Search Website Design and Content © by Eric Krause, Krause House Info-Research Solutions (© 1996)
      All Images © Parks Canada Except Where Noted Otherwise
Report/Rapport © Parks Canada / Parcs Canada  --- Report Assembly/Rapport de l'assemblée © Krause House Info-Research Solutions

Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada


An Introductory Manual for Staff at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site



Who? - Parks Canada is thousands of people working as researchers, administrators, architects, exhibit specialists, wardens, guides, receptionists and costumed staff.

What?- Parks Canada is a branch of the federal Department of Canadian Heritage. As such it is responsible for the preservation and interpretation of Canada's historic sites and national parks.

When?- The designation "Parks Canada" evolved during the 1980s, but the roots of the organization go back to shortly after the Confederation of Canada in 1867.

1885 - 10 square miles of the Rocky Mountains, including the Banff Hot Springs, were set aside for the benefit, advantage and enjoyment of the people of Canada. This was the beginning of the parks service.

1911 - National Parks Branch created.

1917 - Fort Anne, at Annapolis Royal, became an official historic site.

1930 - Parliament passed the National Parks Act, which provided legislative protection for national park land. It also declared that Parks would be dedicated to the people of Canada for their "benefit, education and enjoyment."

1970s - Tremendous expansion of the Parks system. Since 1964 the amount of land the service administers has more than doubled.

Where? - Parks Canada has holdings across the country, in every province and territory.

Why? - As expressed in the 1994, Guiding Principles and Operating Policies, Parks Canada has a purpose to:

To fulfill national and international responsibilities in mandated areas of heritage recognition and conservation; and to commemorate,protect and present, both directly and indirectly, places which are significant examples of Canada's cultural and natural heritage in ways that encourage public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of this heritage, while ensuring long- term ecological and commemorative integrity.


An easy way to become familiar with 18th-century Louisbourg, both for you and the visitor, is through a thematic approach to the town's history. We feel this works best with these three themes:


These themes are conveyed to the public in various ways. Theme logos, exhibits, animation activities, guided tours and publications all have important roles to play. Here is a brief summary of how information may be grouped under its appropriate theme heading.

Seaport ... location and shape of the harbour... port of call for warships and trading vessels... cod fishery as the foundation of the Ile Royale economy... geography of the cod fishery... inshore and offshore, resident and migrant fisheries... organization and methodology... mercantilist theory and practice... trade and transshipment... role of merchants and financiers... movement and storage of goods... lighthouse... careening wharf... administration of the harbour...

Fortress ... the fortified town in 18th-century warfare... evolution of the fortifications at Louisbourg, under different engineers... weaknesses of the Louisbourg site... organization and size of the garrison... the sieges of 1745 and 1758... impact of the military presence on civilian life... defended port, with harbour batteries... Ministry of the Marine...

Community ... structure of society... composition and origin of the population... religious beliefs and practices... private and public celebrations... food (preparation, supply, shortages)... building types... occupations of the townspeople... comparisons with life in France, Canada and New England... administration of the colony of Ile Royale... roles of the governor and the commissaire-ordonnateur... clerks and support staff... judicial system... town planning and architecture...


Before we look at the specific aspects of life in 18th century Louisbourg, it is necessary to place the French town in the broad context of European and North American history. The following outlines summarize the main points:
Early Exploration, Discovery and Rivalry

1701-13 - War of the Spanish Succession, during which Port Royal fell again to the English; (in 1710) by the Treaty of Utrecht, Acadia and Newfoundland were added to England

1688-97 - War of the League of Augsburg.-during which Port Royal was captured (in 1690) by the English; by the treaty at the end of the war Acadia given back to France

1632 - Treaty gave Québec, Port Royal (and the rest of New France) back to France

1620 - Pilgrims sailed to Plymouth

1618-48 - Thirty years war in Europe, during which (in North America) Québec was captured by the English (1628)

1618 - Port Royal captured by Samuel Argall

1608 - Québec founded by Champlain

1607 - English established Jamestown colony in Virginia

1605 - French relocated to Port Royal

1604 - French settled at St. Croix Island

1534 - Jacques Cartier's first voyage

1497 - John Cabot's first voyage

1492 - Christopher Columbus's first voyage

ca. 1000 - Norse voyages to North America

Establishment of Isle Royale

With the loss of Acadia (mainland Nova Scotia) and Newfoundland, France was obliged to establish new settlements elsewhere in the region. That is, if it wished to remain active in the lucrative cod fishery, retain a strategic foothold in the region and have a place to which its Newfoundland and Acadian subjects could relocate. The location selected was Cape Breton (known then to the French as Cap Breton).

