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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

Proceedings of the Conference ~ Cape Breton in Transition: Economic Diversification and Prospects for Tourism

edited by William A. O'Shea ,
Carol Corbin and Eric Krause
(October 20-21, 1998)

Selling History While Maintaining Authenticity

(Some Notes Introducing
the Round Table Discussion)

William A. O'Shea


- This morning, Angus MacIntyre spoke about our not thinking of ourselves as "World Class" unless we really are. To do so could lead to embarrassment on our part and disappointment on the part of visitors. He is absolutely correct. But I am not concerned, when I say that Louisbourg is a world class establishment. One indicator is the Michelin Guide which gives the Fortress 3 stars - the highest ranking attraction east of Quebec City. For the rest, you can see for yourself, all around us. We, on Cape Breton Island, have a great deal to be proud of with the Fortress - it is a mighty cultural resource.


- The Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site has many facets. It is an acclaimed historic reconstruction of 60 buildings, streets, yards and gardens - in their original location. It is a significant archaeological site which includes the unexcavated 80% of the walled town, the suburbs, north shore settlement and siege sites. There are approximately 850 unexcavated archaeological sites outside the walls of reconstructed Louisbourg. There are major collections including: over 5 million archaeological artefacts, 12,500 antiques and reproductions in furnished buildings, 4,500 pieces of costume, 750,000 pages of historical information on microfilm and paper, 100,000 slides and photographic negatives. We are a major employer with a full time staff of approximately 90 people and a summer complement reaching 350.

- Reconstructed Louisbourg is also a potent symbol of the commitment by the Federal Government to conserve and present the significant history of Canada in an accessible and user friendly fashion. At the same time it represents a commitment to encouraging local development and community pride.

- The Fortress of Louisbourg is, for most people, a major public interpretation programme. And for our public, Louisbourg tells the story of an 18th-century French colonial community in which real men, women and children wrung a living from the North Atlantic fishery. The eighteenth-century fortifications were a major public works programme that employed military and civilian personnel. The town was a focal point of significant trade between France, the West Indies, Quebec, Acadia and New England. It was a polyglot community, officially French but with Mi'kmaq, Germans, Irish, Bretons, Basque and New Englanders. There were free and enslaved persons in the population. And finally, Louisbourg was the site of two military confrontations, sieges lasting seven weeks, which were earth-shaking events that helped shape the history and culture of this continent.


- Of equal importance with telling a story of the past, Louisbourg has another fundamental responsibility. It conserves the tangible past.

- Significant moments in our history are frozen in the archaeological landscape - the 850 sites and the wrecks of 18th century war ships in Louisbourg Harbour. Then there are the millions of artefacts and the historical records. These are the authentic Louisbourg. They are the remnants of what actually happened at this place to make Louisbourg an historic site. The objective is to leave them unimpaired - unharmed for future generations to consider and enjoy. In doing so we speak in terms similar to those who insist on the appropriate care of the natural environment. We have to be sensitive and caring and manage physical access to avoid their destruction. We must never unthinkingly expend these finite resources. The challenge is to experience them them through imaginative use of new media and controlled access.


- In retrospect, the title of this session should be "Selling Heritage by Maintaining Authenticity. There is a tension implied in the title for this round table which must not and indeed, does not exist if you think about it for more than a moment. Authenticity or, more appropriately, accuracy is our "hook". Louisbourg claims position in the market by promising to interpret Canada's past authentically/accurately and being amongst the best there is at accomplishing this objective. Authenticity/accuracy is our product, the reconstruction and costumed interpretation programme are merely reflection of that product.

- In thinking of an accurate portrayal of the past, presented in ways which excite, entertain and address the needs of the present, I recall Anne Coleman's fascinating tour of the women of 18th-century Louisbourg. But we can also talk of entire families, children, the elderly, birth, death, violence, disease, education, entertainment, work, play, war and peace, earth, air, fire and water - all elements that make for good show business.

- When deciding on our future paths, on how Louisbourg will mesh with a new Cape Breton reality, we must refer to the market. The market desires, in the case of cultural institutions such as ours, value for money, credibility and the products that result from sound scholarship and an accurate presentation.

