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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

Harbour Area


Although fishing was the mainstay of Louisbourg's economy and the primary reason for its selection as the principal settlement of Ile Royale, less than one-fifth of the properties in the vicinity of the harbour (beyond the fauxbourg) are known to have been specifically developed for drying and curing cod. Only land actually on the harbour was considered suitable for this purpose. Even lands bordering the barachois do not seem to have been considered useful for the fishing industry. To stretch the available waterfrontage, no one person was supposed to receive too large a section of beach. [17] Within the first five years after the arrival of the French at Louisbourg at least 23 habitants established themselves along the harbour either by formal concession or by verbal permission of the governor. In 1723 sub-engineer Boucher remarked that it would not be long before the harbour was fully occupied. [18] Yet, despite the desirability of the waterfront for the fishery, several concessions granted on the harbour seem to have been used for other purposes.

Some of the earliest residents abandoned their concessions. others sold their properties to those seeking to amass larger stretches of valuable waterfront. In 1721, for example, Judith Le Bretonnaire acquired the lands of three men who had received concessions four years before. As far as is known, she did not engage in fishing, and it was not until the property was purchased by Frangois Michel Le Breton in 1740 that the land was used for that purpose. [19] A man named La Chapelle abandoned a concession granted to him in 1717 to go to Niganiche. His land was taken up by Francois Baudry, a habitant-pecheur. [20] By 1744 the entire north shore and fond de la baie areas had been claimed. A total of 34 people owned all the land - not including the concession granted to the Brothers of Charity or the land reserved for the Royal Battery. Of these 34, only 23 are known to have been directly involved in the fishery. [21]

The value placed on waterfront properties is evident from the prices they fetched when sold. In 1742 when Lessenne purchased Toulon's habitation at an auction, it had been unoccupied for over ten years. It was described as being in ruins, yet it brought a price of 1,300 livres to Toulon's heirs . It was, moreover, a relatively small piece of land with only 15 toises of water frontage. [22] By contrast, a much larger property, about 400 acres, which was located away from the shore and intended for prairie, sold for only 200 livres. [23] Large, well-developed harbour properties sold for upwards of 5,000 livres. [24]


Aside from hay, which was cultivated at several habitations around the harbour, nothing seem to have been grown on a large scale in the environs of Louisbourg. [25] More important was the raising of animals to supply the town and the ships with meat. Unfortunately, little is known of the extent of these operations. St. Ovide was said to have a menagerrie on his property at the fond de la baie, but at the time the establishment was rented to Bernard Muiron in 1742 the former governor had only 8 cows and a steer, along with 5 hens and a rooster. At least some of the animals were "English" cows. [26] Bourville raised sheep and cattle on his property north of the harbour, but the size of his herd is not known. In a trial which took place in 1737, a witness mentioned that at least some of Bourville's cows were black in color. Julien Fizel, "porvoyeur de Boucherie", maintained a sheep park on land he rented from Bernard Detcheverry. [27] Once again, neither the breed nor number of the animals is discussed.

In 1751 Bourville's property, then owned by Jean Baptiste Mozel, was purchased by Antoine Morin. He rented the habitation to Catherine Divan and her children, promising to supply them with cattle, sheep and poultry to raise. Nothing specific was mentioned in the deal. [28]

In 1755 a sheep was stolen which belonged to one of His Majesty's ships (the frigate Laguillen . A herd of 29 "petits moutons de Rochefort" was being kept by the ship's captain at the habitation of Sieur Cholet. There is no record of any concession to Cholet, but in 1739 Cholet married Marie Joseph Tessier. If this is the same Marie Tessier who owned land on the north shore (her name is given as Marie Madelaine on the pre-1745 property lists), then the property on which the sheep were being kept was # 4 on Vallée's survey, west of the one claimed by Antoine Sabatier. Since the thief, Blaise La Roche, lived near the stream which flowed under the Pont de St. Esprit, the Tessier property would have been within easy reach. However, one of those charged with the care of the sheep declared that Cholet's habitation was near the Royal Battery. The Tessier property, though on the road to the battery, was a considerable distance away. [29]

An ordinance passed in 1721 established a new hospital within the town. The property previously granted to the Brothers of Charity on the north shore was to remain in their hands and was enlarged so that they might establish a menagerie to provide meat for the hospital. Four years later the Brothers were given a large tract of land on Baie de Miré for the same purpose because the land at louisbourg was of such  poor quality. [30] It is not known whether they continued to raise livestock on their north shore holding.

