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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




Blaine Adams

(Christian Pouyez, Editor)

In Historians,
Report Number H G 02 01 03)


It is hoped that this preliminary report on "piquets" houses will give an indication of the kind of information which can be found in the Domestic Architecture File. It will present the raw data on "piquets" houses but can not attempt to assess most of it in usable form. A number of views from maps and plans are attached., but most are too small to give reliable details. Also, since many of the houses were planked outside it is often difficult to tell whether planks or piquets" are being shown, or whether, if they are planks, the house is "Piquets" or frame. Secondary sources have not been consulted in detail, though general reading in this field indicates that this particular type of house is little studied. There are some features in our documents which have no mention anywhere and which will require considerable analysis before a definition is decided upon. In this text, the french phrases from the documents are given in brackets to show the variety of terms and spellings used in the 18th century.

In fact, the question of definition and terminology is perhaps the most vexing one in these architectural studies. Just what did the inhabitants of the day mean when they speak of "piquets" houses? Certainly one of the things they meant were houses, whose walls were formed by placing "piquets" into the ground seemingly without a foundation. In general, the documents refer to a building as being constructed "of" or "in" piquets" (de or en piquets) and sometimes use the expression "upright piquets" (piquets debout), literally,, "piquets" standing up. One reference specifies that the "piquets" were planted in the ground (plants en terre) [NOTE 1] and another that a house was made of simple "piquets" without any timber (de simple piquets sans aucune charpente)[NOTE 2]. Another question of terminology arises in the use of the word cabanne which is usually made of "piquets" and can be a house or a shed. Both structures have been considered in the report and all other "piquets" buildings were looked at in so far as they contributed to the understanding of this type of building. Most aspects of the houses will be considered, but some of these will require extensive studies of their own to go beyond a mere statement of what is possible in this type of structure. The main emphasis here will be on wall composition.

"Piquets" houses themselves could range from rudimentary to elaborate,, with prices from 180 livres for a small cabanne to 4000 livres. There were similar extremes in the number of rooms and the quality of furnishings. It is likely that this type of construction found its way to Louisbourg via the settlers from Placentia and Québec. In the first years it was used for virtually all buildings, though government and other builders soon switched to frame and masonry constructions. Despite the fact that an early report said "piquets" houses were unsuitable and had to be rebuilt every two or three years [NOTE 3] this style of construction remained popular to the end of the colony.



The dimensions of "piquets" buildings vary considerably. Table 1 lists the dimensions of 50 buildings: 35 houses (maisons or cabannes), 11 storehouses, some of them mere lean-tos., 3 buildings used as temporary barracks and 1 barn.




