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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



Microfiche Report Series 83


Margaret Fortier


Fortress of Louisbourg

Part Two - The Outports


Modern-day reports of "old French roads" sometimes suggest that the French of Ile Royale were the greatest road builders since the ancient Romans. In fact, only a few roads were officially sanctioned and paid for by the French government. These were built wide enough for vehicular traffic with drainage ditches and bridges. What other "roads" there were most likely resembled those described in an account of the travels of Reverend James MacGregor at the end of the 18th century. Roads then: 

consisted merely in cutting out the trees in the line of travel, sufficiently to form a sort of bridle path. The stumps were not removed, nor was the ground levelled or thrown up. This, however, enabled the traveller to proceed on horseback. This was so much gained, but if any modern thinks, that this secured more rapid locomotion, he only betrays his ignorance of the subject. A good walker would not only keep up with a traveller on horseback but often get ahead of him. The ground was generally soft, and sometimes so deep, that the horse could scarcely carry its rider ... [1] 

Des Barres noticed in 1817 that the roads of Cape Breton were "more pathways or avenues cut through the forest ..." [2]

There is no specific documentary information regarding the building of the road which ran from the Dauphin Gate, the main landward entrance to the town of Louisbourg, and the Barachois De Lasson. Known in the 1750s as the Rue Du Fauxbourg, the road seems to have run close to the shore as far as the southeastern corner of the barachois. This point was known as the passage due to the ferry service maintained there between the fauxbourg and the opposite shore of the barachois. [3]

In 1734 a proposal was made to build a causeway and bridge from the fauxbourg to the tip of the peninsula conceded to George Lasson. During this period the peninsula extended twice as far as it does today. The section which is now underwater was essentially a sandbar used exclusively for drying fish. [4] It was felt that the proposed causeway and bridge would both facilitate travel around the harbour and create a sheltered wintering place for boats within the barachois. By 1738 everyone seemed to agree in principle with the project, and the necessary plans were drawn up by Verrier. A severe storm in January 1740 washed out the road along the fauxbourg. This served to reinforce the commitment of the colony's officials to the project, but their sense of urgency was not shared by their superiors in France who decided to postpone it indefinitely. Construction was begun, however, on a dike or retaining wall along the shore which would act as a buffer between the rebuilt wall and the sea. [5]

A few plans indicate the presence of a bridge from the fauxbourg to Lasson's sandbar, but there is no record of one ever having been built. [6] In the fall of 1738 the Minister of the Marine was informed that the road from the south side of the barachois had been extended to the junction of the roads to Miré and the Royal Battery. This, he was told, greatly facilitated travel around the harbour. [7] It also made construction of a bridge in conjunction with the causeway unnecessary. [8] It is not known if the French discontinued the ferry service when this section of road was completed. If so, it seems to have been resumed in the 1750s, at which time Guillaume Aufray was engaged by Louis Friquet to conduct a canot across the barachois. [9]

The newly completed barachois road ran between two properties situated at the passage, then followed the south shore of the barachois across a stream, to a cove where a substantial bridge was required. Some properties are described in the 1750s as bordering on the chemin du barachois and another "rue". Exactly what this second road was cannot be identified. It may have been one of the roads opened by the New Englanders during the 1745 siege. On the barachois' northern and western shores the road lay, for the most part, some distance from the water's edge. Three more streams had to be crossed. The last bridge became known as the Pont de St. Esprit. On the far side of that bridge the road continued some distance from the shore to the beginning of the road to the Miré. [10]

The stream which flowed under the Pont de St. Esprit was used for washing clothes and fetching fresh water. While there does not seem to have been any formal provision for public use of the stream prior to 1745, six toises on either side of the stream were reserved for the public during the 1750s. [11] In 1752 an ordinance made it an offence to allow animals to roam free on the roads. [12]

Approval for construction of the road to the Royal Battery was granted in 1732. Soldiers were detailed to work on the road that fall. The Minister of the Marine informed the governor that since the road was for the benefit of the inhabitants of the north shore, as well as the outlying communities of Petit Laurembec and Baleine, they should contribute towards meeting the cost, preferably by their labour. St. Ovide replied this would be a problem since it was not possible to employ fishermen or habitants on the roads during the fishing season and the weather during March and February was "trop Rude" to allow work to progress. [13] In the fall of 1733, Vallée, the surveyor, reported that he had been occupied for four months with work on the "grand chemin pavé avec fossés" to the Royal Battery. [14] Details of road construction were provided only for the one to Miré. However, it is likely the other two were built in similar fashion. [15] Expenses for the year 1733 included payment for work by the day for 28 running toises of road, 12 pieds wide, suitable for the passage of charettes and other vehicles. [16]

