Search Website Design and Content © by Eric Krause, Krause House Info-Research Solutions (© 1996)
      All Images © Parks Canada Except Where Noted Otherwise
Report/Rapport © Parks Canada / Parcs Canada  --- Report Assembly/Rapport de l'assemblée © Krause House Info-Research Solutions

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)


Buildings for Marine arsenals ... will be constructed with all the necessary strengths and precautions, The best materials will be used in this construction. The architecture must be simple and draw its beauty and magnificence from the lay-out, size and strength without using other ornaments. - Marine regulation 6 October 1674.

The concept of barracks as housing for the military was relatively new to eighteenth century France and its colonies, and the barracks constructed in Louisbourg was one of the few in French North America. In the era of Louis XIV the most common method of housing soldiers was billeting in private homes, a method preferred by the soldiers who were away from the control of their officers and could lord it over their hosts. To rid themselves of the soldiers the townspeople often raised money, usually through a consumption tax, to build and maintain barracks for the soldiers. The government rarely built barracks but had begun the practice of buying or renting empty houses for use as military housing, and this was the most common method for housing troops in eighteenth century France. (1)

The situation in the colonies was somewhat different. The colonial troops were not part of the army but came under the Department de la Marine and were referred to as Troupes de la Marine or Compagnies franche de la Marine, as opposed to the Troupes de la Terre of the army. The Department de la Marine had been subject to various administrative reorganizations in the seventeenth century and it was not until 1689 that a royal ordinance finally established the organization and procedures to be followed in this ministry. The following year another was issued dealing specifically with the raising and discipline of soldiers used on ships and in 1695 rules for companies serving in Canada were issued.( 2) Not all aspects of military life in the Marine were covered by these decrees causing a number of difficulties. In 1720 officials at Louisbourg were rather haughtily informed that the ordinance of 1689 foresaw everything and that it just had to be read and applied to the letter. More realistically, ten years later officials were told that if the marine ordinances did not apply the compilation of military regulations, the Code Militaire of 1728, was to be used. In some cases, as in the question of deaths and inventories, it was reported that the Marine ordinance of 1689 and the military ordinance of 1731 were both applied to find a solution.(3)

In cases where no regulations applied, a pragmatic approach was adopted as with the question of barracks which were not mentioned in the 1689 ordinance where it was taken for granted that soldiers were billeted in private homes. When the first Louisbourg settlers and soldiers arrived from Newfoundland, which had been lost to France by the treaty of Utrecht in 1714, there were certainly no houses available. A barracks was the obvious solution to military housing yet there were no rules or specifications outlining what should be included, or how one should be built.(4) The first contract for works at Louisbourg was a 9-page document sketchily outlining what was to be done,(5) but a contract some 18 years later had grown to 24 pages and was much more precise and detailed.(6) Other aspects of life followed this pattern and many traditions which are taken for granted in the twentieth century had not yet appeared or were in genesis in the eighteenth century. This lack of precedence is part of the reason why the construction and occupation of the main military barracks in Louisbourg was so chaotic.

There were, of course, other factors contributing to the difficulties the building presented during its existence. supplies were a problem. Despite optimistic first indications, materials were not readily available. The first engineer at Louisbourg reported with characteristic overstatement, but also with some element of truth, that firewood was more expensive than the best French wood.(7) Difficulties were encountered with masonry for, unless the sand used was thoroughly washed, the salt from the sea water acted as a corrosive in walls exposed to weather, and the sand failed to act as a proper binding agent. Other building materials, slate, stone and brick were of poor quality or in short supply.

