Timeline Website Design and Content by Eric Krause, Krause House Info-Research Solutions ( 1996)
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



As the eighteenth century ended, Louisbourg lost its value as a pawn in France and England's battle for control of the high seas.  Britain's view of North America and colonial administration in general changed when it lost the United States through revolution.  The French monarchy was toppled in a second, forever altering France's imperial position.  Louisbourg was forgotten.  It lapsed into a tranquil existence as a remote backwater. 

Although Sydney became capital of the new province of Cape Breton in 1785, Cape Breton itself lost its independent identity in 1820. What followed was a period of obscurity in which Cape Breton itself was all but forgotten by officials in far-away Halifax. Louisbourg became a relic of the past.   As one contemporary observer stated,  "Louisbourg has been, ever since its demolition, a place so truly insignificant, that it might be passed over by merely observing that its harbour is safe and spacious".[1]  

Most of Louisbourg's inhabitants had departed with the French and British armies.  By 1805 the local population consisted of fourteen Irish families, newly established subsistence fishermen who created a second town around the harbour.  Few of the farm lots so carefully surveyed by the British were occupied.  The French site of Louisbourg was one of them, claimed by Peter Kennedy who built a house in a corner of the old town. 

Kennedy followed a practice begun by the British and exploited the former townsite as a source of building materials.  While Louisbourg was under Ordnance control, the British had shipped barges of wood, stone, brick and iron to supply builders in the city of Halifax.[2]  The British Army also hauled stone to Sydney for the garrison chapel and other military structures.[3]   Wood was burnt to heat local houses.  In later years, one visitor reported that "the better-off people of the island come from time to time, as necessity prompts them, to search in the ruins of Louisbourg for bricks of good quality with which to build chimneys."[4]   Wharfs, basements, footings -- anything that required stable, well shaped materials -- was constructed from Louisbourg ruins.  Kennedy's son, Captain Patrick, later sold bricks at nine dollars a thousand suggesting his father acquired the ruins for their reusable potential.[5]

What else was Kennedy to do?  French Louisbourg did not lend itself to conventional farming.  Sheep were set loose to graze among the ruins, but the ground could not be cultivated.  Ploughing unearthed skeletons, cannonballs and other disturbing materials. 

And so, Louisbourg was scavenged.  On a trip up the coast from Halifax in 1805, Bishop Inglis reported  "A more complete destruction of buildings can scarcely be imagined.  All are reduced to confused heaps of stone...".[6]  Nine years later, Bishop Plessis from Quebec stated "You could see moats, glacis, foundations of houses, bases of chimneys, ruins of gun-powder boxes, storehouses and casements;  but there was nothing entire, nothing that could be recognized with certainty."[7]  In time, the effect of these remains was muted, covered by nature  "with a turf of grass and moss."[8]    

Louisbourg had a haunting quality that appealed to the romantic imagination.  The hulls of sunken ships of war could still be seen at low tide in the harbour, and the shoreline was "littered with a score of spiked guns."[9]  Rumours of buried treasure abounded, complete with tales of ghosts to guard them.[10] 

Thirty-five years before Confederation, geographic journalist John MacGregor commented that Louisbourg "has assumed and maintains a classic position in history, that requires more than ordinary notice".   He  commented on the site's profound silence, noting "We observe in Louisbourg the desolation which destiny entailed on the splendid cities of the ancient world."[11]   


Woolford Pastoral painting

"The strong and capacious magazines, in which were once deposited vast stores of military combustibles, are still nearly entire, but almost hidden by the accumulation of earth and turf.  They afford, at the same time, warm and safe shelter for the flocks of sheep that now feed on the site of Louisbourg..."  MacGregor, British America (1832), p.391.

Woolford Pastoral painting #2

Early nineteenth century romantics considered Louisbourg "the perfect location for philosophical ruminations on the passage of time and the meaning of life". A.J.B. Johnston, "Preserving History", Acadiensis, 1981, Vol XI, No.1, p.55.

