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Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada
HISTORICAL MEMORANDA SERIES, 1964 TO PRESENT
H F 25 1975-4
Louisbourg, N.S., Feb. 12, 1975
Exterior Finish On Private Buildings
To summarize my Memorandum of February 10, 1975, I ask: is the suggested degree the best one which suits the evidence, where somewhere on the exterior of the 14 buildings in question the design team has tentatively recommended that:
As I attempted to show in my Memorandum the evidence suggests to me that the degree established on January 17, 1975, is open to question. In my opinion, the number of buildings which should or might have had paint is too high (Nos. 1 & 2) while those with only whitewash or with whitewash and possibly paint (Nos. 9 & 10), and those without any finish (No. 11) is too low. How we reckon these degrees will, of course, affect the other figures as enumerated in points 3 through 8.
Fortress of Louisbourg
National Historic Park.
MEMORANDA: 1975 Louisbourg, N.S Feb. 10., 1975
Exterior Finish On Private Buildings
Design identification of problems for future decision has in most cases not adversely affected the Fortress Restoration program. On the contrary., this inaction in the present has normally produced a better product in the future. i.e. one with a greater ring of authenticity to it. Colleagues have been afforded - be they architect, archaeologist., conservator, historian, or Park Superintendent - the vital research time to resolve the problems which had produced the procrastinations in the first place. Nevertheless, research has not always been successful in its hunt for proof-positive clearly pointing to the course of action to be taken. Jolted by this realization, and with decision now urgent, members of the design process have been forced into a perilous journey where "negative-logic" becomes their beacon and the be all-end all for justification of conclusions reached. Thus they say, "Since such and such was done like this in France or Quebec, but as there is no local evidence which conclusively states the same for Louisbourg, are we not then justified, indeed obliged, by "negative-logic" in accepting these non - Louisbourg experiences when local evidence does not state otherwise?"
Nevertheless. it is with great reluctance that members use this logic; and only after carefully weighing the extent to which "local evidence does not state otherwise" do they then base their decision upon this type of evidence. Too many are too aware of the several instances of significant uniqueness so far demonstrated to them by Louisbourg, and too many have too often been burnt by such phenomena, to allow such statements to pass by them too lightly. Yet, and despite such precautions., members have still had to back off decisions resolved in this manner when new evidence has surfaced proving them so far off base that they might have well been playing in another ball park (or so it has appeared to some critics). Unfortunately, mere realization of error and acceptance of a better based interpretation has not always resulted in a better product, for some of these decisions would have already produced a practical application forever too costly to remove or alter.
Now, it would indeed be a rarity to read an historical document flatly stating that Louisbourg would or could not follow a particular technique even though such practice was prevalent in France and was the accepted thing to do. The best example to illustrate this point would be roof "sheathing", where overseas French technique normally specified laths but where Louisbourg technique adopted boards after suffering the futility and inefficiency of laths battered by a hostile climate. The documents clearly make this comparison. But the statement, for example, is not so comparatively clear as to the use of slates on the roofs of private buildings. No document ever flatly stated that slates were never used on private Louisbourg buildings, although there are numerous examples of slate (or tile) on similar French buildings. Yet we say with a high degree of certainty that such was not the case in Louisbourg. Why? Because we have weighed the statement, "local evidence does not state otherwise", altered it to read "local evidence does not suggest otherwise" and concluded the opposite: that indeed the evidence does suggest otherwise. By now, we all know or should know the route of this case in point: Louisbourg's climate, complaints about the cost of slate, the relative scarcity of slate and so forth. Besides, because a roofing material is so important to the functioning of a building, numerous rental, sale, and building agreements make mention of the type of material, and not one places slate on a private building. In addition, if new evidence ever surfaced to state otherwise,, I am sure that this building would be an exception to the entire rule.
Now to the point. How does paint or whitewash fit vis a vis the evidence? I am afraid that it doesn't too well for the evidence is not all that apparent. Historic proof-positive one way or another, for or against, is non-existent and all the conditions necessary for the working out of "negative-logic" appear valid. I say appear because in my opinion all conditions are not at play, and what we see is an apparition calling for this thinking process. While painting and whitewashing evidence is not as sure for as the evidence which established the type of "sheathing" at Louisbourg, it equally is not as sure against as that which mitigated against slates on private buildings. Personally,, I feel the evidence for or against painting or whitewashing falls somewhere in-between and that we should consider it just as we considered the evidence on slate.