There was also the problem of the short construction season. The chief engineer reported that there were seven months of snow or harsh weather leaving only five months in which building could be carried on. Omitting Sundays and holidays and at least twenty stormy days this left, he calculated, only 93 days in the year during which there could be effective construction. Related to the short season was the fact that the money earned in the summer was spent in the summer, leaving little for the needs of winter.(8)

There were constant difficulties in obtaining qualified and competent craftsmen for the site. Engineers spoke of the carelessness, laziness and indolence of workers paid by the day,(9) and a new contractor in 1726 complained of the lack of skilled workmen for the elaborate carpentry in the chapel.(10) There were also laments that the men who came to Louisbourg were not good physical specimens.(11) Little is known of the average workers' age, aside from a reference to a group of 40 new arrivals in 1726, who were referred to as being a good lot, and the majority of whom were 15 to 16 years old.(12) Drunkenness among the workers was a constant problem, the governor once complained that when they were paid they left their work in spite of all he could do. Numerous ordinances were issued regulating taverns and their hours, (13) but the repetition of these prohibitions throughout the history of Louisbourg indicates that they were not easily enforceable.

Finally, work on the barracks was hampered by conflicts among the chief officials of the colony. These are common in any large undertaking, but in the early years at Louisbourg there was more than the usual amount of bitterness in the relations between the military administrators and the builders. The leading officials of the colony were the governor, who was the chief military officer, and the Commissaire Ordonnateur (often simply called the Ordonnateur), the chief civil and financial officer. Both these officials reported individually to the ministry of Marine in France, and, on matters of mutual concern, wrote joint reports. Without a clear delineation of functions quarrels were almost inevitable, especially with regard to the barracks which was within the jurisdiction of both officials. Caught between, or often in opposition to both, was the Chief Engineer who drew up plans and supervised construction. He was a member of the engineering corps, a separate department whose members were attached to military units where needed. Since most of their work was with land forces, the first engineer came under criticism for not doing things the "marine"way; in an effort to mitigate this difficulty a special memorandum describing work procedures was prepared in consultation with all parties(14) Most of the officials in Louisbourg were of the nobility, some of whom would have come from established families (d'épee) and others from recently ennobled ones (de plume), and a Memoire du Roy of 1718, probably reacting to reports of friction, urged both groups to get along for the good of the service.(15) Finally there was the contractor who arranged for materials, provided some of the workmen, and had to have his work approved by the other officials before he received his money.

The barracks of the King's Bastion was part of a landward defensive system which stretched across the mouth of the Louisbourg peninsula. This defence comprised two full bastions anchored by two demi-bastions at either extremity; the barracks spanned the gorge of one of the former, the King's Bastion (Fig. l and 2 [Not Presently Available]), and combined with it to serve as a Citadel, a fort within the fortress from which a last stand could be made should the walls of the city ever be breached. It was never tested in this regard for when a last stand was contemplated during the siege of 1758, the citadel was in such a poor condition from enemy fire that the area around the Princess Bastion in the south end of town was the only area considered defensible if the enemy assaulted.(16) The entire town was eventually walled, but this did not prevent Louisbourg from being twice captured, once in 1745, only to be returned to the French three years later and then retaken in 1758. Two years afterward the fortifications were destroyed, and the town of Louisbourg was abandoned soon after.

The barracks building was referred to by many names. In official correspondence it was most often called simply the "barracks" or in combination with the King's Bastion, referred to as the "citadel". Sometimes the various parts of the building were referred to by name, 'the officers' quarters, the chapel, or the governor's (or government) wing". The terms fort and Chateau were used, though less frequently.(17) The building sat on the highest point of land in the peninsula and closed off the Kings Bastion from the town. A dry moat added to its isolation, and the only access to the building was over a drawbridge at the centre which led to the terreplein or courtyard of the King's Bastion and to the doors leading into the various rooms themselves.