The governor and commissaire-ordonnateur reported in June 1734 that the road to the Royal Battery had been completed. Continuation of the road to Baleine was underway, but far from done. This road, they noted, promised to be very beneficial to the residents of Baleine who often had to travel to Louisbourg for needed goods and supplies. [17] Although every attempt had been made to keep costs down the minister was told, difficulties repeatedly arose which increased expenses. For the most part these problems were due to the nature of the terrain through which the road passed. In some places there was only "mollières" or "pays trembents", while in others, "rivieres bourbouses" and outcroppings of rock blocked the path. [18]

Bad weather forced work on the road to Baleine to stop within 2,000 toises of its destination by the end of 1734. [19] Funds granted for this road and the one to the Miré were exhausted due to the difficulties in the terrain and the large number of bridges which had to be built. [20] Requests for still more money in 1739 led the exasperated minister to refuse to go to the king again for funds. [21] Acting commandant Bourville and commissaire-ordonnateur Bigot declared in October 1740 that the roads to Miré and Baleine were in very bad condition. They planned, however, to complete Louisbourg's defensive works before repairing the two roads. Similar views were expressed a year later by Bigot and the new commandant, Duquesnel. [22]

In 1756 the French sent an engineer, Pontleroy, to survey the coast between Louisbourg and Menadou with a view to determining where ships might anchor and land troops, and how easily the troops might move along the shore. He travelled the distance by road and by a path along the coast. Generally he agreed with the inhabitants who had worn down the path that it was preferable to the road. The ground it followed was higher and drier, making up for what was lost by its being less direct. He made the trip in April, the wettest time of the year, but he was assured by the residents of the outlying communities that the road's condition improved only marginally in summer. There were places where a traveller could sink to his knees in the marsh. It took Pontleroy two and a half hours to make the trip as far as Petit Laurembec by road, while it took him four hours moving along the coast. From Baleine to Menadou, where there was no road, it took four and a quarter hours to make the trip. [23]

The road to Baleine formed the northern limit of most of the north shore waterfront concessions and the southern boundary of St. Ovide's property at the fond de la baie. It passed through La Grange's habitation at Grand Laurembec as well as Boucher's at Petit Laurembec before coming to an end at Baleine. Today the road is the same one which runs through the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Park, becoming Wolfe then Main Street within the present town of Louishourg. Just before the town's northern limit is reached, there is a turn to the right which is the route of the French road to Baleine. Some time ago this section of the road was replaced by a less hilly route north of town. A few miles along the coast the two roads meet and follow the original route. Improvements along the length of the road have altered the route even further, but sections of the old road can still be found.

In 1723 soldiers under the supervision of two officers were dispatched to begin work on a road to the Miré. [24] The Minister of the Marine greeted the news of the project with enthusiasm, declaring that completion of such a road would bring settlers to the region and make life in Louisbourg more comfortable. When this road was finished, he continued, other useful roads might be built. [25] The minister's enthusiasm waned as this road, and the one to Baleine begun a few years later, consumed a fortune in funds.

Continual rain in the spring and summer of 1725 prevented their working on the road. De Mézy, the commissaire-ordonnateur, informed the minister that he had inspected the proposed route and found six "grandes lieues" which were impassable in summer. Three lieues were covered with "mauvais sapinage avant d'entrer dans les grands bois francs". De Mézy suggested a shorter route and requested 6,000 livres to improve the road. The minister instructed Governor St. Ovide to alter the route if construction was no further along than last year. [26]

St. Ovide replied that the route he had chosen, which left Louisbourg at the southeast corner of the Barachois De Lasson, was the straightest and shortest possible. However, a fire which burned off the brush in the area revealed some enormous rocks which rendered the route impassable. Consequently, he had sent enseign Du Vivier with four or five soldiers in the spring of 1726 to search for an alternate route. The detour met the original route, St. Ovide stated, two lieues from Louisbourg. It lengthened the road only by three-quarters of a lieue. The change, shown on the maps of the period as the "chemin neuf de Miré", was approved by the minister. [27]

More funds were granted for the project in 1732. Five "barraques" were constructed at intervals along the road to lodge soldiers and officers employed in the work. [28] By June 1734 three lieues of the route had been completed. Charettes, the minister was told, would be able to travel the road in all kinds of weather, while sleighs could easily be used during the winter months. He was also assured that the road would in no way endanger Louisbourg's security since there was only one place where the enemy might land, and this was one lieue from the road. The terrain between the Bay of Gabarus, the potential landing site, and road was hilly and full of "bois serré", which made passage impossible. [29]

