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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)

Copyright © Parks Canada/Parcs Canada


According to the Superintendent, John Lunn, one of the weaknesses of the reconstruction process prior to 1966 was that there was a

tendency for interests and loyalties to develop on a section-orientated, rather than a Project- orientated basis. Within sections themselves similar developments can be detected at the unit level. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with such developments, but they are not without their dangers. The most serious of these dangers - lack of adequate communi- cation between disciplines - has in many peoples opinions adversely influenced Project productivity, and the validity of our results, for far too long. Clearly more effective dialogue is required than has previously been the case.

As a result, in 1965-1966 the project decided to introduce a formalized committee system into its decision making process. Cutting across section lines, it was to assimilate information, resolve differences, and initiate planning and reconstruction. While this new system quickly proved its worth, improving both the lines of communication and the approach to approval, decisions nevertheless continued to made in the absence of any comprehensive departmental policy statement as to the precise meaning of authenticity. Notwithstanding this obstacle, the Research Section was still anxious that the work to date at least be validated:

The time is not too far away when people will want to know what criteria influenced our restoration, and it is our obligation to have a detailed and explicit record of what our evidence was, to what extent we diverged from it, and how much we have assumed.

While the General Consultant, Ronald L. Way, admitted that some might accuse him and his wife of pragmatism, he was adamant that they had never "altered ... [their] terms of reference for the project that the reconstruction of Louisbourg should be as authentic as research can make it." Unfortunately, prior to 1968, an official technical standard of authenticity against which to judge such a claim did not exist. As a result, not everyone was as certain as the Way's as to the direction of the project. In fact,

One of the criticisms already publicly voiced concerning Louisbourg's restoration has been to the effect that we may have saved practically nothing that was original. This, you may recall, was the substance of a question raised in Parliament not so long ago .... Amongst some purists in the historic sites field, Louisbourg is faulted because it is, perforce, so much a reconstruction. This criticism makes it all the more important that we re-use whatever we can of the French stones .... [Some others, however,] cannot agree to the re-use of these original stones on the grounds that they are not as perfect as newly-cut stones would be. When faced with my statement that no structural weakness was possibly involved, he admitted that this was [so,] yet added that it was contrary to his principles to incorporate these old stones .... To me this is unthinkable because true restoration is inseparable from preservation.

On 23 and 24 October, 1967, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada gave its final approval to a National Historic Sites Policy. Subsequently tabled in the House of Commons by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in March of 1968, the new Policy stressed the point that "if one has to compromise with history, [one must] ... do it as unobtrusively as possible ....[since] the authenticity or faithful reconstruction of the original is the single most important asset in providing educated enjoyment of a national historic site." To ensure, then, that this goal would be met, the Board approved a quasi stringent standard for structural restoration and reconstruction:

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. Restoration or reconstruction will in all instances be carried out on the original site.

According to the standard, prior to any departure from the 18th century norm, every effort to be authentic had to be first "carefully considered and rejected." Also to be regarded as a governing principle was the American National Trust for Historic Preservation Policy that "it is better to preserve than repair, better to repair than restore, better to restore than reconstruct."

At the same time, the new Policy maintained that it had set a research standard that was to act as not only the "foundation" for the sound development of any National Historic Site, but as the proof of the "authenticity or faithfulness of ...[the Department's} work." As written,

It is the policy that no plan for development of an historic place shall be implemented until every reasonable step has been taken to determine its potential through documentary, architectural and archaeological research, and, further, that no development activity shall take place until relevant research of the above nature has been carried out .

In two respects then (the instance upon proper research and factual evidence), the new Policy ought to have left little doubt as to the meaning of authenticity in the reconstruction process. For instance, a claim to historical accuracy should have now meant that projects such as Louisbourg had adhered, whenever possible, to the original line or form (aesthetics) of a physical object; to its original level or 3D dimensions; and to its original fabric or intrinsic make-up (composition). Unfortunately, this standard also permitted, in the same breath, a theoretically unlimited proficiency to ignore its own definition of authenticity.

