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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




JULY, 1971

(Fortress of Louisbourg
Report H A 13)



Official notice that Verrier was to take charge of the works at Louisbourg arrived on May 1st. The same mail also brought news to the colony of Isabeau's death, though the inhabitants had already known this from a private ship. De Mesy had gone to Isabeau's sister, who was also his procurator during his absence, and had her turn over to Verrier all the plans and drawings in her possession. He then asked Verrier to make out a general account of all work done by Isabeau, but the engineer refused to do so without an order from France. The instructions soon arrived but Verrier did not get around to making the account until the next winter, and it was years before the affairs of the estate were settled.(1)

It was at this point that Gratien d'Arrigrand made his entrance into Louisbourg affairs. His background is particularly interesting in illustrating the motivations of a particular type of person who came to the colonies. When he had served in Placentia he was not without connections, his uncle Daniel d' auger de Subercase had been governor first of Placentia then of Acadia. D'Arrigrand served in Saint Ovide's company until 1705 when he returned to France where he later left the marine for the army. When his father died he was given charge of the estate and hoped to eventually purchase his own company. In the meanwhile he became involved in the speculations which were rife in Paris at the time and which collapsed in 1720. In a letter written almost thirty years later he described what happened afterwards, using the curious third person form often employed at the time:

Paris was brilliant. the pleasures of Eden trapped him as it had many others; he found himself in 1723 with almost nothing, but without regrets; he had to say goodbye to thoughts of buying a company or of rejoining the service, it was not possible to go to the provinces after such a loss; with a bit of talent, knowledge of geography and some math, and with his military experience ... he sought in his mind to restore his fortunes. He had always maintained his contacts with old friends in the Marine of whom there were many in Paris that year, among them Saint Ovide, governor of Isle Royale; everyone sympathized with his loss; one day as several of them were eating together, they proposed that he go with Saint Ovide...that in a new colony there were always good ventures to undertake, they even proposed that he attempt the construction of fortifications which he refused because he knew nothing about contracting .to which they said they didn't mean that but simply that he should find an architect in Paris who was available and that I should form a partnership with him...

The partnership was secret so that only the new contractor's name, François Ganet, appeared on the legal documents. Arrigrand, in the rest of this letter made it seem as though he had been doing the King a favour by taking over construction in Louisbourg and freeing it from the abuses of the past"

The King had already spent more than a million on fortifications and there was not even a hundred thousand livres of work done, it was a pillage.

In order to ensure his investment, Arrigrand also formed a partnership with Jacques d'Espiet de Pensens then a captain at Louisbourg who would obviously assure the smooth running of the contract in Louisbourg.(2) Saint Ovide was not mentioned as one of the participants in the venture, but years later he would be accused of and deny complicity in these arrangements.(3)

Isabeau's death facilitated the securing of the contract for work in Louisbourg for Ganet simply offered his services to the ministry who were anxious that there be as little disruption as possible in the works in progress. He was given a contract for work not included in Isabeau's agreement.(4) Both De Verville and Isabeau's father recommended to Isabeau's sister, Madame Planton, who had been left in charge in Louisbourg, that she make an agreement with the new contractor for the completion of her brother's contract.(5) Ganet then sent word to Charles Vallée, a surveyor in Louisbourg who was acting as his agent, to try and do as much building as possible until he could arrive.(6) Vallée's position in this contract is not evident, but it is known that he was a friend of Saint Ovide's and probably was considered not too involved to have an open connection with the contractor.

Ganet was told that he would have to pay the transportation costs of material necessary for his own contract as well as for works he would do for Isabeau's contract, and officials at Louisbourg were instructed to watch that he did not use Isabeau's materials for his own work.(7) Obviously the transition to a new contractor was not to be an easy one.