(1) House: Length: 37 x Width: 20

(2) House: Length: 40 x Width: 20

(3) House: Length: 30 x Width: 20

(4) House: Length: 30 x Width: 22

(5) House: Length: 37 x Width: 20

(6) House: Length: 54 x Width: 20

(7) House: Length: 50 x Width: x Width: 15

(8) House: Length: 39 x Width: 20

(9) House: Length: 27 x Width: 15

(10) House: Length: 30 x Width: 20

(11) House: Length: 31 x Width: 16

(12) House: Length: 30 x Width: 20

(13) House: Length: 22 x Width: 16

(14) House: Length: 36 x Width: 20

(15) House: Length: 25 x Width: 13

(16) House: Length: 32 x Width: 18

(17) House: Length: 45 x Width: 22

(18) House: Length: 32 x Width: 21

(19) House: Length: 30 x Width: 21

(20) House: Length: 37 x Width: 20

(21) House: Length: 42 x Width: n/a

(22) House: Length: 31 x Width: 16

(23) House: Length: 45 x Width: 22

(24) House: Length: 45 x Width: 16

(25) House: Length: 38 x Width: 21

(26) House: Length: 36 x Width: 22

(27) House: Length: 43 x Width: 24

(28) House: Length: 40 x Width: 22

(29) House: Length: 32 x Width: 18

(30) House: Length: 26 x Width: 18

(31) House: Length: 30 x Width: 16

(32) House: Length: 38 x Width: 18

(33) House: Length: 36 x Width: 11

(34) House: Length: 24 x Width: 18

(35) House: Length: 36 x Width: 14

(36) Average house: Length: 35.31 x Width: 18.68


(1) Storehouse: Length: 100 x Width: 30

(2) Storehouse: Length: 29 x Width: 25

(3) Storehouse: Length: 29 x Width: 25

(4) Storehouse: Length: 39 x Width: 20

(5) Storehouse: Length: 93 x Width: 20

(6) Storehouse: Length: 120 x Width: 16

(7) Storehouse: Length: 40 x Width: 20

(8) Storehouse: Length: 40 x Width: 20

(9) Storehouse: Length: 26 x Width: 20

(10) Storehouse: Length: 40 x Width: 20

(11) Storehouse: Length: 15 x Width: 12

(12) Average Storehouse: Length: 51.91 x Width: 20.73


(1) Barracks: Length: 94 x Width: 18

(2) Barracks: Length: 48 x Width: 18

(3) Barracks: Length: 81 x Width: 20

(4) Average barracks: Length 74.33 x Width: 18.67


(1) Barn: length: 72 Length x Width: 20

(E) GENERAL AVERAGE: Length: 42.04 x Width: 19.16.

The average width of all these buildings remains very close to 20 pieds, the main difference being the length which ranges from about 20 pieds to more than a hundred pieds. The average dimensions for a house are 35 pieds in length and 19 pieds in width. The lengths of the storehouses vary,, depending on the lay-out of the building: a lean-to could be 15 pieds long, while a separate storehouse could extend to 120 pieds.

Consequently, it seems that a width of 20 was more or less standard, but no such standard can be set for the lengths of "piquets" buildings.


Some specifications are given for the "piquets", sometimes called "posts" (pieux), which form the body of the walls of these buildings. The crucial problem, however, is to discover how the walls were put together and how floors and ceilings were fitted into the walls.


Two references concerning the same house indicate that the " piquets" were to be taken from fir trees (sapins) [NOTE 4]. In one case., it was specified that the "piquets" be new (de bons gros piquets neufs ) and well seasoned (bien conditionnés)[NOTE 5]. An indication of the length of the "piquets" is given in a document which says a cabanne had a height of 7 1/2 pieds under the beams (sous traverses) [NOTE 6] and another which says the piquets were 9 1/2 pieds long [NOTE 7] . The documents for the commander's houses in Port Toulouse and Port La Joye say the "piquets" were round, 6 pouces in diameter (grosseur) and 10 and 9 long respectively for each location. [NOTE 8] The longer ones were to be placed 2 pieds into the ground, and the shorter, 18 pouces . (Figure A) [Illustration].

From this data, it seems that a length of 9 to 10 pieds was the most common for "piquets", in a single storey house, the inside height being about 7 to 8 pieds.


In the two commander's houses mentioned above, one is said to have had the "piquets" planted plumb and joined together by narrow planks serving as plates nailed to a part of the "piquets" (plantés aplomb, joints les uns aux autres et arrêtés par des alaises de madriers servant de sabliéres cloués sur une partie des piquets)[source 9]. A tentative interpretation of this method of construction is illustrated in figure B, no. 1 [Illustration]. The other house had "piquets" held in place by a wall plate, tenoned and morticed (ces piquets sont joints les uns aux autres et arrestés par dessus par un cour de sablières à tenons et mortoises) [NOTE 10]. This method is shown on Figure B, no. 2 [Illustration].

Unfortunately, there are no specific details as to how floor and ceiling were joined to the wall. A 1720 document, however, gives an indication: in the Lagrange house, all the "piquets" of the floors had been removed leaving only the floor plates (dessollée entièrement des piquets qui en faisaient les planches et emportee jusque au lembourde ou autrement dit les grandes solles)[NOTE 11]. From this it is possible to infer that the "piquets" which formed the floors rested on a plate. It is not known whether the plate rested on the ground or was notched into the "piquets".

The walls of most "piquets" buildings were supported from outside by struts (arc. boutants or accords or contrebouts). Plans 733-1 and 740-1 show this usage. From a 1751 document relating to the Magasin des Vivres in Port La Joye, it seems likely that those struts were joined to an exterior plate attached to the wall plate of the building, as illustrated in figure C [Illustration]. The text reads:

trente cinq gros piquets employes partie en contre sabliere et l'autre partie en ancord [acord] pour soutenir la charge du batiment estimes chacun pour fourniture et façon à huit sols pièce cy --14# [NOTE 12].

(Thirty-five large "piquets" used partly as counter plates and partly as struts to uphold the weight of the building estimated each one for materials and labour at eight sols -------------------------- 14#)

It should be noted that, even if it was common to use struts some buildings didn't have any. This is seen on plan 733-1 and on the view of the "piquet" house from Placentia.