For example, the Policy Statement did not provide a measurable meaning for the terms "over-riding necessity," and "substantially increasing." As a result, any designer or builder who wished to justify a modern intervention as necessary, or to theorize about the expected increased life expectancy of a structure, needed only convincing engineering or cost arguments to proceed. Just as was common practice before the new Policy, compromise continued as an operative reconstruction tool afterwards. As such, the decision making process was to greatly dilute the policing power which the line, level and fabric rule could have provided over the reconstruction programme at Louisbourg and elsewhere.

In the preamble to the standards section, the new Policy set out some of the broad, liberal provisions for justifying a departure from the use of authentic materials and methods. There it addressed the questions of prohibitive costs, the want of proper materials, and the introduction of special techniques to enhance visitor enjoyment as reasons for compromise. As a result, the Park Superintendent, John Lunn was able to state the following with all confidence:

Finally, it should be remembered that this Project is not committed to a policy calling for the best and most accurate results possible regardless of such delays as this may involve. Nor is it committed to design and construction by a series of deadlines, regardless. It is committed to the most accurate restoration possible within the time and with the expenditures authorized. These latter two points are known, and my master plan reflects them ....

At the First National Conference of the Engineering and Architectural Group, one of the speakers confirmed that

Our terms of reference have really only been formalized in recent months. I think most people have a copy of the National Historic Sites Policy Statement. That, in essence, formalizes for the first time the terms of reference by which we must operate. They are our terms of reference and also your terms of reference. These have to be modified and adjusted to take account of the unusual situations that will prevail from time to time and I think we recognize this. These are the terms of reference by which we operate.

Within months of this admission that the new Policy might not hold all the answers, Louisbourg quickly proved that point. In general, the Policy Statement had been cause for a renewed interest in the idea of stabilization. Accordingly, at Louisbourg, John Lunn, in remarks to the Regional Engineer, would state:

You are aware that, faced as we are with an imperative need to preserve visible aspects of excavated features, we have been giving the whole matter of stabilisation significant experiment and study.

At the same time, Lunn also recognized that the new Policy "governing the retention of historic features" did not blend readily with stated engineering requirements. For example,

all representatives of the Research Section would like to go far farther than any engineer ... [who] will build as close to the margins permitted by the building code as possible but his profession will not allow him beyond these limits.

Nonetheless, according to Lunn, as "in the case of structures to which the public should have access, ... [he was] by no means convinced that the Branch's engineers ...[had] made an adequate survey of the techniques that may be available in the international field."

In other words, given the sophisticated techniques then available in the outside world, Lunn reasoned that the project's engineers could preserve through stabilization even more original features than they thought possible. In addition, where the public faced no danger, he thought they could save an original feature by following authentic techniques like raking and pointing, even if these procedures should produce some inherent instability in the near future. In contrast to this assertion that other choices were available, Engineering's viewpoint was that only one thing was obvious to them:

that restoration placed conflicting demands on us. On the one hand, we want authentic restoration and on the other hand, we want to enforce modern code requirements. The fact has to be admitted that we have to make compromises and come up with a safe and authentic design.

In the Spring of 1972, the Training Manual for the guides at Louisbourg outlined, among other things, the reconstruction process that they were to communicate to the visiting public. In part, that meant their recognition of the fact that Canada's 1968 Historic Sites Policy made allowances for concealed departures from "historical correctness" in the areas of line, level and fabric. According to the manual, the demands which the factors of safety, heating, increased strength, or cost reduction could place upon any project made this type of compromise "inevitable." At the same time, its guides were to convey the fact that the project adhered to the preservation standard of the American National Trust For Historic Preservation. As such, they were to inform the public that Louisbourg was trying "to incorporate as many original features as possible into the reconstructed buildings."