i) French Hopes for the New Colony

- exploit the fishery

- develop the island as a transshipment centre for intercolonial and overseas trade

- exploit resources in the interior of the island

- have Acadians and French inhabitants of Newfoundland relocate to the new colony

- create a military stronghold somewhere on the island

ii) Early Developments

- Semslack expedition from Placentia to Havre à l'Anglois (renamed Louisbourg) in 1713 - a few Acadians chose to relocate from Nova Scotia

- three main settlements - Louisbourg, Port Dauphin (English/own), Port Toulouse (St. Peter's)

- initially Port Dauphin was the administrative centre, but by 1717 it was decided to make Louisbourg the capital and most strongly fortified settlement on the island. In 1719 the initial work of Louisbourg's fortifications began.

- Louisbourg developed - according to town plan, with impressive King's buildings, with fishing, commerce and royal expenditures

Anglo-French Rivalry (1713-1763)

Following the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, France and England were at peace for 31 years. When war broke out between them at last in 1744, their possessions were as follows:


Isle Saint-Jean (P.E.I.)
Labrador (Eskimo Bay to Sept Iles)
Les Postes du Roi (Sept Iles to Les Eboulments)
Canada (most populous area, containing Québec,Montréal and Trois Rivières)
Pays d'en haut (Great Lakes Basin)
Western Sea (west of Great Lakes)
Louisiana (entire Mississippi Valley)
- all of the above were known collectively as New France


American colonies
Isle Royale (Cape Breton)
Nova Scotia

i) War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48)

- The Anglo-French conflict which erupted in 1744 was part of a larger war, the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48) which involved virtually all European states. It was a dynastic war which commenced shortly after the death of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI. His daughter, Maria Theresa, could not as a female be elected Holy Roman Emperor, though she was entitled to all of Charles's Hapsburg dominations. War began in 1740 with rival European powers attempting to make territorial acquisitions at the expense of the Empire.

- Battles and sieges across Europe throughout the conflict.

ii) Wartime events involving Isle Royale

- in 1744 England and France officially declared war on each other as part of this conflict; had been on opposing sides for several years before 1744. Word of the declaration of war reached Louisbourg in early May.

-expedition from Louisbourg captured Canso in May 1744; in July an attempt to take Annapolis Royal failed, as did a second attempt in the fall of 1744. privateering war off the coast of Isle Royale throughout the summer of 1744.

-1745 - New Englanders, with British naval support, besiege and capture Louisbourg; inhabitants deported to France.

-1746 - failure of Duc D'Anville expedition

-1748 - Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle - one of the clauses called for Isle Royale to be handed back to France

iii) French Return to Isle Royale

-1749 - French reoccupy Louisbourg; Halifax founded by the English

-Both English and French expected hostilities to break out again soon

-Growth of Isle Saint-Jean population, mostly by Acadians relocating from Nova Scotia

iv) Seven Years War (1756-63)

-War began in North America (1755 - capture of Forts Beausejour and Gaspereau; expulsion of Acadians began) - then spread to Europe, where formal declarations were made

- Major battles

- French victories in the interior of North America - Monongahela, Lake Champlain, Lake Ontario, Carillon

- 1755-58 - Blockade of Louisbourg

- 1758 - English captured Louisbourg

- 1759 - Québec fell

- 1760 - Montreal capitulated

-Peace settlement

- Treaty of Paris (1763) - France retained only St. Pierre and Miquelon of her once vast empire in what is now Canada.


1713 - Treaty of Utrecht signed, ending the War of the Spanish Succession. By the terms of that treaty, jurisdiction over mainland Nova Scotia and Newfoundland passed from France to Great Britain. During the summer an expedition of about 150 people sailed from Plaisance (Placentia, Newfoundland) to Cape Breton where they established a settlement which came to be called Louisbourg.

1717 - Louisbourg selected to become the seat of government and military stronghold of Isle Royale.

1719 - Construction of the fortifications began with work on the King's Bastion. Most of the labourers were soldiers from the Compagnies Franches de la Marine, who also garrisoned the town.

1722 - The first contingent of troops of the Career Regiment, a mercenary unit of Swiss and German soldiers, arrived in Louisbourg, specifically to work on the fortifications.

1725 - Le Chameau, a king's ship carrying supplies' money and dispatches, was wrecked just north of Louisbourg during a furious gale on the night of 25 August. Among the 310 people who perished were the Intendant of New France and several military officers.

1732-33 - Smallpox epidemic swept through Louisbourg, more than tripling the normal mortality rate in the town, with 72 people dying in 1732 and 79 in 1733.