Before considering the details of construction and occupation of the building some discussion of building practices is necessary. In the beginning the ministry of Marine, in a document called the Devis et Condition outlined in general terms the kind and extent of work to be done and specified the standard of work expected and quality of materials to be used.(18) The contractor then submitted a bid listing his unit price for each item of material in the construction. The bid for a fireplace, for example, would not give a total estimate for the finished product, but rather would quote a price per cubic foot of masonry. The contractor would then be paid that unit price times whatever amount of cubic measurement the engineer or his assistants calculated went into the item in question. Labour was not a factor in these contracts and the contractor had to ensure that his quoted price covered this expense. In some cases, as in masonry wall construction, the contractor was often paid for the entire wall even though there were openings for doors and windows which did not, of course, contain masonry. The extra payment in this case was to compensate for the labour involved in fashioning added features. Similarly, chimney stocks were considered to be full blocks of masonry to compensate for the labour it took to make the flues. Transportation of materials in the first Louisbourg contract was at Royal expense.(19)

The ministry then outlined to the officials on the site how work was to proceed. In a memorandum in the summer of 1718 (20) it was ordered, firstly, that nothing be done without orders or approval from France. Once work was approved, the estimates were to be prepared by the ordonnateur from the work orders submitted by the engineer and were to be calculated in his presence as well as that of the governor. At the end of each year, the engineer was to prepare for the ordonnateur and the governor an account of work done that year. This would be forwarded for payment minus the sums the contractor had already been paid. The engineer was to be given every assistance, including the troops and officers he required. The contractor would pay the troops according to a scale worked out between them. If agreement could not be reached, the governor, ordonnateur, and engineer would decide on a pay scale. The sub-engineers, who, like the engineer, were military men, were responsible only to the engineer.

In the beginning recruitment of workers was divided between the King and the contractor. For example, in 1719, the King was to provide 10 masons and 2 stone cutters and the contractor carpenters, a locksmith, and 2 diggers. All were given free passage to Louisbourg.(21) There appeared to be no fixed system of wage payment. Because of the short season, craftsmen charged 5 livres per day in order to earn enough to live for the whole year.(22) Other workers who knew the French Isles by experience or reputation demanded 80 livres per month.(23) It was expected that the men would do piece work, but it appears they had a choice. In any case those who came did so for three years and then could settle in the colony with free grants of land or return to France with free passage.(24) It was hoped that the colony would soon produce its own workmen who would charge less. Workers were also solicited from Quebec; presumably they would also have been less expensive than those from France.(25) However, this situation was slow to improve. In 1725 the contractor complained that the workers charged too much and did little, but since there were no others they were able to have their way.(26)

The labouring jobs were done mostly by soldiers. In 1720, for example, 78 soldiers were employed in excavation, 14 labouring, 4 hauling cut stones, and 3 hauling limestone.(27) Here too there were shortages. In 1722 the engineer complained that there were only 198 soldiers available for all the work at Louisbourg. Thirty-six more men were required for the King's Bastion and barracks. Even the 200 men promised for the following year would not be enough for all the pressing work.(28) However, it sometimes happened that when men did arrive they were not able to be fully employed because of poor planning, as in 1723 when 6 carpenters arrived to make gun carriages only to find that the proper wood had not yet been collected.(29) The list of soldiers who were working on the Bastion-barracks complex in 1724(30)gives the distribution of workers and shows that some of the soldiers were skilled:

  • Terracers
  • Labourers
  • Sand haulers
  • Flatstone workers
  • Limestone workers
  • Gatherers of fascines for lime kilns
  • Sawyers
  • Carpenters (heavy timber)
  • Carpenters (fine work)
  • Ironmongers
  • Boatmen
  • 41
  • 33
  • 16
  • 5
  • 7
  • 5
  • 3
  • 4
  • 4
  • 2
  • 4

In addition there would have been a number of civilian workers as well as engineers and sub-engineers supervising the work. In all probability about 150 men worked on this complex during the height of construction.

Here then are the characters and conditions against which they laboured to produce the main barracks building in Louisbourg. This report is a chronicle of the struggle. The first section outlines chronologically the mechanics of construction, information for which derives mostly from plans, work accounts, repair bills and official correspondence. Some plans of the building have never been uncovered, and indeed were missing in the eighteenth century; in 1752 some fortification and town plans were sought and it was reported that a search of the engineer Etienne Verrier's papers surprisingly revealed nothing.(31) The second half of this report deals with the use made of the building, including an analysis of its contents. Unfortunately, the documentation for this half is not in any way as rich as that for the first half. It is a sad fact that little personal correspondence has survived from this period, and there is a paucity of the kind of information required for any analysis of day-to-day living.