In 1973, a Task Force, formed at the request of the Director General, issued its draft recommendations for a development and operational plan for the Fortress of Louisbourg. Among the advice it gave was "that the development should [continue to] adhere to the original Cabinet minute [of 1961] on the purpose of the restoration," and that

Louisbourg must be a credit to Canada. Development must therefore be carried out so that it will stand comparison with similar restorations, for which the criteria include accuracy, authenticity, sensitivity and effectiveness, both of reconstructed features and their interpretation .... In decisions involving these criteria, objective considerations based on demonstrable evidence and the practical use to which the feature is to be put, should have priority over subjective, personal or aesthetic considerations. Accuracy and authenticity should, where possible, have priority over any plan which has only expediency or personal preference to recommend it. Every possible attempt should be made to preserve original archaeological features as well as to incorporate them into the fabric of the reconstruction .... Compromises in design or authenticity for reasons of safety, security, or fire safety have been, and will be, kept to a minimum - in all cases to be in accord with the integrity of the original building.

As late as 1977, the Park Superintendent, John Fortier, could still affirm, in the prestigious UNESCO periodical, Museum, that it was "the policy of Parks Canada that all buildings be faithfully reconstructed in 'line, level and materials." Notwithstanding, in only 2 years Parks Canada would completely revise its former standard. In particular, it no longer made mention of "line, level and fabric" as the basis for determining the meaning of authenticity. Even so, proponents of the 1979 Policy were to maintain that "whereas before [the new policy] it appeared that commemoration and resource preservation held equal sway, the pendulum ... [had now] swung clearly towards resource protection ... through the three possible resource treatments ... [of] preservation, restoration and reconstruction."

While it was clear that Parks Canada had designed its Policy Statement of 1979 to "guide the future direction of the Parks Canada program", less clear was its view as to as to what constituted an accurate historical reconstruction. This confusion arose because the benchmarks for assessing authentic structures were now so general as to be without definition. For example, in way of clarification, the new Policy offered the following advice:

(1) "and where necessary, by accurately restoring or reconstructing aspects essential to an understanding of the sites's history"

(2) "reconstruction: accurate reproduction of historic structures or objects"

(3) "when sufficient historical and architectural data exist to permit an authentic reconstruction"

Like many of the remarks of 1961, when the Louisbourg Project first began, and those of 1968, when the first formal Statement on the reconstruction process was issued, the 1979 Policy Statement was adamant that "research ... [was] the key to accuracy in all work related to national historic parks." Unfortunately, in the kindred processes of reconstruction and maintenance of historical assets, this assertion remained too often suspect in actual practice. As a result, after 1979, as after 1961, in the case of the Louisbourg project for example, the authenticity spirit continued to move Parks Canada's decision makers in way different from that of its research staff.

For one thing, the fact that the meaning of authenticity was once again without any definition meant that being true to the past was open to a broad range of interpretations. For another, the question had to be asked now whether the continued use of the measurable 1968 "line, level and fabric" standard was any longer relevant; and, most importantly, was Parks Canada obliged to adhere to the 1968 or to any other standard in the maintenance of reconstructed assets built to an earlier approved level of quality?

On 31 March 1982, the Reconstruction or Developmental Phase of the Louisbourg Project officially ended. On the next day, the Fortress of Louisbourg, National Historic Park, became officially operational. From that moment, the thrust of the park's General Works programme has concentrated on the maintenance of reconstructed assets.

Like those associated with the previous phase of physical development, those now within the maintenance programme have also vacillated in their attitude towards the application of factual evidence. As in the past, the reasons have remain the same. In particular, approved funding levels have continued to loom large in the decision making process; compromises have resulted, only this time they have affected existing rather than proposed as built resources.

As of 1987, a new Policy Statement is in the works. Hopefully, it will address the critical problem of both the day-to-day and the long-term maintenance of reconstructed resources built at great cost to the taxpayer. Hopefully, too, it will not only protect the historical accuracy of Canada's built heritage, such as it is, but will also encourage improvement where necessary. To succeed, it will also have to provide a measurable standard for defining authenticity in an exacting manner. Otherwise, those responsible for Canada's reconstructed past will have little defense in combatting the strong outside forces that now threaten its survival.

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