Because the Design Team on Louisbourg streetscape (January 17,, 1975) employed "negative-logic" - painting and whitewashing: common in France; local evidence: an inconclusive statement for general use in Louisbourg; local evidence: no statement against general use in Louisbourg; hence non-Louisbourg experiences: acceptance - to establish that there had been a fairly high degree of such exterior finishes in the town. I would like to re-evaluate this conclusion and attempt to show historically that this degree has in fact been exaggerated. Thus I take the statement, "local evidence does not state otherwise" and alter it to read "local evidence does not suggest otherwise."
What I find is that the evidence does not suggest a high degree of painting or whitewashing; yet it still does not suggest non-existence. Thus the degree to which paint or whitewash was used must be established.
The historical evidence setting the frequency of slate as compared to that for paint or whitewash is different because of the nature of their respective functions. Unlike a roofing material which is so important to the proper functioning of a building that it consequently recurs in numerous written documents such as bills of sale, rentals or construction, paint or whitewash does not enjoy such a lofty status because, after all, it is merely an exterior finish. Owners who might have appreciated its aesthetic value might have used it, but other Louisbourgers could have avoided it without complaint from their neighbours. Owners who might have recognized it as an important preventative or protective device might have used it, but others could have avoided it without danger to their immediate plans for the buildings. Naturally, their heirs might have inherited a building in better condition if it had been painted or whitewashed, but relatively cheap exterior renovations in wood would have been easily available to them.
Besides, I think it no coincidence that in the 1730's, with a greater supply of Boston and local boards available to them, owners turned to exterior boarding. Now, boarding is not a structural concern per se, nor is it a necessity where piquets, charpente fills or masonry would have adequately protected the interiors of buildings from the elements without. Still, when combined with interior wood finishes, exterior boarding would have produced an even cozier environment within, a benefit which many owners would not have missed.
Moreover, while exterior boarding might be an environmental control, at the same time it is a preventative or protective device just as paint or whitewash is, only far better. Thus the problem with exterior finishes is now (1) to what extent was exterior whitewash or paint considered a material protective device (2) to what extent was exterior boarding considered a material protective device (3) to what extent was exterior boarding itself considered a material important enough to be protected. Perhaps a discussion of (3) might help in understanding (1) and (2).
Can we argue that boarding was painted (or whitewashed) because documents never state otherwise? (the Duhaget house will be discussed later). I think we ought not to use this logic because while it is never stated otherwise, it certainly is suggested otherwise. For example, there are numerous references to buildings being board revetted with the size of the bevel and the thickness of the sheathing given. Occasionally it was even stated that the boards were to be left rough (for example Block 36C and 15C-C). But not once were they described as painted or to be painted. Yet strangely, for one building under construction "une maison ... en picquets" revetted in Boston boards with bevels of one pouce, the interior crepi received a whitewash while the exterior board finish was described no further than as above. Incidently this Devis d'une maison is one of the more complete for a private house. (A.F.O., G3, Carton 2042, pièce 69, 26 juillet 1754). A similar interior description can also be found at A.F.O., G3, Carton 2044, pièce 53, 30 Mai 1756, an excellent Marché for a private residential-storehouse complex at 5A. Why is a Paint or a whitewash not also specified for its exterior?
But many building were never board revetted. What about these? Why is whitewash or paint never mentioned for these buildings' exteriors?
Some of these board revetted and non-board revetted buildings appear in documents sufficiently detailed on other aspects of the structure to cause expectation of reference to paint or whitewash if either had been used. For your information these important documents on private buildings are:
Besides these documents on private buildings, which cover types piquet, charpente and masonry, numerous documents on government buildings dealing with the same range of types are extant. In addition, there are a number of general marchés with the contractor of which we have knowledge. First of all, it is interesting that of the Isabeau marchés of 7 mars 1719, 1719-1720, 25 novembre 1723; that of the Ganet marchés of 24 fevrier 1725 (missing but reconstructed from other sources), 23 mai 1725, 12 novembre 1726, 7 octobre 1727, 18 avril 1730 (missing), 29 novembre and 3 decembre 1731; that of the Muiron marchés of 27 octobre 1736, 10 mai 1737 and avril 1742; that of ANONYMOUS of 20 novembre 1751, and that of Coeuret of 1753, painting is mentioned only once, in 1731 - two coats of oil paint for the windows of the lighthouse, or lighthouse and/ or lighthouse keepers house, while whitewash is mentioned in 1726, 1727, 1736, 1737, 1742 and 1743, those of 1727, 1737 [and 1753] definitely refer to an application over a non-wooden material because before whitewashing all holes (interior? exterior?) were first to be filled in and then to have an enduit placed over; the remainder of the references were too general for a decision as to what they were to cover.
