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Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada
Stairways, Balconies, Perrons
by Christian Pouyez
Preliminary Architectural Studies,
Volume 02, Unpublished Report HG 02
(Fortress of Louisbourg, 1972,
Report Number H G 02 02 01 E)
With the source material we have at present, it is almost impossible to study stairways, perrons and balconies in Louisbourg's civilian buildings. Contrary to our usual policy for draft reports, we were forced to resort almost solely to maps. This type of source however, cannot be substituted for written documents: a house plan can tell us about the shape of a stairway, but nothing about the materials used and, with few exceptions, we can learn nothing about the structure and appurtenances of the stairway. The study of balconies and perrons is also based on maps, and more particularly on views of Louisbourg or at least part of the town.
The Civil Architecture File is unfortunately too incomplete at the moment for us to study adequately the various problems pertaining to the building of steps, stairs and balconies. Several documents certainly make mention of stairways, but we can learn nothing of their structure. A single example, from the lease of the Jean Claparede house, will suffice to illustrate this point; in the lease the various parts of the house are specified in detail:
... Further ahead on the right a small storehouse, a double iron door, a locked lumber room underneath the staircase ... and going upstairs to the second floor ... and going upstairs to the third floor ... [NOTE 1]
As may be noted, stairways are mentioned three times, but no details are given that would be useful for a study of the construction and shape of the stairs.
A few rare documents - three in all - are a little more explicit since they indicate the type of wood used: in one case, the string (i.e. the supporting structure), treads and risers are made of hard- wood [NOTE 2]; in the second case the first step is made of hardwood and the remaining ones are made of Boston plank [NOTE 3]; finally, in a third example, more details are given but in a rather confusing manner:
The stairway will also be made anew so that there are only three winders, the string of these steps will be made of hardwood with curved wooden balusters along the rail joined by tenon and mortise. The upper part of the balustrade will also be supported by balusters and right-angled curved posts all balusters will be four inches wide and crisscrossed, both full and empty [NOTE 4].
It seems that in this case we have an angled staircase with upper landing. The frame must have been made of hardwood; the wood used for the treads, risers and balusters is not indicated. The balusters must have been four inches by four inches, curved and set in the string and railing by tenon and mortise. As for the landing balustrade, we can assume that it was a lattice structure ("crisscrossed") as illustrated below: [PAGE 4: [Illustration]
This is the only information that can be found in the source material now indexed in the Civil Architecture File.
Map sources are much more numerous, but, as we have already pointed out, they tell us only about the shape of stairways, and with but one exception they depict military or public buildings: barracks, hospital, etc ... The only private house plan on which stairways appear is that of the Dugué house [NOTE 5] (1752-13): the staircase is straight in this case with two banisters and a landing. Each flight has eight stairs; even if the plan does not have a scale, we can infer from the dimensions of the various parts of the house that the steps were about three feet long. The landing measured about six feet long by three feet wide.
All the other plans depict public and military buildings; it would not serve our purpose here to make an analysis of these buildings in a study dealing with civil architecture. Actually, in constructions of this type, the shape of the staircase mainly depends on: (1) the size of the building, (2) the building's use. In our opinion, therefore, it would be very illogical to take the shapes of stairways that might be found in public buildings as models applicable to private homes. It [PAGE 5:] might be pointed out however that nearly all styles of stairways may be found in Louisbourg: straight stairways, winding stairways, horseshoe stairways, etc ... This fact is also clearly shown in the maps and plans that have been compiled and attached to this report.
Balconies were fairly rare in Louisbourg, if we can judge from the few general views of the town (particularly 1731-1 and 1731-3). The only two balconies that can be distinguished are those on the commissaire ordonnateur's house and the house belonging to Claude Morin, called Langevin. In addition, in the documents we can find mention of another balcony on the Guion house; all we know of it, is that it was on the first floor [NOTE 6]. As for the balcony on the Morin house, it seems to have been quite large, i.e. it extended over the whole width of the house on the north side. It was supported by four braces placed diagonally underneath it; we cannot tell whether these braces were made of wood or metal [NOTE 7]
The balcony of the commissaire- ordonnateur's house appears on several plans [NOTE 8]; this balcony is studied in Brenda Dunn's report on Lot G of Block 2; following are her findings:
A distinctive feature of the De Mezy house was a balcony on the north wall, overlooking the Quay. The center two windows of the upper storey opened onto the balcony. The structure was built of moulded balusters and supported by scroll-shaped braces. It seems to have been of wood construction [NOTE 9].