Old Town

"Alas! What solitude! What gloomy silence where so many men had lived! What heaps of stones!" Bishop Plessis, 1814 visit recorded in A.A. Johnston, A History of the Catholic Church in Eastern Nova Scotia, Vol.1, p283.


In 1785 (check this is not 1769)** the British Army located its garrison in Sydney where it could be self-sustaining.  There, it built a carefully planned town that has remained Cape Breton's major centre since 1785.

Coal mines.

Cape Breton coal was used both locally and in New England during the 18th century.[12]  In 1827 British investors of the General Mining Association formally developed coal mines in south eastern Cape Breton.  These provided the area's economic underpinning until well into the twentieth century.

Fish flake

Flakes associated with the fishing activities of Louisbourg's later settlers simply added to the town's romantic appeal.

Buried treasure

According to oral tradition, murdered men guarded the treasures hidden at the bottom of Louisbourg's wells.  There were 19 wells in all, and the threat of ghostly encounters kept many closed for centuries!


1783 - American Revolution ends

1789 - French revolution begins

1785 - Sydney became the capital of Cape Breton

1804 - Napolean proclaimed Emperor of France

1812-14 - War of 1812 in North America between US and Britain

1820 - Cape Breton loses status as a colony

1827 - General Mining Association began to work major coal seams in Cape   Breton on an industrial scale.

1837 - Victoria crowned Queen of England

1855 - Cunard line's first iron steamship crosses Atlantic

1861-65 - American Civil War

1867 - Canadian Confederation


- to follow

- emphasize vacuum

- could use survey map enclosed as a base if we haveto


[1]   John McGregor, British America (London: T. Cadell, 1832), p.389.

[2]    Senator Pascal Poirier, "Louisbourg en 1902", Memoires et Comptes Rendus de la Societe Royale du Canada, Transactions, Section 1, p.108. According to "Consult 200-Year-Old Plans To Restore Louisbourg Fort", Halifax Chronicle-Herald, 27 Sept 1966, "more of Louisbourg's quality stone pieces lie several hundred miles away than under the mounds of dirt at the Fortress."

[3]    Bruce Ferguson and William Pope, Glimpses into Nova Scotia History (Windsor, N.S.: Lancelot Press, 1974), p.64.

[4]    A.A. Johnston,  A History of the Catholic Church in Eastern Nova Scotia (Antigonish, N.S.: St. Francis Xavier University Press, 1960), Vol.1, p.283.

[5]    Senator Pascal Poirier, "Louisbourg en 1902", Memoires et Comptes Rendus de la Societe Royale du Canada, Transactions, Section 1, p.108.

[6]    A.J.B. Johnston, "Preserving History:  The Commemoration of 18th Century Louisbourg, 1895-1940" in Acadiensis, Autumn 1991?*, Vol XI, No.1, p.54.  Johnston quotes from Wayne Foster, "Post-Occupational History of the Old French Town of Louisbourg, 1760-1930" unpublished manuscript, 1965 on file at Fortress of Louisbourg, p.63-    64.

[7]    A.A. Johnston,  A History of the Catholic Church in Eastern Nova Scotia (Antigonish, N.S.: St. Francis Xavier University Press, 1960), Vol.1, p.283.

[8]    John McGregor, British America (London: T. Cadell, 1832), p.390-91.

[9]    A.A. Johnston,  A History of the Catholic Church in Eastern Nova Scotia (Antigonish, N.S.: St. Francis Xavier University Press, 1960), Vol.1, p.283.

[10]    M.S. Huntington records two of these tales in The Town of Louisbourg:  History of Modern Louisbourg, 1758-1958 (Louisbourg: published by the Louisbourg Branch of the Women's Institute, 1958), p.70.

[11]    John McGregor, British America (London: T. Cadell, 1832), p.392.

[12]    Rev. Robert Murray and J.S. McLennan, "Cape Breton" in G.M. Grant, ed., Picturesque Canada (Toronto: Belvin Bros., 1882), Vol.2, p.849.