De Mézy's property also contained a menagerie. He had requested permission to establish one as early as 1720. The Minister of the Marine, however, replied that this could not be granted because the king's building on the north shore site desired by De Mézy, was destined to become the residence of Beaucours, the lieutenant de roi. [31] Eventually Beaucours moved within the walls and the land was granted to De Mézy. [32] Although confirmation of the concession does not seem to have been given until 1739, there is at least one reference td De Mézy's menagerie as early as 1732. Lieutenant Benoist became involved with Blaize Cassaignolle when a "steer" he had purchased turned out to be a bull. To keep the animal from roaming after the cows, Benoist had him taken to De Mézy's menagerie. The animal soon died, apparently of frustration. [33] In the course of another trial ten years later, a witness mentioned that many animals were sent to winter at De Mezy's menagerie. [34] What De Mézy or successive owners raised on the property is not known.

Many people raised poultry for their own needs. Though there is no reference to anyone raising them for commercial purposes, it is possible that some did. Nicolas Deschamps, an aubergiste, testified in 1735 that he had gone to the north shore to buy poultry of which he had need. [35]


Exactly where the animals were taken to graze is difficult to determine. There are references to their being led to the woods, but what this meant is not known. [36] Actual "woods" were some distance away. A man hired by several townspeople to pasture their animals testified in 1742 that he led them each day to "les pleines". This, judging from the rest of his testimony, may have been the grassland conceded to Gelos, Detcheverry and Cassaignolle north of the road to Baleine at the fond de la baie. [37] The sheep belonging to the frigate Laguillen were said to graze each day in the "champs" . [38]

Though there were gardiens hired by some to watch over their livestock, other animals seem to have roamed free. A heifer which became the object of a dispute between Nicolas Petitpas and Bernard Detcheverry managed to wander all the way to Grand Laurembec on Christmas Day 1742. Petitpas' claim to the cow was upheld which means that she had gone quite far afield since his property was west of the Royal Battery. [39] A steer and a sheep, in pasture in the environs of Louisbourg, were believed to have been forced into the woods and killed. Part of the cow, which was black in colour, was found in the woods "du côté du gabary". Apparently no one had been watching over the animals. [40] Two sailors went to the woods looking for fagots. They met a sheep "dans les plaines" and before they could act, a dog which had followed them attacked the throat of the sheep, killing it. There was no mention of other sheep or a gardien in the testimony. [41]

Christopher Killey, in his 1744 description of Ile Royale, declared that the land around Louisbourg was good for "nothing but husbandry. [42] Animals, especially sheep, can graze on very rough terrain. While the trees suitable for firewood in the vicinity of Louisbourg disappeared very early in its history, the scrubby remains might still have been known as the "bois". Areas cleared for growing hay would have provided pasture once the hay was cut. Because of the poor quality of the land it is possible that any area cleared of wood was used for pasturing.

Domestic Gardening 

Gardens were a virtual necessity for Louisbourg's residents. Most properties contained a garden, some of considerable size. How productive they were or what they grew is not, unfortunately, discussed in the documents. Most, if not all, of the gardens were enclosed. Fizells sheep park was reached through a gate between it and a garden. No other entrance to the sheep pen is mentioned, though this arrangement seems to have been asking for trouble when the sheep were allowed out to graze. Passage through the garden on their way to and frm the pasture must have presented a great temptation to the sheep. 43 The size of only three of the gardens around the harbour is known:

The De Mézy property seems to have had a very large garden, as did the governor's habitation. When Morin rented the former Bourville property to Catherine Divan, he permitted her to decide where a garden should be placed, and he would provide the seeds she would need. It would seem, therefore, that either Bourville had never had a garden there, which seem unlikely, or that it had become overgrown between the time he parted with the land in 1744 and 1751 when it was leased to Divan. [45] The Brothers of Charity may have cultivated a sizeable garden on their north shore land. The concession at Miré had been granted to the Brothers because the land at Louisbourg was "trop ingrate". In 1732 they had sought to buy a piece of land in the town for gardening, but the governor and commissaire-ordonnateur told the Minister of the Marine that its owner wanted too much for the property. As a result the Brothers had decided to work their north shore holding. An undated plan, which seems to be from the 1730s, indicated the presence of a large garden on this land. [46]


