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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





December 1967

(Fortress of Louisbourg Report H B 9)

Presently, the illustrations, graphs and endnotes are not included here.
For these, please consult the original report in the archives of the Fortress of Louisbourg


I would like to give special thanks to Miss Linda Hoad who, in the absence of a research director, patiently listened to my problems and helped me to work out a solution. Also,, I would commend the draughting section who cheerfully answered my many questions.


The fortress built at Louisbourg was an example of the transfer of European concepts to the continent of North America. Louisbourg was designed and built by engineers who had been bred in the tradition of the great Vauban. The purpose of a fortress was to enable a small number of men to hold out against a larger body of men for a certain period. Louisbourg was to be a citadel of French power in North America, and the expected enemy was the English. The fortress was to guard the entrance of the St. Lawrence from English penetration, and also to protect the very profitable fishing industry of the area. The very nature of its design made it a costly enterprise whose construction and upkeep were of constant interest and concern to the French ministry.

On the landward side of the fortress, there were two full bastions and two demi-bastions, the flank of one joined to the flank of the next by a curtain wall. The length of the curtain wall was determined by the fire power of the cannons mounted on the flanks of the bastions. There were no embrasures cut into the parapet of the curtain wall so that its front was protected by the fire from the adjoining bastions. Soldiers could fire from the banquette of the curtain into the ditch and covert way below. The outer works erected in front of the curtain wall were both another line of defence, and a source of protection for for the curtain wall against the direct fire of the enemy's cannon.

In 1731, work was begun on the curtain wall between the King's and Queen's bastion. By the fall of 1732, the postern tunnel had been raised and the escarp wall of the curtain built to a height of twelve pieds. Verrier wrote to the French ministry in November of 1734 that his men had started to dig out the ditch. This earth would be used for the rampart and parapet. Two years later, the parapet had been built and the rampart was almost finished. As the men continued to dig out the ditch, the earth was used for the covert way and for the glacis. By the end of the year 1738, the counterscarp, the covert way, and most of the parapet of the covert way were finished. With the perfection of the glacis in 1740, the King's - Queen's curtain wall and outer works were completed. Once constructed., this area of the fortress underwent no major change. In neither of the English sieges was it a focal point of attack. As a consequence, no major damage was inflicted on it until its systematic destruction by the English miners in 1760. Its greatest enemies had been poor French construction and the climate of Louisbourg.

It is possible to develop a relatively clear picture of this particular curtain wall by an analysis of the maps, and the English and French documents. As experience here has shown that the French did not always build what they planned, it is essential that this report be supplemented by an archaeological one before reconstruction is started. The historian can often only point out the areas of contradiction and hope that the archaeologist will find some conclusive evidence. Since this curtain wall is just a section of the landward side of the fortifications for the Fortress of Louisbourg, it must not be considered as an isolated unit, but rather as a part of the larger whole. The idea of continuity of construction and of purpose should not be overlooked when one studies just one particular aspect.