A preliminary agreement was reached between Ganet and Isabeau's sister, the widow Planton, but was rescinded on the advice of De Mesy, who accused the new contractor of trying to ruin the poor woman. So that the season would not be lost and the barracks ruined, Ganet finally agreed to a set of propositions drawn up by De Mesy, but after that, he wanted no further dealings with the Isabeau estate.(8) Isabeau's father meanwhile, had second thoughts about his approval of this new contractor, claiming that Ganet had wanted all the estate in return for completing the work, he decided to send one of his sons to finish the contract.(9)

The settlement of the estate produced the three major work-accounts relating to construction of the barracks. One of the accounts dealt with work done by Ganet from 1725 to 1727 for Isabeau's heirs and was chiefly concerned with the south half of the barracks.(10) A second was the definitive statement of work done by Isabeau from 1719 to 1724 and by his heirs from 1725 to 1730, covering not just the Barracks and Bastion, but other government structures, most of which were temporary. The third statement recorded work done in the same period as the second, but dealt only with those items, such as slate, not provided for in the original contract. These statements, compiled long after the fact, were not without error, but they do give an excellent picture of the kind of work which went into the barracks. They are divided into headings concerning the type of work done; excavations, masonry, iron, lead, and locks. All the phases of construction were included under these titles. In the last two work-accounts, which deal mostly with Isabeau's work up to 1724, the dimensions of the masonry walls were given and the doors from the governor's basement to the ditch was mentioned as were the ovens in the basement of the soldier's barracks, the use of two-inch pine planks for floors, the number and size of dormers, the pave in the governor's basement, and the replacement of pine windows with oak. The change in roofing materials from shingle to slate was recorded, locks, bolts and nails were specified for various portions of the building, and even the loss of a dug-out canoe during construction was mentioned. The double main doors, bunk-beds for the soldiers, a balustrade for the chapel, a rack for the armory, a grinding table for flour, and a desk for papers of the Superior Council are additional details found in these documents.(11)

How did construction proceed during this year of change at Louisbourg with a new engineer and contractor? Letters in the spring from Maurepas indicated he was anticipating the early completion of the building. The storekeeper at Rochefort was ordered to choose an appropriate painting to be mounted over the altar in the chapel, and to have the design cut which De Verville had prepared for the coat of arms over the main doorway, along with a marble plaque commemorating the founding of the town in 1720.(12) Unfortunately the barracks was far from finished. Verrier reported he was still at work on the officers' quarters and hoped to complete them before the year was out. The governor, he said, had asked that the officers' quarters be completed before his own.(13)

The delay was caused by plastering. Generally speaking in the eighteenth century three types of wall finishing were used. For exterior walls, mortar was applied only to the jointing so that the stone of the wall protruded. In the interior a rough mortar coat was applied, followed by a finer coat using well sifted sand. If a very smooth finish was required, a plaster coat using no sand was employed. Ganet indicated that the first type of finish would be used for all the exterior of the barracks, the second for the corps de garde and "some rooms" and the third for an unspecified location and later it was reported that all the soldiers' rooms were also whitewashed.(14 )

Bricks and masonry continued to be a problem, and Ganet reported he had taken the liberty of ordering some good bricks from Boston; he also voiced the old complaint that there were not enough workers and he requested at least 60 more including 15 masons.(15) In Ganet's opinion the masonry work had been badly done, and many of the walls were out of plumb.

Ganet also blamed Isabeau for his current losses. The former contractor, -he asserted, had done the major work on which there was considerable profit, and had left tie smaller, more time-consuming jobs. Ganet now had to do these at a loss.(16) Saint Ovide added his observation that Ganet's masonry work seemed much better than that which had been done in the past(17)