Because these government, marchés make reference to whitewashing, one would have expected to see exterior whitewash specified in detailed toisés for government buildings. But alas, such information is wanting, although documents do make several significant remarks on interior whitewashing (as with private buildings) as well as-on interior painting of several government buildings.
I will stress that so far the only Louisbourg historical document which states that a building received exterior paint is 20 juillet 1753, A.F.O., G3, Carton 2041s, pièce 41. But the statement "qui Ledt Sr. Duhaget fera donner la premiere couche cette année dans Les dehors dela dte maison, et Le dt Sr augier, La Seconde couche l'année prochaine ... " leaves me some doubt as to whether this meant that the entire exterior would have been painted. Secondly, H. Paul Thibault's conclusion (L'Ilot 17 De Louisbourg, Service Des Lieux Historiques Nationaux,, p. 142) that this house was "revetue de bois" must be an archaeological interpretation for I have yet to see this mentioned in an historical document. Thirdly, as I have already suggested, wood revetted buildings appear not to have had the boarding painted or whitewashed. Fourthly, if the wood revetment had been painted, this may have been an exception. And lastly, four years after the Augier agreement, Duhaget again rented out his house, this time to Jean-Baptiste Morin for six years at the same cost per year, with most of the 1753 conditions included except for the notable rider on paint. (21 octobre 1757, A.F.O., G3, Carton 2045, pièce 53). Perhaps Duhaget thought the aforementioned paint coatings would last another six years (perhaps then for as long as nine years in all!), or perhaps paint was unavailable to Morin (no less than garde des magasins) or unavailable to both Duhaget and Morin so why try again. On the other hand, Duhaget himself might have decided to go at it alone this time at his own cost. But then again perhaps the painting of building exteriors merely referred to components such as doors, windows, shutters and frames, a possible desired general practice as suggested by a Memoire au sujet de L'Isle Royalle (c. l739-1745) where it was pointed out that:
Il Est necessaire que tous les bois Employee pour les ouvrages du Roy et pour le service des Batteries et artillerie, comme affuts de Canons et mortiers, Portes, contrevents, chassis, Barrieres, garde foux, et autres de cette Nature soient peintes ainsy que les Canons et toutes les ferrures Exposées al'air ... (S.D., A.F.O., D.F.C., no. d'ordre 141)
but that when one came
de peindre les ouvrages de charpente exposés alair, [on] ne pouvant en trouver dans la colonie, ny ne sachant a qui s'adresser pour en avoir de france .... (21 novembre 1743, A.N., Col., C11B, Vol. 25, ff. 154v.-155)
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps and yet another perhaps. The Duhaget-Augier rental agreement did not take the detailed form necessary for inclusion on my list, and yet unlike those listed, it made mention of paint. Instead this agreement reflected the form of a general preamble setting conditions between landlord and tenant. Besides this example, other preambles are extant setting conditions for contractors, vendors, buyers and tenants. None of these, however, make reference to painting. One of the more significant preambles is "Obligation Reciproque Et Vente Sauveur avec Gouit (16 février 1754, A.F.O., G3, Carton 2042, pièce 39, where also following the conditions set came a detailed building convention (pièce 40). Neither the agreement of intent nor the actual description of the building(s) to be built mention paint. Parallel results are derived out of similar government agreements.
Finally, besides the Duhaget-Augier agreement, other references found to date are:
In conclusion, the degree to which paint and whitewash was used as an exterior finish on private buildings is yet to be resolved. The degree as established on January 17, 1975, Design Team on Louisbourg Streetscape, I think is open to question. Other opinions which may help in this decision can be consulted in the Memoranda series as collected in the Library (HF-25), or in Preliminary Architectural Studies (HG-2). They are:
Fortress of Louisbourg
National Historic Park.