1. A. Navereau, Le Logement et les Ustensils des Gens de Guerre de 1439 à 1789 (Poitiers, 1924), pp. 95-131.

2. Donald Fraser McQuat, Military Policy and Organization in New France (M.A. Theses, McGill University, 1947), pp. 164-76. Gustave Lanctot, "Les troupes de la Nouvelle France," Canadian Historical Association, Report of the Annual Meeting, (May, 1926)

3. Council, letters of Saint Ovide and De Mesy, 20 August 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol.5, f. 83v. De Mesy to Minister, 4 December 1730, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 11, ff. 61-68. Prévost to Minister, 29 July 1751, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 30, ff. 203-05.

4. An ordinance in 1719 had attempted to do this but encountered so many difficulties that it was withdrawn in 1724: La Chesnave des Bois, Dictionnaire Militaire on Recueil Alphabétique de tous les termes propres à L'Art de la Guerre, (Lausanne, 1743), p. 121.

5. Marche du Sr. Isabeau, 7 March 1719, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 4, ff. 278-82.

6. Marche pour les Fortifications de la ville de Louisbourg, 10 May 1737, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 19. ff. 176-188v.

7. Council letter of De Verville, 24 January 1719, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 4, ff. 66-68.

8. Ibid.

9. Vallee; Remarques sur les Travaux, 27 December 1723, AN. Col., vol. 6, ff. 310-11v.

10. Ganet to Minister, 12 November 1726, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 8, f. 167.

11. De Verville to Minister, 10 August 1719, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 4, ff. 237-41.

12. Saint Ovide to Minister, 20 November 1726, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 8, ff. 55-64v

13. Saint Ovide to Minister, 29 November 1721, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, ff. 378-84.

14. Council, (Letter of Soubras), 1 April 1718, AN. Col. C11B, vol. 3, ff. 12-13.

15. Memoire du Roy à Saint Ovide, 18 July 1718, AN. Col.,B, vol. 40(5), ff. 548.

16. Prévost to War Council, 26 July 1758, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 38, ff. 38-41.

17. See Appendix I.

18. Devis et conditions des ouvrages que le Roy a ordonné de faire Executer au port de Louisbourg, 10 June 1718, AN. Col., F3, ff. 193-226.

19. Marché du Sr. Isabeau, 7 March, 1719, AN. Col.,C11B, vol. 4, ff. 280v. Saint Ovide and De Mesy to Council, 1 December 1719, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 4, ff. 13.

20. Memoire du Roy au Sujet des fortifications de l'Isle Royale, 28 June 1718, AN. Col.,B, Vol. 40 (5), ff. 537-38v.

21. Marché du Sr. Isabeau, 7 March 1719, AN. Col.,C11B, vol.4, ff. 278-82.

22. Council, letter of De Verville, 24 January 1719, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 4, ff. 66-68.

23. De Verville to Minister, 10 August 1719, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 4, ff. 235-36.

24 Memoire du Conseil à Comte d'Agrain, 4 February 1720, AN. Col., B 42, vol. 2, ff.468-685.

25. Council, letter of De Mesy, 13 August 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, ff. 60-60v.

26. Ganet to Minister, 18 December 1725, AN. Col.,C11B, vol. 7, f. 349

27. Etat des Ouvriers, May, June 1720, AN. Col., C;'B, vol.6, f. 192

28. De Verville to Minister (at ['Isle d'Aix), 20 September 1722, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 6, ff 116-17v

29. De Mesy to Minister, 24 November 1723, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 6, f. 235v.

30. De Verville; Etat des Ouvriers, September 1724, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 7, ff. 156-56v.

31. Rouillé to Le Normant, 30 August 1752, AN. Col., B. vol. 96, f. 312.

Return to the First Page
Retour à la page première


Return to the Previous Page

Retour à la page précédente