Good weather early in December 1734 gave hope that the road would reach the Lac de Miré that winter. However, by the end of the month the weather had changed, stopping all work on the roads. The one to Miré was only three-quarters of a lieue short of its mark. [30] A year later the colony's officials reported that the "lac" had been reached, but the funds had been exhausted. Improvement of the road would have to wait until the next year. [31] Soon after work was resumed in 1736 fire swept through the area destroying several bridges as well as one of the "barraques" which housed the soldiers. [32]

Greeted on their arrival in Ile Royale in 1739 with reports that the recently completed road was "impracticable", Governor De Forant and commissaire-ordonnateur Bigot sent Pierre Boucher, an engineer, to investigate and make recommendations. [33] The minister was not pleased to learn that despite the enormous amount of money expended the road  was in very bad shape with many of the bridges totally out of service.[34]

As a result of his findings, Boucher formulated a detailed estimate for repairing the roadway, rebuilding 20 bridges and adding five new ones. In constructing the bridges "bois de merisier" was to be used. It was, he said, "plus de consistance et d'un durée beaucoup plus considerable ..." The charpente for the bridges was to be merisier also, one pied wide and four pouces thick. To protect the bridges in the event of forest fires, all trees within 10 toises of each end of every bridge were to be cut and uprooted. Each bridge was to be 10 pieds wide. [35]

In describing repairs to the road itself Boucher divided the work to  be done into three categories:

To see that such maintenance was routinely carried out in the future Boucher recommended placing two guards on the road on a permanent basis, one at each end. The limit of their responsibility would be a fork which divided the road in two. This arrangement, Boucher felt, would prevent the disorders which arose daily from those who cut trees along the road, leaving cuttings and branches to block passage. The guards could be drawn from among the soldiers who wanted to settle. Each would receive tools, rations, clothing and 150 livres, as well as a cabane. [37] There is no indication whether this proposal or any of the recommendations for the roads itself were acted upon.

In 1751 Governor Raymond declared that it was necessary to rebuild the road from Louisbourg to Miré. He sent detachments to repair this existing road and to build a new one from the opposite shore of the "lac" to the Bras D'Or Lakes. By November 1751 work on both projects was said to be completed. [38] Such speed was unprecedented in the colony. Only 15 years later, Samuel Holland reported that the roads were "so much decayed, so much overgrown & choaked, & the Bridges & Communications so intirely [sic] ruined, that Foot Passenges [sic] upon Occasion pass with Difficulty ..." The road to Miré from Louisbourg, he said, was in better condition than the newer road, so quickly built. [39]

La Roque began his tour of Ile Royale in 1752 on the road to the Miré. On his first day out he travelled 2 lieues (5 miles) in three hours, arriving at the habitation of Pierre Boisseau. Upon leaving there the next day La Roque followed the grand chemin for half a lieue before turning on to a "chimin plaqué" which extended 3 lieues to the "fond de 40 la Coupe" of the Montagne De Diable on the shore of Gabarus Bay. Thomas Pichon mentioned the same route in his account of the island. Pichon saw this road as a tactical error on the part of Governor Raymond whom he credited with having built it.

The French government, Pichon claimed, did not order this road or the one to the Bras D'Or Lakes and was displeased by their construction. Rightly so, said Pichon, since the road, which cost 100,000 francs to build, helped the enemy become masters of the heights which dominated Louisbourg. [41] Whatever errors Raymond made while governor of Louisbourg, he was not responsible for building the road to the Miré.

The two villages established by Raymond were situated on the road about 7 lieues from Louisbourg and about 200 toises from each other. [42] Much of the road today lies within the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Park. The route continues through the woods after leaving the park until it hits Highway 327 to Gabarus. A short span of this highway is over the original road. The route then joins the present Campbelldale Road for about one mile before moving off into the woods again until it reaches the river. This last section of road from the Campbelldale Road to the river was the site of the two villages in the 1750s.