Occasionally, references are made to "piquets" being used to fill the frame of a "charpente" house (le carré de ladite maison sera de charpente... et rempli en piquets equarris)[NOTE 13]; there is also a reference to a storehouse built partly with squared "piquets" and partly in "charpente" [NOTE 14].


An almost necessary part of such construction is a revetment of some sort to prevent the weather from thrusting itself into the building. However, in some cases it was recorded that there were "piquet" buildings without any exterior material applied: "le contour qui n'est que de piquets" [NOTE 15], "maison construitte en piquets ecarris sons etre revetis de planche ny par dedans ny par dehors" [NOTE 16]. In one trial it was established that a thief easily removed two "piquets" from the wall of a storehouse to gain entrance, which could not have been done if the "picquets" had had a revetment [NOTE 17].

When revetments were applied to the "piquets", they covered a range of materials and styles. Some were caulked with moss (calfetés avec de la mousse)[NOTE 18] others with clayey earth: "bouzillés de terre grasse dans tous les joints" [NOTE 19] or "reconverts en torchis de terre grasse"[NOTE 20] which means a mixture of clayey earth and straw.

Different types of masonry fillings for the "piquets" were used: lime plaster inside and out (enduit de chaux dedans et dehors) [NOTE 21], lime and sand plaster inside and out (enduit de chaux et sable dedans et dehors) [NOTE 22] with clayey earth and lime, whitewashed (crepy dedans en terre grasse et chaux, blanchy) [NOTE 23], caulked with moss, and plastered in clay (calfeté de mousse et enduit d'argile)[NOTE 24] . Needless to say caulking was the least permanent of the materials used; de Pensens writing to the Minister in 1734, complained that the earth of the cracks fell regularly in the frosts (la terre des entredeux des piquets tombent regulièrement dans les gelées) [NOTE 25].

Wood planking was also a common revetment either outside only or both in and out: at least six documents refer to that type of revetment, the most detailed being the Marché between Beaubassin, Sylvain et Cie and Dubenca:

Tout le contour d'icelle sera en dehors jusqu'à hauteur de Rez de Chaussée entourré d'un Madrier de baston delardé à sifflet et le restant en plance de Baston recouvrant d'un poulce l'un sur l'autre à sifflet ... [NOTE 26]

(The surround of the outside of the said house up to the first floor will be encircled in bevelled Boston planks, and the remaining part in bevelled Boston boards, covering one another by an inch).

Interior board panelling is also a possibility in "piquet" houses: "lambrissé en planches" [NOTE 27].

One interesting feature to note is that when one speaks of planking outside a house, one thinks of horizontal boards, but few., if any, views show this condition. Virtually all show vertical revetting [NOTE 28]. Some of these obviously are meant to show pickets, but some would certainly be planks. This problem will require more study before a final answer can be approached.


The structure of roofs of "piquets" buildings vary considerably. The cabanne of Laurent Dybarat, for instance, had no principal rafters nor purlins: the roof was composed of six king posts, a 30 ridge beam and common rafters, assembled on the wall plates . The same type of roof is found in the Monnier dit Surgere cabanne [NOTE 31]. A 1756 document mentions a "piquets" cabanne without trusses, the roof being made of rounded fir-tree chevrons [NOTE 32]. The government buildings in Port La Joye have slightly more elaborate trusses, with tie beam, king post, principal rafters and ridge beams, assembled to wall plates, and in one case, to a double wall plate, 7 pouces by 7 pouces. [NOTE 33].

The roofing material for "piquets" houses includes every conceivable combination of material with the exception of slate; however, C. Pouyez's report on roofs shows that the most common material was plan de bois and plan de terre; board roofing and bark roofing were also quite common, while shingles were seldom used. Out of fifty buildings, 21 are covered with plan de bois or plan de terre or a combination of both, 11 are covered with boards, 10 with bark and 8 with shingles [NOTE 34].


In considering the question of floors, it is difficult to assess what relation floors had to the walls of the buildings, that is to determine if the floor joists were tied into the walls and to discover how the upper floors were related to the "piquets" walls.

One document spoke of floor joists 6 pieds apart on the ground floor and 5 apart in the attic, with squared "piquets" on the ground floor (solli de piquets equarris en bas sur poutres posées de six p. en 6) [NOTE 35]. Some of the "piquets" buildings had no floors (sans planchers ni haut ni bas)[NOTE 36]. Often, the floors appeared to be only squared "piquets", probably laid on sleepers (le sollage de piquets equarris)[NOTE 37], (de chevrons ecaris sur une face)[NOTE 38] (solly de piquets)[NOTE 37], other houses had floors for both the ground and attic (planché haut et bas de pin )[NOTE 39](planché haut et bas en madriers de 2 pouces) [NOTE 40. Also, a ground floor could be of "piquets" flattened on top and placed on sleepers and the upper floor planed and joined planks on traverses. [source 41].

