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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 Land Use

Fortress Site and Immediate Environs


Long before the arrival of the French the land along Louisbourg harbour, Havre à l'Anglois, was used by fishermen to dry and prepare their catch before returning to England and Europe. The harbour continued to attract fishermen after the establishment of French control. A 1718 census reported that there were 58 habitants at Louisbourg with 37 women, 79 boys and 36 girls. Also listed were 358 fishermen who either worked for one of the habitants or came seasonally to fish.[1] It was this extensive use of Louisbourg's harbour and the growth of the population in the area which convinced the French authorities to abandon their plan to establish the capital of Ile Royale at Port Dauphin. Almost ten years after the departure of the French in 1758 Samuel Holland declared that the many "conveniences" of the fishery which had been made at Louisbourg could still be seen. "Wherever a Boat could possibly land in this Harbor," he said, "if a Beach was wanting there was an artificial one made, & Stages with other Necessities erected ..." [2]

Included among the "Necessities" of a fishing property were:

Larger fishing establishments included each of these features. Others had either graves or vigneaux for drying, and some had no chafauds. In such cases the boats might have been pulled right up on shore.

In addition to chafauds, vigneaux and a grave, a fisherman would also have on his property a pile of fish which would grow larger as additional catches were added. The fish were stacked in such a way that the "skin of the fish kept moisture from entering ... " Sailcloth was also used to cover the drying fish. Besides the house and garden of the proprietor or his tenant, a property might also have work or storage sheds, cabanes for housing employees, barns or poultry sheds. [5]

One of the most desirable areas for fishing properties prior to the building of the fortifications was the stretch of beach from the tip of Rochefort Point to the barachois at the end of the fauxbourg. By the time the decision was made in 1717 to move the capital back to Louisbourg, a good part of the land in this area had already been granted. [6] From Rochefort Point to the western end of the grand étang all but one piece of land had already been conceded. All but two of these properties seem to have had graves for drying the fish. Two of the properties were simply graves with no additional land suitable for a house and garden. Three had land on the tongue which jutted into the pond (pres'île du quay), in addition to graves on the harbour's edge. Bridges were built by two of the proprietors across the western end of the pond to provide more direct access to their graves. Each seems to have had a chafaud. The men holding these concessions were:

Those with property along the grand étang were particularly vocal in their opposition to the regularizing of the town into blocks. They claimed the new arrangement would place them too far from the water. [8] Despite the slightly increased distance between their homes and their graves, they were still able to make use of the beach. The chafauds, however, seem to have been removed by the late 1720s. And by 1739 the seaward front was under construction, making use of the beach along the grand étang impossible. Though properties on Rochefort Point continue to appear on plans up to 1744, there is no evidence of their involvement in the fishing industry. [9] During the 1750s one fishing establishment seem to have existed near the battery which was erected along the tip of Rochefort Point. Plans indicate the presence of vigneaux on this habitation. [10] One chafaud appears on early plans in the area near what was to become the Dauphin Gate. It is not certain to whom it belonged, but it is close to the property confiscated from Joseph Lartigue for construction of the curtain which linked the King's Bastion with the Dauphin Demi-Bastion. This piece of property, according to Lartigue, was suitable for ten shallops. [11]

Pre-1740 plans show only five chafauds along the fauxbourg, and three of these seem to be on the same property, one conceded to Antoine Paris. A sizeable fishing establishment, Paris' habitation also had vigneaux for drying the fish. The other two chafauds appear on the concessions of Francois Lessenne and Martin Benoist. Vigneaux are not shown on any pre-1740 plans, but it is known that La Chapelle at least had some on his property. [12]

In 1738 the colony's treasurer, Sabatier, recommended that a dike be built along the fauxbourg beach as far as the barachois to act as a retaining wall and prevent erosion of the beach. Governor De Forant and conmissaire-ordonnateur Bigot ordered the fauxbourg's inhabitants to cut the wood necessary for the dike during the winter of 1739-40. However, on 12 January 1740, what was described as the most violent windstorm to ever hit the colony washed out a large section of the beach and the adjacent roadway, taking with it the residents chafauds and shallops. Because of the extent of the damage, the inhabitants of the fauxbourg were no longer able to meet the cost of the dike without government assistance. [13]

Verrier drew up plans for the dike, as well as a proposed causeway across the barachois, in 1740. He declared that the dike project had to proceed with haste to prevent several habitations from being lost in the next severe storm. Though the construction of the causeway appears to have been rejected, work on the dike was begun and was probably completed late in 1741. Those who could were to contribute posts to the project, while others were to give their labour. The bulk of the cost, however, was absorbed by the government. Verrier's plans for the dike show three chafauds on the fauxbourg shore. However, no plans drawn between its completion and the return of the French in 1749 indicate the presence of chafauds on this stretch of shoreline. [14] Plans from the 1750s indicate chafauds and vineaux only on the property of Nicolas Larcher who purchased Paris' fishing establishment in 1751. [15]

Although almost every concession included in this study area had a garden within its bounds, little is known of their size. The garden on a property sold by Jacques Cronier to Frangois Lessenne in 1722 measured 40 pieds by 25 pieds, while the one on the land purchased by Louis Salmon from Antoine Romain in 1738 was 13 toises by 11 toises. There is no record indicating how productive these gardens were. [16] Most of the inhabitants kept some animals or poultry as well, but there is no record of any being pastured on Rochefort Point or the fauxbourg. Neither lumbering nor farming could be carried out in the immediate fortress area. The tree line in front of the fortifications had been pushed to White Point long before the landing of the New Englanders in 1745.