- The result of our being accurate, telling visitors the truth, is a truly unique experience. It is an exotic yet faithful-to-fact experience, a fulfilling and a refreshing experience. If we surrender this product in a misconceived attempt to become popular we will lose and become trivialized - one of the many rather than one of the exceptional.

- The problem has never been too much accuracy. I might venture that our challenge is more accuragy. In many instances we are not "exotic" enough. The product is good and it is relevant. Where it needs encouragement is in the marketing sector. Everyone says that we are Atlantic Canada's best kept secret.


- Now I want to get some things out of the way, for those who have believed Louisbourg to be unsympathetic to other uses. In our present thinking about Louisbourg, and this is thinking that is at least 10 years old, we realize that the reconstruction has a variety of values and a variety of uses. Some of these uses do not involve "authenticity" or our portraying the past accurately. Some of the uses are a question of managing place - managing venue. For example, the Song Spinner, filmed here in February used our cold streets and stone buildings as a movie set. It was not portraying Louisbourg. In the past the Musique Royale concerts took advantage of the acoustics of the Chapel St. Louis to present medieval music. The Scottish concert, held in July past, used Louisbourg as a venue. We've filmed a French-language production featuring traditional and modern musicians. The Men of the Deeps, the Cape Breton Coal Miners' choir want to record a portion of their next compact disc here. The Cape Breton Oilers are having their 1996 calendar photograph taken in front of the Dauphin Gate, the main land entrance to the Fortress.

- Earlier, someone spoke of not allowing Anne Murray to do a commercial here. That was many years ago, during a period of intense experimentation with creating a pristine model of the past. We have moved beyond that model and would welcome Anne Murray or Rita MacNeil to Louisbourg - matching Canadian icon with Canadian icon.


- Louisbourg has always been a part of the wider Cape Breton community. Its development in the 1960s originated from a need for economic and spiritual stimulation, in addition to presenting the historic values of the place. Still, in its delivery, a close and constructive ties with the community has had its ups and downs over the years.

- As we move towards the millennium, Louisbourg is seeking to renew itself as part of the larger community - the Cape Breton Community. This summer's programme of events as part of the 1995 celebrations ( including, the Grand Encampment, the Acadian Weekend the Scottish Concert, the various conferences, the Road Race, Irish Symposium and Old Town Reunion) were a true reflection of a willingness to open ourselves to new and additional experiments in using the historic site for the community good.

- The truly unique qualities of Louisbourg will enhance the experience of an evolving and reinvigourated Cape Breton cultural and social landscape. And in broadening our response, the value added that we bring is our committment to an accurate and a quality experience of our exceptional resource.


Donald F. Chard, Ph. D., is an historic sites planner working with the Department of Canadian Heritage, Parks Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

J. Robert Cox, Ph.D., is a professor of Speech Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is the President of the Sierra Club.

David Johnson, Ph. D., is Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics, Government & Public Administration, University College of Cape Breton, Sydney, Nova Scotia. Dr. Johnson's paper was originally presented to the CPSA Annual Meeting at Université du Québec à Montréal in June 1995.

Agnes Koch, Ph. D., teaches at the College of the Rockies, Cranbrook, British Columbia.

Angus MacIntyre is a community development worker employed by the Wycobatt School Board in Wycocomagh, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

Mary-Joe MacKay is a graduate student of Environmental Studies at the University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario and a Research Assistant in the MOTC at the University College of Cape Breton, Sydney, Nova Scotia.

David Mahalik is a graduate of the University College of Cape Breton and publisher of "What's Goin' On" a music and culture journal.

William A. O'Shea is Head, Historical Resources, Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, Louisbourg, Nova Scotia.

Adriani Papadopoulou, Ph.D., teaches in the Department of Sociology at the University College of Cape Breton, Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Michael Seaman, BES, MEDS, is a graduate of the Technical University of Nova Scotia.

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Published by the Louisbourg Heritage Society
ISBN 1-896218--07-5
© Louisbourg Institute
Extracted from the Proceedings of the Cape Breton
in Transition Conference, October 20-21, 1995