[PAGE 6:] We might add that there were three braces supporting the balcony and these braces were very likely made of metal.
A perron is "a flight of several steps giving access to a covered or uncovered landing, that is placed outside in front of the entrance of a floor that is slightly above ground level" [NOTE 10]. The perron can therefore take on a great variety of shapes, from the single flight to the double flight. We discovered nine examples of perrons: the simplest ones appear on Plans 1733-9b, 1733-11 and 1739-5 and consist of two to four steps; the bottom step is longer than the second, the second longer than the third, etc ... [NOTE 11].
On Plan 1734-4 (Iot D, Block 2) another type of perron, which is slightly more complex can be seen: the steps run parallel to the length of the house and end at the landing; the whole perron is girded by an angled railing [NOTE 12].
Finally, in houses where the main floor is fairly high above the ground, we sometimes find double perrons, consisting of a landing opposite the front door and a flight of stairs on each side. A railing with balusters completes this structure, which is sometimes supported by two posts (1731-3 for example). Such perrons were found on Lot B of Block 3 [NOTE 13] (Le Billard), in front of the Rodrigue house (2H) [NOTE 14] and in front of one of the houses belonging to lartigue [NOTE 15]. In this last case the same house had three perrons: two double ones and a single one; the single perron had only a single flight of stairs instead of two. As for the Rodrigue house (2H), Plan 1731- 1 shows a perron that runs along [ PAGE 7:] the whole façade of the house, with stairways at each end, while Plan 1731-3 illustrates a different structure: the doors of the house are located at both ends of the façade with access possible by means of three or four steps; between these two doors, a balcony extends over the length of the house at main floor level.
Such is the scarce bit of data we have available at present on stairways, balconies and perrons in private homes at Louisbourg. It is to be hoped that the source material not yet indexed will be more extensive than what we have now. [PAGE 8:]
[NOTE 1:] House lease, Jean Claparède to Jacques Brunet, Louisbourg. June 1, 1756. A.N., Section Outre-Mer, G3, Carton 2045, No. 67. [NOTE 2:] Contract between Beaubassin and Dubenca. Louisbourg, May 30 1756. A.N., Section Outre-Mer, G3, Carton 2044, No 53. [NOTE 3:] Specification for the building of a house. Louisbourg, July 26, 1754. Section Outre-Mer, G3, Carton 2042, No 69. [NOTE 4:] Repair estimates. Louisbourg, August 7, 1752. A.N., Section Outre-Mer, G2, 208, file 475, document 72; [NOTE 5:] Plan of the Dugué house. Louisbourg, October 6 1752. A.F.L., M.C. 1752-13; [NOTE 6:] House lease, Jean Claparède to Jacques Brunet. Louisbourg, June 1, 1756. A.N., Outre-Mer, G3 Carton 2045, No. 67. [NOTE 7:] A.F.L., Plan 1751-1; [NOTE 8:] A.F.L., M.C., 1731-1, 1731-3, 1731-3a, N.D. 7, N.D. 7a. [NOTE 9:] Brenda Dunn, Block 2, Lot G. Property of the commissaire-ordonnateur, (Louisbourg, Septembre 1969), p. 5; [NOTE 10:] Chabat, Dictionnaire des termes employés dans la construction (Paris, Morel, 1876), T.2, Article Perron. [NOTE 11:] A.F.L., M.C., 1733-9b, 1733-11, 1739-5, 1753-1; [NOTE 12:] A.F.L., M.C., 1734-4; [NOTE 13:] A.F.L., M.C., 1731-1 et 1731-3; [NOTE 14:] A.F.L., M.C., 1731-1 et 1731-3; [NOTE 15:] A.F.L., M.C., 1753-1.