Verrier was now in sole charge of construction at Louisbourg, and the changes he effected in the barracks show that he was not altogether satisfied with the interior arrangement of rooms. Though the north half, the soldiers' quarters, was well on its way to completion, the south half was in a state to allow considerable modifications.(Fig.10 [1725-3; 1725-3A: Presently Unavailable]) Here Verrier scrapped De Verville's plan which required that entrances to the back rooms be through the rooms which opened out on the courtyard. By moving stairs and cutting new doors he was able to give direct access to all the rooms. In the central passage Verrier changed the guard room and the tower. The old guard room to the right of the central passage had had an open front composed of four arches behind which was a corridor, with doors at either end leading to the officers' and soldiers' guard rooms. No reason was given for the renovations, but Verrier probably felt that the walls as they existed would not support the tower which was to be built over this central area. He, therefore, built a wall behind the arches and carried it all the way up to the roof. The wall of the chapel was also thickened to increase its strength, and a door was cut to give access to the passage. Two doorways were made in the new wall of the guard room; the arches and all the partitions of the old guard rooms were then removed. This left a long narrow room directly off of the central passage. A narrow masonry wall was constructed to divide the long room roughly into the ratio of 2:1, and a supporting arch was added where the centre wall would normally have been. The window closest to the passage in the small room, the new officer's guard room, was blocked in and a spiral staircase was added to give access to the upper rooms. The other room by the passage, without a fireplace, was the soldiers' guard room.

In December there were varied reports on progress in construction for 1725. Verrier stated:

here are 20 rooms for officers in the barracks, either occupied or to be occupied.

In an aside he requested that he be made Director of Fortifications and not just Chief Engineer, and he sought a commission for his 12-year-old son who would then apprentice with him.(18) De Mesy gave a different picture: only five officers were housed in the barracks and the rest would have to wait until spring when the plaster had dried, although he added that the drawbridge, door, guard room, clock tower, and chapel were completed.(19) Ganet complained about the dozens of small details such as jambs, sills, and lintels which he had had to finish before work was complete,(20) and he sought to consolidate his position by giving up all claim to Isabeau's work and requesting a direct contract with the king for any further work.(21) Saint Ovide wrote a detailed report on the state of things; the soldiers' half of the building was in a poor condition, many of the rooms being merely a shell lacking any of the finishings, there was no plaster, many rooms had no fireplaces, and there were no proper stairs for the upstairs rooms, only narrow ladders. In many places the floor was open, and he could not resist a parting comment on the former engineer:

In the meanwhile De Verville was sermonizing to the Court that this work was almost finished.(22)


1. De Mesy to Minister, 3 December 1725, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 7, ff. 261-66v.

2. Dossier D'Arrigrand - letter to Minister, no date, AN. Col., E, vol. 9, f. 9.

3. See 1739-1745.

4. Minister to Saint Ovide and De Mesy, 1 May 1725, AN. Col., B. vol. 48(2), f. 927.

5. Ganet to Minister, 30 April 1725, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 8, ff. 226-28v.

6. Minister to Saint Ovide and De Mesy, 1 May 1725, AN. Col., B. vol. 48(2), f. 923.

7. Minister to Saint Ovide and De Mesy, 1 May 1725, AN. Col., B. vol. 48(2), ff. 927-28.

8. Ganet to Minister, 10 November 1725, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 7, ff. 342-47.

9. Arnold Isabeau, 1725, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 7, ff. 368-69v.

10. Toisé Verrier, 1 November 1727, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 9, ff. 180-191.

11. Toisé General, Verrier, 1 September 1731, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 12, ff. 122-43 & 145-47.

12. Minister to M. de Beauharnois, 13 February 1725, AN. Col., B. vol. 48, f. 303. De Beauharnois to Minister, 22 February 1725, AM, Port de Rochefort, E, liasse 354, f. 76.

13. Verrier to Minister, 13 November 1725, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 7, f. 326.

14. Memoire concernant les ouvrages, [1727], AN. Col., C11B, vol. 27, ff. 315-18.

15. Ganet to Minister, 10 November 1725, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 7, ff. 342-47 & 371, 27 November 1725.

16. Ganet to Minister, 27 November 1725, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 7, ff. 370~72.

17. Saint Ovide to Minister, 14 November 1725, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 7, ff. 185 & 190.

18. Verrier to Minister, 16 December 1725, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 7, ff. 328-32.

19. De Mesy to Maurepas, 3 December 1725, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 7, ff. 264-64v.

20. Ganet to Minister, 18 December 1725, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 7, ff. 348-48v.

21. Ganet to Minister, 18 December 1725, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 7, ff. 357-60.

22. Saint Ovide to Minister, 17 December 1725, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 7, ff. 194-97v

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