It will be obvious from this introduction that it is not possible to say that a "piquets" house was any one thing, but rather spanned a range of styles. Details concerning other features in "Piquets" houses, such as fireplaces, doors, windows, etc... will be found in reports on these topics. [NOTE 42].


[NOTE 1]: Inventaire des effets de feu Jean Milly. Louisbourg, 25 septembre 1750. A.N., Section Outre-Mer, G2 , vol, 211, doss, 518, no 4.; [NOTE 2]: Verrier au ministre. Louisbourg,, 29 novembre 1731. A.N., Col., C11B, vol. 12, fol. 119; [NOTE 3]: Conseil Supérieur au ministre. Louisbourg, 28 janvier 1721. A.N., Col., C11B, vol. 5. fol. 301 v.; [NOTE 4]: Concernant le terrain de Jacques Fournac, Louisbourg, 10 aout 1737. A.N. Sect. O.M., G2, 185, fol. 2. Procès verbal de descente et description des biens de Jacques Fournac. Louisbourg, 23 juillet 1728. A.N., Col., CllB, vol. 20, fol. 133; [NOTE 5]: Conventions entre Marie Josèphe Chéron., veuve Carrerot, et Guillaume Halbot. Louisbourg, 30 mars 1751. A.N., Section Outre- Mer, G3, carton 2041, pt. no. 126; [NOTE 6]: Bail A loyer: André Monier dit Surgere & Frances Lucas. Louisbourg, 19 janvier 1736. A.N., Sec.Outre-Mer, G3, carton 2049, pt. 2, no. 44; [NOTE 7]: Conventions entre Gilles Chalois charpentier et la veuve Lagrange. Louisbourg, 11 juillet 1750 A.N., Section Outre-Mer, G3 carton 2047, pt.1, no. 132; [NOTE 8]: Etat de la dépense ... pour la construction... au Port Toulouse... 9 September 1751. A.N., Col.,, CIIB., vol. 28, fol. 267; [NOTE 9]: Etat de la dépense... Port Toulouse... . Port Toulouse, 9 septembre 1751. A.N., Col., C11B, vol. 28, fol. 267; [NOTE 10]: Etat de la dépense... Port La Joye... Port La Joye, 3 septembre 1751. A.N... Col., C11B, vol. 28, fol. 287; [NOTE 11]: "Memoire de l'etat où se trouve la maison ... appartenant au Sr Lagrange". Louisbourg, 23 aout 1720. A.N., Col., C11C., vol. 15 suite, pièce 230; [NOTE 12]: Etat de la depense ... Port La Joye. Port La Joye, 3 sept. 1751. A.N., Col., C11B. vol. 28, fol. 295; [NOTE 13]: Concernant le Sieur Lacroix. Louisbourg, 13 déc., 1755. A.N., Section Outre-Mer., G2. vol. 203, dossier 387. See also: Rodrigue. Louisbourg, 22 juillet 1752. A.N., Section Outre-Mer, G2, vol. 201.. dossier 257; [NOTE 14]: Estat de L'estimation des batisses... Louisbourg, 1742. A.N., Col,, C11B., vol. 24, fol. 219v; [NOTE 15]: Duchambon au ministre. Louisbourg, 10 nov. 1738, A.N., Col., CllB, Vol.20, fol. 274; [NOTE 16]: Vente de maison Jacques Rabasse à Madeleine Lartigue. Lsb., 30 juin 1756 A.N... Section Outre-Mer, G3, carton 2044, no. 59; [NOTE 17]: Vol dans le magasin de Delort. Lsb., 8 août, 1740. A.N., Section- Mer, G2 . Vol. 186, fol. 232; [NOTE 18]: Gratien d'Arrigand à Rouillé. Lsb., 16 mai 1751. A.N. Col., E, vol. 91 pièce 16; [NOTE 19]: Estat de la depense... Port Toulouse.... Port Toulouse, 9 sept. 1751,, A.N., Col., C11B, Vol. 28, fol. 267; [NOTE 2O]: Estat de la depense... Port LaJoye ... Port LaJoye, 3 sept. 1751, A.N,, Col., C11B, Vol. 28, fol. 287; [NOTE 21]: Conseil à de Mézy. Louisbourg, 24 nov. 1721. A.N., Col., C11C, Vol. 15 