Soon after his arrival in the colony Raymond became-convinced of the need for a road connecting the Miré with the Bras D'Or Lakes. He envisioned such a road having five advantages:

Without waiting for ministerial approval, Raymond detached soldiers to repair the old roads and construct a new one to the Bras D'Or Lakes. This road probably met the lakes a few miles southeast of present-day Ben Eoin. From there travellers would go by boat to what is now Baddeck where another road was built to Port Dauphin. In the other direction, a small "chemin de portage", at the site of the present St. Peter's Canal, connected Port Toulouse with the lakes. [44]

Unlike the road between Louisbourg and the Miré which took years to construct, the new road was completed within a few months. [45] Although the minister recognized the advantages that the roads provided, he worried about the cost of maintenance and their possible use by enemy forces. [46]

The Brothers of Charity were required to contribute 1,800 livres toward construction of the road to the Miré. This was considered just because all the public stood to benefit from the road. [47] Since the habitation of the Brothers of Charity lay at the opposite end of the Miré from the road's destination they would receive little direct benefit from it. It is possible that their contribution was used to cut a less elaborate road through to their farm on the Baie De Miré. There is no documentary evidence relating to the construction of such a road, so it is not possible to know when it was begun, how well built it was, or if any government funds were spent on its construction. It first appears on a plan in 1729. [48]

Early in 1757 a French engineer, Poilly, toured the island. He recorded his trip in detail and provided a map to accompany the text. According to his account Poilly left Louisbourg on the road to the Miré, going only as far as the habitation belonging to Allain Le Gras. There he turned right and followed a footpath that led to the Riviere aux Roches (Six Mile Brook). On the way he passed a "fontaine quarre". After crossing the Rivière aux Roches, which he said was more a stream than a river, Poilly entered the woods and took the "chemin qui conduit à l'habitation des Pères de la Charité". His use of the work "chemin" instead of "sentier" to describe the roadway, would seem to indicate that the route to the Brothers of Charity farm was wider and more regularly laid out. Others, however, use the word "chemin" to indicate any kind of thoroughfare of whatever quality. [49]

After travelling a short distance along this road Poilly came to a fork in the road. To the right lay the route to the Brothers of Charity property, while to the left was a footpath to the Miré. Following the path, he came to the Rivière Durand (Catalone River) where a bridge had been built by a habitant. The river, he said, was shallow and about 12 toises wide. After crossing the river he climbed a height known as "Mont a peine". From there he continued to the river, which was frozen at that time. He and his party crossed the ice to the habitation of Longevin. In all the journey from Louisbourg took five and three-quarter hours. Longevin informed Poilly that he kept a small boat at the river for his own use and to take travellers across. [50]

In 1733, when he was seeking a concession of land near Louisbourg, D'Arrigrand told the minister that it was possible to make the trip from Port Dauphin to Louisbourg in under 24 hours if necessary. Officials in the colony stated that they did not know what route D'Arrigrand was speaking of since they knew of no way to make the trip in less than two days. D'Arrigrand was referring to a route which went to or from Port Dauphin by way of Baie Des Espagnols. The route which the French were in the process of building took the traveller west to the upper Miré then east to Port Dauphin or Louisbourg. [51] Governor Desherbiers, in 1749, called for the construction of a road from Baie Des Espagnols to "Petit Miré", thence to Louisbourg. A path existed already, he said, and a bridge which had been destroyed by the English out of fear of the Indians was rebuilt for hunters and others who wintered in the area. Where the bridge was located he did not say, but it is probably the one over the Rivière Durand. [52] Desherbiers' recommendation was not acted upon, as his successor, Raymond, chose instead to repair the grand chemin de Miré and continue it on the other shore. Poilly felt this was a mistake since the route from Louisbourg through Baie Des Espagnols would have been more direct and over better terrain. [53]

A few plans show the road to the property of the Brothers of Charity, as well as one to the Barachois De Miré, and two or three from Louisbourg connecting with these two. Most of these plans have such a degree of similarity that it would seem that the earlier of them was used as a base-plan for the rest. Therefore, roads which were only projections appear on later plans as well. [54] There is nothing to indicate that any of these roads was built by the government. All could have existed as paths cut by inhabitants to facilitate their reaching their properties or cutting wood.

1. A 1720 plan of the peninsula on which Louisbourg was built indicates the presence of numerous "chemins". These were probably no more than rude paths which disappeared once the fortifications were erected and the town regularly laid out. [55] Paths to and from properties on Rochefort Point and around the harbour most likely emerged wherever traffic went. Prior to 1745 there seems to have been little formal planning outside the walls. Aside from marking the boundaries of their concessions, property holders seem to have had few obligations vis-a- vis the public at large. [56] Sieur Rochefort was obliged to leave 6 toises between his property and Genier's on the tip of Rochefort Point. The property of Nicolas Baron and Daccarette near the grand étang were separated by a road 15 pieds wide. [57] In the 1750s several recipients of concessions were required to leave 12 pieds between their properties and their neighbours, but there was no mention of these spaces being public thoroughfares. One grant, to Pierre Lievre in the Barachois De Lassen area, called for 18 pieds to the east of his land to be always free for public passage. Twelve toises along each side of the stream which flowed under the Pont De St. Esprit was also reserved for public use, but only in the 1750s. [58]

