs ... [would] not increase appreciably over the period of [the ] reconstruction." The other, interestingly from an historical point of view, was that they had made "no plans for heating the buildings other than ...[by methods] originally used. If more conventional, efficient and positive heating methods ...[were ever] entertained, a substantial sum could be imagined."

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