The harbour area offered little opportunity for lumbering. De Laperelle in 1729 declared there was no wood around Louisbourg, even to burn. There was only "petits Sapinage très difficiles apercer ..." These were good, he said, only for making fascines. [47]

There was still some wood to be cut north of the fond de la baie, particularly on the habitations of Bourville and St. Ovide. The former complained in 1737 that two men who had been living in a cabane on his property had been cutting his wood. Catherine Divan was permitted by Morin in 1752 to cut firewood and wood for piquets, with profits from the sale of the wood to be split between them. [48]

A plan of the governor's property includes the note that the land which was prairie had once been covered by "bois d'aunage, Sapins et autres gros bois ... " Cutting of this wood began in 1721. When Bernard Muiron rented the habitation from St. Ovide in 1742, one of the conditions was that he was not permitted to cut cordwood, piquets or other timber. [49]

In 1733 the-Minister of the Marine requested the opinion of the governor and commissaire-ordonnateur regarding proposals put forward by Gratien D'Arrigrand. He wished to be granted a concession on the north shore down stream from Bourville. If given the land D'Arrigrand proposed to clean, deepen and enlarge the stream, then build a saw mill. He predicted that this could benefit the entire colony, even add to its defense. [50]

While St. Ovide and Le Normant were enthusiastic concerning the benefits which might accrue from D'Arrigrand's project they cautioned that it would be expensive and difficult. The land he asked for could be granted although some people had already requested and received permission to clear land for pasturage and hay. D'Arrigrand's concession would occupy the area north of the road to Baleine, extending 190 toises to the north along the stream. Stopping the water with an écluse to power the mill and transporting the wood by a canal would present no problem for others. The two officials promised to give complete cooperation should the project proceed. They noted that six or seven residents then occupied this area. D'Arrigrand's plans called for 60 habitants on the land. If this were to come about, they felt it would be a great advantage to the colony. The biggest bonus would be in having wood at the edge of the water at 4 livres a cord since it was usually impossible to get it for less than 12 livres. [51]

D'Arrigrand received his concession, but aside from commissioning Muiron to look over the land for him in 1736, no progress was made on his project. [52] In 1750 when D'Arrigrand requested that the concession be re-granted, the Minister of the Marine was reluctant to comply. D'Arrigrand charged that this was the fault of the entrepreneur, Ganet, who failed to supply him with tools and needed supplies. [53] Again the governor and civil administrator, now Desherbiers and Prévost, were asked their opinions. And again the land was granted. [54] This time D'Arrigrand travelled to Ile Royale to oversee the project himself. He arrived late in 1753 and complained over the next two years of bad weather which slowed the completion of his work. There is no indication that his proposed mill was ever completed.[55]

D'Arrigrand seem to have been a most persuasive fellow. In 1766 the British granted him 20,000 acres, with allowance for roads, in the same area. Mineral rights were retained for the king and D'Arrigrand was obliged to settle the land with Protestants - one person for every 200 acres - within 16 years or lose the land. [56] As far as is known, he was no more successful in this attempt than he had been previously.

Ship Building 

Despite official encouragement and repeated reports of the availability of suitable materials, ship building never became a major industry for the French in Ile Royale. The minister attributed this to the ease with which vessels were purchased from the English. Accordingly, he threatened to forbid such transactions if progress toward establishing the industry was not made. War, saved him the trouble, but instead of buying English ships the French simply took them. [57]

There are statistics for the number of ships built in the colony for only three years in the 1730s. In 1733, 15 were constructed in Ile Royale, none at Louisbourg. One ship, what size or type is not specified, was built in Louisbourg three years later, and in 1737 two brigantines, of approximately 80 and 100 tons, were completed there. [58] Where these boats were built and by whom is not known. The most logical place would be at the careening wharf on the northeast side of the harbour. George Rosse, who lost a good part of his property when the careening wharf was built, or Le Breton who had land nearby, may have been engaged in boat building. This, however, is only conjecture.