2. In 1731 Pierre Boucher wrote that his land at Petit Laurembec began at the old road to the Miré. No such road is indicated on any of the plans. Whatever route it took it almost certainly led to the Barachois De Miré. Before sailing to France that year, Boucher added, he had instructed five workers to cut paths in designated areas to give fishermen access to firewood. [59]

That same year Governor St. Ovide responded to complaints that the large tracts of land granted to some people were preventing fishermen from getting needed wood. The governor stated that fishermen were allowed to cut wood on these conceded lands. In fact, if it were not for the roads and bridges built by the landowners, the fishermen would not be able to reach available wood. [60] This was supported by the commissaire-ordonnateur the next year when he assured the minister that habitants were always allowed to cut wood. All that was asked, he said, was that the cutting be done in certain areas and that the roads, which have been opened at the landowner's expense, not be ruined. In addition to Boucher, he mentioned La Grange, Bourville, St. Ovide, Villejouin, Rousseau, De Gannes and the Brothers of Charity. [61]

3. Plans of St. Ovide's habitation at the fond de la baie indicate a path from the farm to Rivière aux Roches where there was a barn, probably for storing hay cut in the vicinity. This path is sometimes referred to as "chemin des prairies". [62]

4. Some plans indicate a path between the Grand Lac De Miré and St. Ovide's habitation on the Riviere des Prairies. A second path is shown on one of them connecting St. Ovide's property with the concession granted to Ponapetit, a former soldier. [63]

5. In the same general area a path is shown leading from the habitation of Fouquet on the Rivière des Prairies to the sawmill belonging to Nicolas Larcher, which was further upstream. The plan on which this appears is undated. Larcher received his concession in 1757, but he may have occupied the land prior to that date. [64]

6. Claude Gueret and Captain D'Estimauville were each granted land for prairie in 1754 which bordered the Rivière Durand. The western boundary of their lands was said to be a road commonly called "La Borde". Since Jean La Borde received a concession of grassland in the area in 1741, this "road" was probably a footpath cut by him to his property. [65]

1. English - 1745

During the first siege the New England troops created relatively few roads, though they did cut a road from their camp at Freshwater Brook to within a few hundred yards of the town's walls. Once within firing range they established paths of communication between their batteries. [66]

2. French - 1757

Determined to be more prepared than they had been in 1745, the French established batteries and stationed troops at Flat Point, Kennington Cove, Rochefort Point, Grand Laurembec and Gabarus. Behind the batteries and retrenchments which were erected, they constructed "chemins de retraite". At Flat Point the "chemin qui conduit à Louisbourg" is also marked on a plan. A path is shown leading from the sortie of the Maurepas Gate's outer defences to the battery on the northeastern tip of Rochefort Point. This is probably the same path which formerly led to the concessions of Genier and Rochefort. [67] 

3. English - 1758 

When the troops of the regular British army arrived in 1758 they laid siege in a more orthodox manner than had been the case in 1745. Besides a road from Kennington Cove where they landed, they built a labyrinth of communications and roads over which to move their troops and artillery. [68] On 22 June, two weeks after the English landing, it was noted that they worked constantly on communications between Flat Point and their camp, as well as on roads connecting their camp with the roads to Miré and the fond do la baie. [69] The English also constructed redoubts which were joined together by roads of communication, the closest to the walls being only 350-400 toises away. Behind these redoubts they built a road over which they moved their cannon. [70] Roads were also constructed on the opposite side of the harbour on Lighthouse Point. [71]

A road to the lighthouse from the careening wharf was proposed in 1738. The Minister of the Marine replied that if such a road was built the necessary money should not be taken from the fortification funds. [72] In October 1740 the commissaire-ordonnateur, Bigot, wrote that this road, suggested by his predecessor Le Normant, was unnecessary. There were, he said, no horses or charettes on that side of the harbour. Moreover, there was no way to get such things to this road if it were built. The road would, therefore, only serve people on foot. The money for the road would be better spent buying oil for the lighthouse. [73]

The plans do not indicate the presence of any road or path from the fond de la baie to the lighthouse. However, when Pontleroy made his trip to Menadou in 1756 he reported that he began his trip along the coast by taking the "chemin" which joined these two points. This was, no doubt, only a path. It was, Pontleroy noted, "assay bon". [74]