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Concept: Margaret Carter, Heritage Research Associates Inc.
All Images © Parks Canada Unless Otherwise Designated

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

Fortress of Louisbourg Timeline Site

Post Card: "Historic Louisbourg" Ruined Walls and Bombproofs. Louisbourg, N.S., Canada © Parks Canada / Parcs Canada




In 1714, the French established a settlement at Louisbourg.  By 1720, they had decided to develop its magnificent harbour as their principal New World supply point.  Conveniently located for trans-Atlantic crossings, Louisbourg's harbour soon sheltered French traders and ships of war en route to other New World destinations -- the Grand Banks, the West Indies, Acadia and Quebec.  Louisbourg became a cross-roads of New World travel, and was soon a bustling depot. 

France built defences around the harbour, and created a walled city at Louisbourg to protect its critical position.  The city itself was a European feudal town modified through contemporary military theory to withstand gunpowder attacks. Louisbourg was enclosed by fortifications with gates strategically placed to limit access from the land and from the harbour.  Its streets were neatly surveyed, then formally sub-ided into lots marked, by law, with neat rows of fencing.  Its public facilities were prominently sited and finely crafted.  The soldiers and settlers responsible for construction were European craftsmen trained in the best 18th century tradition.

Louisbourg had a population of 1500-3000.  Some residents were poor, unemployed farm and city labourers indentured to serve in the colony for a term.  Others were merchants, others tradesmen, still others administrators from the privileged classes.  There were soldiers and priests, women and children.  Louisbourg quickly duplicated the profile of French society with a more cosmopolitan flavour.  Its population included Quebecois, Acadiens, Basques, Swiss, Germans and Bretons as well as French colonists.[1]   

Native Mi'Kmaq allies were frequent visitors,  particularly once they began to taunt British traders in a guerilla war that delighted the French.  Relations with France's Indian allies were co-ordinated at Louisbourg, as well as administrative details to support other French New World centres.[2] 

Despite this, Louisbourg was primarily a maritime provision point. During the shipping season, its streets were crowded with visiting fishermen and sailors.  The goods they brought were traded for other cargoes in Louisbourg's taverns, and busily transferred on Louisbourg's docks.  Fishermen exchanged cod for staples: military and merchant ships paused for supplies en route to Quebec and the West Indies.  New England captains traded building timbers for French manufactured goods.  While Louisbourg's residents were forbidden to manufacture anything but daily necessities, the extent of ship traffic rapidly made it a major North American trade centre.

All this activity encouraged Louisbourg to ignore chronic shortages in local food supply.  Land around the city was not easily cultivated, and attempts to establish support farms failed.  Residents depended upon trade to supply their necessities. They ate fish from the Grand Banks, staples from France, contraband livestock and produce from Acadian farmers in British territory. They survived on short rations each spring before the year's traffic began. Trade was essential to Louisbourg's existence -- without it, residents faced starvation. This was of minor importance during the 1713-44 period of peace in which Louisbourg was established. 

Louisbourg was French society with a North American twist. Materially it reflected the glory of Versailles, with a level of textural richness that was the envy of all Europe. Practically it hosted a ersity of cultures that could only gather in North America. Little wonder its brief flourish made such a lasting impression!


Flag - pure white[3]

Pure white was the emblem of Royal French might at the time Louisbourg was founded.  As the navy's official symbol, the white flag stood proudly over France's New World possessions.  It was a valiant battle symbol, one French soldiers compelled their vanquished to hoist.  This signal has since become an international mark of capitulation.[4]


Although several groups of soldiers made their homes at Louisbourg, the Compagnies franches de la Marine (the special troops of the Ministry of the Marine) were the first to arrive in 1713 and remained the largest group.  In 1744 they comprised three-quarters of the soldiers in the garrison.  They performed garrison duties inside the town and manned the key harbour fortifications.  They were also posted to smaller support settlements such as Isle Saint-Jean (PEI).[5] 


The starvation and displacement facing peasants in France encouraged many to sign up to live at Louisbourg for a term. Although those who arrived were generally young, most  were sponsored by someone at court.  This caused some instability and inconsistency in the city's population.     

Louis XIV reign 

Worth tying "Sun King" image through richness of expression. "Under Louis XIV (who died in 1714), Versailles became the envy of all Europe. France was recognized as the arbiter in matters of letters, art and society; French became the language of diplomacy and the polite world".[6] 


The noblemen -- both military and civilian -- who came to govern were only temporary residents.  They held their posts by Royal favour, and so Versailles had an on-going influence over life at Louisbourg. 

Chronology Items

1714 - Louis XIV died and was succeeded by a minor.

1714 - Louisbourg was established with 1717, 1727 - Versailles specifically forbade Louisbourg merchants to trade with New England.  This simply encouraged greater secrecy because both New World parties benefitted from the exchange.[7]

1722 - peak of Anglo-Amerindian War in New World

1723 - Louis XV attains majority

1725 - peace treaty between Abenaquis and England

1725 - establishment of a Mi'Kmaq settlementat Mirligueche (near Isle Royale) and beginning of guerrilla hostilities against the British

1727 - George II ascended to the throne of England (1727-60)

1734 - Louisbourg's permanent population was 1683[8]

1739 - France and England narrowly missed declaring war during the (Anglo-Spanish) War of Jenkins'Ear

1742 - French and English interests were "clashing all overEurope"[9]

1744 - There were 2500-3000 people resident at Louisbourg, 700 of them soldiers. 

Map Content

Verrier. Vue de la Ville de Louisbourg prise en dedans du Port. 1731. (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.)


[1]     Barbara Schmeisser, "The Population of Louisbourg, 1713 -1758". Parks Canada. Manuscript Report Number 303, 1976, p.53.

[2]    Olive Patricia Dickason, Canada's First Nations (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1992), p.161.

[3]    René Chartrand, Canadian Military Heritage, Vol. 1, 100-  1754 (** need place, publisher, and year), p.71.

[4]    René Chartrand, Canadian Military Heritage, Vol. 1, 100-  1754 (** need place, publisher, and year), p.70-71.

[5]    A.J.B. Johnston,"Officers of Isle Royale (1744), Accomodations and Biographical Summaries." Parks Canada, Manuscript Report 270, p.15-17.

[6]    Walter Phelps Hall, Robert GreenHalgh Albion, Jennie Barnes Pope, A History of England and the Empire -Commonwealth (Toronto:  Ginn and Company, 1961), p.265.

[7]    Bona Arsenault, Louisbourg 1713-1758 (Quebec: Le conseil de la vie francaise en Amerique, 1971), p.113.

[8]    A.J.B. Johnston, The Summer of 1744:  A Portrait of Life in 18th-Century Louisbourg (Ottawa: National Historic Sites, Parks Service, Environment Canada, 1983 reprinted in 1991), p.11-12.

[9]  A.J.B. Johnston, The Summer of 1744:  A Portrait of Life in 18th-Century Louisbourg (Ottawa: National Historic Sites, Parks Service, Environment Canada, 1983 reprinted in 1991), p.24.