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Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada
THE LOUISBOURG PROJECT:
COMMITTEES, TEAMS, AND COMPROMISE
Fortress of Louisbourg
September 23, 1988
In several important respects, the Louisbourg Project (1961 - 1982) was unique in the annals of Canadian Reconstruction History, but its best known contribution was perhaps in the area of decision making, where the Project emphasized a multi-discipline approach. As a methodology, the bringing to bear of diverse expert views upon each and every construction issue was an honest attempt to produce an accurate, though partial, rebuilding of 18th Century Louisbourg. Unfortunately, the lines for communicating these ideas and the mechanism for reconciling strongly held but conflicting opinions did not function very well in the first nunber of years.
By way of single
example, the historians and the General Consultant were stationed in Ontario
near the documentary evidence, but the archaeologists and the Project Manager
were far distant, in Louisbourg at the Project site itself Clearly, as an aid
for resolving the inevitable misunderstandings which were to arise over the
application of conflicting evidence, the distance factor was a decided hindrance.
When added to the larger mix, that of the Project's failure to meet
pre-conceived-construction deadlines or unrealistic budgetary levels, or to
solve interpretative disputes involving questions of safety, cost effectiveness
and degree of authenticity, the clashes between the Research component, the
Project Manager, the General Consultant, the Engineers, the Bureaucrats outside
Louisbourg and later, the Park
Superintendent, threatened to destroy the multi-discipline approach itself.
(II) COMMITTEES AND TEAMS
Today, the Fortress still practices the solution which it devised to solve the dual problem of communication and conflicting viewpoint. Known today as the Structural Design Team, it evolved out of a decision in 1965-1966 to implement a committee system at Louisbourg. In summary form, once an asset had been designated for reconstruction, two key committees came to be struck:
(A) FULL COMMITTEE
DESIGN TEAM[S] - (NOTE: The Number of Structural Design Teams
at Work at any One Time Could Vary. So Could Membership.)
When in 1982 the Park became operational, the developmental stage ceased. With the decision not to undertake any new construction initiatives , the need for the Full Committee disappeared, and it was dissolved. However, the commitment to a multi-discipline approach in Louisbourg's decision making process has continued strong. As a result, in an expanded format, the Committee System has remained intact, with new evolving mandates. As a management tool, these committees now oversee activities which vary from the presentation of the site to the design of furnishings and the setting of standards.
The Structural Design Team has also continued to operate, as a forum for communicating ideas and resolving conflict though now with a revised mandate. In this new scheme, it continues to focus upon design but now from a maintenance rather than from a construction point of view. In addition, its members are quite involved in writing up technical standards for maintaining designed and as found assets. While uncertain as to the degree of new compromise which ought to be introduced into the historical environment, its access to the minutes of the Structural Design Team and Full Committee, or to the original construction drawings, Archaeological "As Founds" or Photo Records in the Archives, has provided the Team with the necessary guidance regarding post-developmental stage decisions.
For the first number of years, until 1968, the Department made no formal attempt to define a dictionary-like meaning of "authenticity' [beyond to say that to be authentic was to be accurate]. Without this precision, historical accuracy thus came to mean different things to different people. As a result, the goal, that Louisbourg be an "authentic" reconstruction, proved as often a battleground as a guiding principle.
To have achieved a totally "authentic" structure or landscape, the Fortress of Louisbourg would have had to replicate its line, level and fabric 100 percent, without exception. However, as a working principle, no one regarded such a concept as realistic. More importantly, as future events would show, was the Projects decision to adhere to the less dogmatic bench-mark that called for rebuilding "as accurately as possible".
Since 1961, it has been motherhood to state that the key to accuracy at Louisbourg was research and that the work in progress was "authentic." However, in reality, this claim was false. For example, because the "authenticity" standard of the Canadian Parks Service has always allowed for modem intrusions, normally in hidden places, the Project has never, in all its facets, been obliged to respect the historical line, level, and/or fabric of assets. As a result it should not be surprising to learn that the Project sometimes chose not to apply known factual or interpretative evidence.
stated, the Louisbourg Project operated between 1961 and 1968 without benefit of
any formalized, written Departmental reconstruction policy. As a result, it often found itself in virgin territory, setting standards as it proceeded. Indeed, when a general Parks-wide Policy Statement did issue in 1968, Louisbourg's contribution to the reconstruction section is quits obvious:
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 old on the original site
Thus, cost, sound
engineering, and public safety considerations were acceptable reasons for
compromise. Unfortunately, since this statement set neither measurable standards nor bench-marks that would have limited the degree of such interventions at Louisbourg, the danger that subjectivity and power politics might dominate the decision making process was always a real possibility. That this happened as rarely as it did was a tribute to the strength of Louisbourg's Committee System and to the representative disciplines which constituted this structural design process. As a result, common sense guided by the principle of rebuilding Louisbourg as accurately as possible was what finally came to tie the decision makers together.
In essence, then, that which constituted an acceptable level of compromise for rebuilt Louisbourg became the ground of battle. At one extreme of the "authenticity" question were those who abhorred compromise. At the other end were those who saw compromise of any type as a necessary evil. In between was the larger body, those who tried to minimize the number and impact of such interventions. With each of them vying for the ear of their superior, small "p" political pragmatism was to prove to be the final decision maker. Louisbourg was to be rebuilt within budget; productivity was to be the measure; compromise the tool.
(A) REASONS FOR COMPROMISE, WITH SOME EXAMPLES
(1) Harsh Climatic Conditions:
(2) Cost Effectiveness:
(3) To ensure Long Life And Low Maintenance:
(5) Concealment Argument
(6) Fire Protection:
In 1979, the
Department issued a new Parks Policy which abandoned not only the "nuts and
bolts" line, level and fabric approach for defining "authenticity" but as well the justification
for departures from historical accuracy only for reasons of over-tiding necessity. Indeed, a
reconstruction was simply now an "accurate reproduction of historic structures or objects." In
essence, built-asset policy had once again returned to its pre-1968 days when the bench-mark
for assessing "authentic" structures was so general as to be without objective definition. For
the Louisbourg maintenance programme of today, the pitfalls of such a policy are many. Rot,
deterioration, technical failures, and high replacement costs are but some of the reasons being
given for the accelerated need to compromise. Surely, will not someone some day cry out:
"Louisbourg, I Know Thee Not."