suite, pièce 206, p.23; [NOTE 22]: Inventaire Benoist. Lsb. 19 dec. 1733. A.N., Sec. O.M., G2 186,, fol. 986 - 1009; [NOTE 23]: Concernant le Sieur Lacroix. Lsb., 13 déc. 1755, Section Outre-Mer, G2 , Vol. 203, dossier 381; [NOTE 24]: Travaux de 1'établissement ... dans L'Ile St. Jean. s.l., 1734, A.N. Col, C11B. Vol. 16., fol. 174; [NOTE 25]: De Pensens au Ministre. Louisbourg, 20 octobre 1734, A.N., Col, C11B, vol. 16., fol. 156; [NOTE 26]: Marché entre Beaubassin, Sylvain et Cie et Dubenca. Louisbourg, 30 mai 1756. A.N., Section Outre-Mer., G3, carton 2044, no. 53. See also: Vente Dangeac A Decoux. Louisbourg, 1 septembre 1750. A.N., Section Outre-Mer, G3, carton 2041, pt.1, pièce 63. Convention entre Marie Joseph Cheron et Guillaume Halbot. Lsb., 30 mars 1751. A.N., Section Outre-Mer, G3, carton 2041, pt. l. pièce 126. Inventaire, Lecuyer. Louisbourg, 21 mars 1750. A.N., Section Outre-Mer, G2, vol 211, dossier 519; [SECTION 27]; Etat de la maison de La Forest. Louisbourg, 20 avril 1728. A.N., Col, CIIB, vol. 10, fol. 154; [NOTE 28]: See, for instance, views 731-3 and 733-1; [NOTE 29]: For a more detailed discussion of roofs and roofing, see: Christian Pouyez. "Rapport préliminaire sur les toits et couvertures".. Preliminary Architectural Studies . Vol. III. [NOTE 30]: Vente de maison: Laurent Dybarart à Michel Daccarette. Louisbourg, 21 nov. 1721. A.N.,, Sect. O.M., G3., carton 2057, no. 23-24; [NOTE 31]: Bail à Loyer: André Monier dit Surgere à Francois Lucas. Lsb., 19 janvier 1736. A.N., Section O.M. G3, 2039 suite, no. 44; [NOTE 32]: Vente d'une maison: Jacques Rabasse à Madeleine Lartigue. Lsb., 30 juin 1756. A.N., sect. O.M., G3, 2044 suite, no. 59; [NOTE 33]; Etat de la dépense ... Port La Joye... Port La Joye, 3 sept 1751. A.N. Sect. O.M., G3 vol 28, fol. 287-296; [NOTE 34]: C. Pouyez. "Rapport préliminaire sur les toits et couvertures". Preliminary Architectural Reports, vol III, p.23; [NOTE 35]: Conventions entre Gilles Chalois et la Veuve Lagrange. Lsb., 11 juillet 1750. A.N. Section Outre-Mer G3 carton 2047, 1ère partie, pièce 132; [NOTE 36]: Bail. à loyer: André Monier dit Surgere à Francois Lucas. Lsb. 19 janvier 1736, A.N., Section Outre-Mer, G3. carton 2039, no. 44; [NOTE 37]; Lagrange au Comte de Toulouse. Lsb., 21 octobre 1722. A.N. Col. C11B, vol. 15 (2), fol. 230; [NOTE 38]: Vente de maison: Laurent Dybarart à Michel Daccarette. Lsb., 21 nov. 1721. A.N., Col., Sec. Outre-Mer, G3, 2057, pièces 23-24; [NOTE 39]: Concernant le terrain de Jacques Fournac. Lsb, 10 aout 1737, A.N., Section Outre-Mer, G3, Vol. 185, fol. 2; [NOTE 40]: Convention entre Marie Joseph Cheron et Guillaume Halbot. Lsb., 30 mars 1751. A.N. Sec . Outre-Mer, G3, carton 2041 pt.1 , no. 126; [NOTE 41]; Etat de la depense. Port Toulouze ... Port Toulouse, 9 sept. 1751, A.N., Col., C11B, Vol. 28, fol. 268v; [NOTE 42]: H.P. Thibault. "Heating and cooking facilities in private dwellings in Louisbourg", Preliminary Architectural Reports, Vol. III. Linda Hoad. "Doors" 'Preliminary, Architectural Reports., Vol. II, Linda Hoad. "Windows, a preliminary study", ibid.