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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 One - Louisbourg - The Land and its Utilization

Louisbourg Topography

Harbour Area

Since commentators rarely distinguished between one part of Louisbourg harbour and another, all the characteristics described in connection with the fortress-fauxbourg area must be applied to the rest of the harbour as well. The ground was hilly and rocky, and soil generally unfertile, and the tree line, except around the lighthouse, pushed back from two to four miles from the coast. It is this last feature which would probably present the most stark contrast between Louisbourg of the 18th century and Louisbourg today. Within only a few years of their arrival at Louisbourg the French had stripped the area around the harbour of wood, revealing the hilly landscape in a way that is difficult to appreciate today.

Two views from the harbour offer some idea of the forbidding sight which greeted ships entering Louisbourg in the 18th century. The first includes the entire harbour with the town and fortification on the left and the individual habitations around the shore, along with the Royal Battery and. on the right, the lighthouse. The quality of the artist's rendition suggests that, while not every detail is pictured with total accuracy, he was capable of depicting the place as he saw it. The height of the hills is exaggerated, but it is nonetheless apparent that they dwarfed the settlement strung out along the shore. Instead of a cozy village snug between a living forest and a living sea, the community strung along Louisbourg's shore sits on the brink of something very bleak and inhospitable. [52]

The second view is a frontal look at the Royal Battery. Behind can be seen the bare hills which compromised the work from its inception. Drawn from a point closer to the shore, this view reveals scrub brush covering the hillsides. Despite the brush, the visual effect of this treelessness can still be imagined. [53]

Concessions of land in Ile Royale were supposed to measure no more than 40 toises in depth. Vallée, in making a survey of the harbour in 1734, noted that this regulation had been ignored in granting most of the harbour properties. Instead, up to 100 toises was granted to compensate the inhabitants for the poor quality of the land. [54] Though not suitable for cultivation, the land around the harbour was capable of producing hay fields and pasturage. [55] The most significant difference between the fortress-fauxbourg area and the rest of the harbour was the absence in the other four "zones" of significant marshland. The area behind the hills to the rear of the Royal Battery is described as a dried-up lake in the plans and may have been soft, wet ground. There are many other wet areas, but there is nothing to compare with the bog formations before the landward fortifications or near Kennington Cove.

The terrain surrounding Louisbourg harbour was drained by numerous streams which emptied into three sizeable barachois and a smaller inlet described on plans as an "etang". A barachois, according to the Larousse dictionary, is a "small, natural port, shallow, enclosed by rocks at water level". The three on Louisbourg's coast seem to have conformed to this definition during the 18th century since the causeways which exist today were not constructed until the 20th century. Pichon did note, however, that the French tended to use the term "barachois" for any pond near the shore which was separated from the sea by a "grave ou chaussee de cailleux". [56]

The presence of the streams and barachois had the effect of dividing the land around the harbour into five sections. Though it is generally easy to determine which area was meant, the distinctions are sometimes blurred and confusion arises. The sections of the harbourfront were:

1) Rochefort Point to the Barachois Du Ouest or De Lasson. This included the fortress site and fauxbourg. The peninsula which partially closed the barachois appears to have been much larger than is the case today. To judge from Vallee's comments in 1734, it had, in fact, altered a good deal between 1717 when it was granted to Lassin and 1734 when Vallée made his survey. [57]

2) The area between the two streams which fed the Barachois Du Ouest 

3) The north shore or the area between the Barachois Du Ouest and the Barachois De Gène or Plédien

4) The fond de la baie or the area from the Barachois De Gène to the last, unnamed barachois

5) Everything south of the last barachois to Lighthouse Point. This rocky area appears to have at least partially retained its tree cover. Since it was unsuitable for drying fish, it attracted few inhabitants during the French period.

In January, 1754, Gratien D'Arrigrand, who had been granted a large concession north of the fond de la baie, described the area in the environs of Lac de l'Avé Maria. To the south of the lake, he said, toward Louisbourg, the land was very poor, covered with "beaten-down fir". It was, he concluded, proper for nothing. The approaches to the lake from Louisbourg were so wide that nothing ventured there except hunters and men wishing to fish for trout, plentiful in this lake, through the ice. To the north, D'Arrigrand continued, "the shores ... are fir, much cut up, with many trees thrown down on one another by gales, and others still standing; this does not make a very gracious country to travel through". However, just a short distance from this area was "magnificent hardwood and excellent lands". [58]

One topographical feature which was noted on most maps is Montaigne Du Diable, located at the border of lieutenant de roi Bourville's habitation north of the fond de la baie. A lake of the same name was situated at the foot of the hill on Bourville's property. It was a name the French seem to have been fond of since they give it to at least two other pieces of high ground, thus making confusion inevitable. The second Montaigne Du Diable is on the road to Mira, northwest of Louisbourg. It is the one referred to by La Roque in his 1752 survey of the island. The third mountain of the same name was situated near the Grand Lac de Mire along the road which led there from Louisbourg. [59]