1734 - Masonry lighthouse, the first in Canada and the second on the continent, was completed on the rocky promontory at the harbour entrance. Gutted by fire two years later, it was replaced by another lighthouse which was finished in 1738.

1737 - Census of Louisbourg recorded the town's resident population at 2.023 (65 per cent civilians and 35 per cent soldiers). During the summer months that number was augmented by hundreds of visiting fishermen, sailors and merchants.

174O - War of the Austrian Succession (King George's War) began in Europe.

1743 - Elite unit of artillerymen, the Canoniers-Bombardiers, established at Louisbourg.

1744 - War declared between France and Great Britain in March. Canso captured in May and an unsuccessful attempt to take Annapolis Royal launched in late summer. English warships and privateers tied up French shipping to and from Louisbourg for several months. In December most of the troops in Louisbourg mutinied.

1745 - Louisbourg blockaded, besieged and captured by a British naval force and about 4,000 troops from New England. All but a handful of French colonists were deported to France. For the next four years Louisbourg was occupied by the English.

1746 - Abortive French attempt led by the Duc D'Anville to recapture Cape Breton and mainland Nova Scotia.

1748 - Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle signed, ending the War of the Austrian Succession. One of the items in the treaty provided for the return of Cape Breton to French jurisdiction in return for the French giving up several strategic border towns in the Low Countries.

1749 - Halifax founded by the British; Louisbourg re-occupied by the French.

1750 - Astronomical observatory, probably the first in Canada. established on the King's Bastion by the Marquis de Chabert.

1754-55 - Hostilities between French and British commenced although war not officially declared. In 1755 Fort Beauséjour taken by the British and expulsion of the Acadians began. That same year reinforcements reached Louisbourg in the form of troops from the Artois and Bourgogne Regiments.

1756 - War officially declared between France and Great Britain.

1758 - Louisbourg garrison reinforced by arrival of troops of the Cambis and Volontaires Etrangers Regiments. Shortly thereafter the town was blockaded. besieged and captured for the second time. The British besieging force numbered 13.000 while the French troops and militia totalled about 4,000. Virtually all French inhabitants were deported to France following the capitulation.

1759 - Québec City captured by the British.

1760 - Montréal capitulated. At Louisbourg the fortifications were systematically demolished by the British.

1763 - Treaty of Paris signed ending the Seven Years' War (French and Indian War). France's once vast North American empire was reduced to only the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, off Newfoundland.

1928 - Government of Canada declared the townsite and environs of 18th century Louisbourg to be a National Historic Site.

1961 - Government of Canada initiated a multi-million dollar project to reconstruct one-quarter of the original town and fortifications.


A good many things have happened at Louisbourg in the intervening two and one-half centuries since the French departure in 1758.

Here is a point form summary:

1760 - The British systematically destroy Louisbourg fortifications.

1768 - The British garrison withdraws; more than half of the civilian population of about 500 moves away from the town. In the words of the Governor of Nova Scotia, Lord William Campbell, Louisbourg became a Decayed city... going to ruin." While certainly true in general, Louisbourg never really became simply a place of ruins. People continued to live there, making a living at fishing, farming and grazing animals. There would be a small community living among the ruins of the French site for the next century and a half.

1784 - Several hundred Loyalists arrive in Cape Breton. Cape Breton is proclaimed a colony of Great Britain, separate from Nova Scotia (to which it had been Joined administratively since 1763). Governor DesBarres and most of the Loyalists spend the winter at Louisbourg, which some people think will become the capital of the new colony. Instead, the next summer (1785), Spanish Bay is settled as Sydney, and it becomes the capital of Cape Breton. m e island will remain a separate British colony until 1820, when it is once again made part of Nova Scotia.

1800s - Throughout the 19th century there is a gradual shift of population ~ and house construction away from the site of the fortress around the harbour toward where the modern Town of Louisbourg is located.

1805 - The Anglican Bishop of Nova Scotia, the Rev. John Inglis, visits Louisbourg and leaves the following description: HA more complete destruction of buildings can scarcely be imagined. All are reduced to confused heaps of stone after all the wood, all that was combustible was either burnt or carried away... The great size of the heaps of stone indicated the magnitude or the edifices...[I saw] the ruins of several barracks and hospitals, or the Intendant's and the admiral's house and the various other publick buildings... [The current residents] are exceedingly poor. In the town and vacinity [sic] there are fourteen families..."

1811 - A census records Louisbourg's population at 83 persons, all of whom were Townsends, Lorways, Kehoes, Slatterys, Prices, Doyles, Kellys, Cryers and Kennedys.

1874 - Narrow-gauge railway completed between Reserve and Havenside (Louisbourg). Prime purpose of the railway is to move coal. The narrow-gauge railway line will close in 1882.

1894 - Coal pier constructed, reaching well out into the harbour. Louisbourg is emerging as a major export port for Cape Breton coal. Pier will remain until 1960s, though year-round use of the port for coal shipments ends in 1919. Thereafter, there is only a seasonal use of the pier.

1895 - Opening of the Sydney and Louisburg Railway, a standard-gauge railway line. On the fortress site, in the area of the King's Bastion, a commemorative monument is unveiled before a crowd of over 2000 people. The monument is a column erected by the U.S.-based Society of Colonial Wars. As part of the reconstruction of the King's Bastion during the 1960s the Colonial flats monument is moved to Rochefort Point. It is damaged in the process and loses about one-third of its height.

1901 - Incorporation of the Town of Louisbourg. Population at the time is 1046 men, women and children.

1905 - The federal Dept. of Marine and Fisheries builds a Marine Hospital at Louisbourg. They do this because they expect Louisbourg to emerge as a busy year-round (ice free) shipping port. With lots of maritime traffic the expectation is that there will be a need for a hospital and quarantine centre. The Marine Hospital will close in 1919, when shipping traffic declines after the end of the First World War.

1912 - Marconi Receiving Station (for wireless transatlantic messages) is established in what is known as West Louisbourg t today it is where the picnic area is in the park]. During the First World War soldiers are garrisoned to protect the wireless towers.

1910s - 1930s - Sizeable community living at Kennington Cove, where the mayor industry is a lobster cannery. An account of the area written by Phosa Kinley, a lady who taught school there in 1913 describes Kennington Cove as Ha community of fishermen-farmers whose immediate ancestors came there from Gist in the Northern Hebrides... its fifteen or twenty unpainted wooden houses were scattered at straggling distances along the road that led from Louisbourg, or were huddled about the lobster factory that held undisputed status as the business centre of the district.

1920s - 1930s - fine properties on the fortress site are expropriated by the Parks Branch and dismantled. The Fortress of Louisbourg becomes a national Historic Site in 1928 and a National Historic Park in 1940.


Louisbourg is a site of rare archaeological completeness, for it is the only major colonial town in North America which did not have a modern city built on top of its 18th century foundations and structures. To date. about one-quarter of the original fortified town has been excavated. The remaining area has been left untouched so that its archaeological heritage will be passed on to future generations.

The Role of Archaeology

To many people archaeology is simply the excavation of long-buried objects. In reality, of course, there is much more involved than the removal of-first the earth and then the artifacts. The following outline should give you an idea of what the role of archaeology has been in the reconstruction of 18th century Louisbourg:

i) decision is made to reconstruct a particular building or fortification feature

ii) historian researches and then writes a report on that particular area. For most private dwellings there are no detailed building estimates or plans, so any information (such as family size. references to doors, windows or interior partitions, etc.) which can be gleamed from documents is extremely important.

iii) archaeologist reads the historical report and works out an approach as to how to excavate the site to solve the questions left unanswered in the historian's report. Site surveyed. photographed and divided into many sub-sections (grid), trenches laid out, crew hired, equipment purchased.

iv) sod removed; top levels of soil scraped or shovelled away, depending on the circumstances.

v) all aspects of the excavation are carefully recorded (drawn, noted, photographed, surveyed).

vi) artifacts carefully collected, places of origin noted, sent to conservation if need be.

vii) with excavation completed the archaeologist analyses the notes, photos, drawings and artifacts and writes a report.

viii) archaeologist, historian, architect and others meet as a design team to discuss all the evidence (historical and archaeological). A design for the structure to be reconstructed is agreed upon.

The years of archaeological excavations at Louisbourg are now over. But there is still an important role for the archaeologists in the project. The information from the excavations and the artifacts themselves need to be studied in depth because of the evidence they contain of a past culture. In fact, the artifact collection is to an archaeologist what the archives is to an historian.

Analysis of the more than five million artifacts is just beginning. Such analysis is essential if we are to understand fully the material culture and varying lifestyles of the 18th century inhabitants of Louisbourg. Research on the artifacts, particularly on those which come from pre-1745 contexts, will tell us much about such things as the domestic routine of households, concepts of fashion and style, whether or not there were wide variations from one social or economic group to another. Working with historians and curators, archaeologists will help piece together as complete a picture as possible of life in colonial Louisbourg.

Return to the

Previous Page