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

Louisbourg Souvenir Edition - Booklet




The idea that Louisbourg might contribute to contemporary society has its roots in the period that followed Confederation.  Once British North American colonies united to become a nation in 1867, they began the difficult process of nation building. 

One critical component was economic development. As a confederation, Canada presented a secure profile to British capitalists.  Enthusiastic in their promotion of technological advancement, the same investors -- and the industrialists who won their confidence -- keenly seized opportunities to develop natural resources with proven value.  Coal was one of these resources.   

British interest in coal yanked Cape Breton out of obscurity in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. By 1873, the Cape Breton Coal & Development Co. had built a railway from Sydney to Louisbourg to develop Louisbourg's ice free winter harbour. While this operation ran with varying success over the succeeding decades, it did draw some progressive "men of vision" into Louisbourg's orbit.  Industrialists all, these men believed that technology provided an opportunity to improve the quality of life.  Because they recognized change as fundamental to society, they acknowledged past accomplishments as steps towards present achievement.  These men of action were the first to attempt to preserve Louisbourg's heritage value.  

In 1882  J.S. McLennan, a young Cape Breton Coal employee from Montreal, wrote the first article calling for construction of an historical monument at Louisbourg.  His boss, D.J. Kennelly, was fascinated with the site.  When he could not raise other interest, Kennelly acquired Louisbourg's most critical townsite property himself and began to rebuild the most visible relic, the King's Casemates, as a personal hobby.  Once Louisbourg was under Kennelly's protection, looting stopped. Visitors were interested in the project, but there was little thought of public action.  Canada acquired Banff, its first national park, in 1885.   At the time, Banff was the second national park in the world.   The thought of preserving special resources was rare.  Even when it was considered, no one knew whether the task was one for private philathropists or for public resources.  

In the meantime, Canadians began to realize they had a heritage -- a British heritage that united existing residents threatened by the extent of European immigration.  At the turn of the century, links with Great Britain confirmed membership in the greatest Empire in the world.  It offered security, access to the world's best manufactured goods and largest markets.  Canadians interested in their heritage extolled Queenston Heights and the Plains of Abraham, sites that lauded the triumph of Queen and Empire.

It was, therefore, with some astonishment that the Canadian government learned in 1895 that the American Society of Colonial Wars  intended to erect a monument to the triumph of New England forces at Louisbourg.  With some consternation, government officials realized they could do nothing to stop this commemoration.  Louisbourg was a private resource situated on private property.  Hastily, the government assembled a delegation to ensure representation at the ceremony. 

This incident ensured that Louisbourg achieved notice. In the decade that followed, Canadians made a big splash reviewing the Louisbourg site. Governor General Earl Grey and Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier visited.  Senator Pascal Poirier explored the possibility that the Royal Society of Canada might commemorate Louisbourg as a representation of the French settlement of North America.   J.S. McLennan published a book prefaced with the suggestion, "Should not some memorial be raised which would show that Canadians ... are still mindful of the great deeds done on Canadian soil?  There could be no fitter sight than ... Louisbourg, where French and English dust commingles in peace...."** New Englanders were of no mind to see their triumph at Louisbourg fade into obscurity.  Respected American historian Francis Parkman wrote, "If Pepperell's siege of Louisbourg had been in ancient China or Greece, it would have been a classic of the world for all times."[1] It was clear that, one way or another, Louisbourg required commemoration and interpretation. 

Kennelly quite rightly regarded this attention as an opportunity to further his pet project.  He organized the Louisbourg Memorial Fund in 1903 and acquired enough subscriptions in Britain, the United States and Canada[2] to demonstrate a broad base of interest.  Kennelly died in 1907,  willing his Louisbourg properties to the custodianship of the people of Nova Scotia.  Before his estate was resolved, World War I began, erting public attention to weighty matters  of survival. 

Chronology Items

1876 -  Kennelly arrives from Britian to be local manager of the Cape Breton Coal & Development Co.

1894 -  Dominion Iron & Steel, Sydney, began to use railway to ship its products from Louisbourg's winter harbour to fulfil a coal contract with the Everett Gas Works near Boston

1901?  Queen Victoria dies, ending a long era of peace and prosperity

1901    Louisbourg was incorporated as a town, formalizing the "new" harbour townsite.

1907 -  Royal Society of Canada (a private body devoted to the promotion of  knowledge in and concerning Canada) created the Historic Landmarks Association to commemorate sites of interest

1910 - fewer than 100 visitors came to the site which was "in a condition of pitiable neglect"[3]

1912 -  world's largest Marconi wireless station built at Louisbourg to relay transatlantic messages to Montreal & NY

1914/18 - World War I. Louisbourg harbour becameTroops guarding Marconi station. 

Map Content

 - emphasize two lots owned by Kinelly on sub-ided town map,

- also show the changed location of the Louisbourg Town and the developed harbour


1 Opening ceremony for 1895 monument

A crowd of 2500 attended the unveiling of this monument on 17 June 1895.  In the context of its dedication, this monument essentially commemorated the defeat of Canadians on Canadian soil. Canadian officials could only stand by and watch. 

2 Kenelly

Kenelly was fascinated by the form and substance represented by the casemates.  He regularly camped among the ruins, and for many years worked alone to remove layersof earth and stone, replacing them with cement. Unfortunately, these initialpreservation attempts actually increased the speed of destruction. 

3 Casemates

In 1906, the Nova Scotia Legislature passed "An Act to incorporate the Trustees ofthe French Fortress and Old Burying Ground at Louisbourg as an Historical Monument of the Dominion of Canada and as a Public Work" with the encouragement of prominent Canadians determined to prevent Americans from dominating development of their own resource. 

4 Railroad

Arrival of railroad interests in 1873 signalled the end of Louisbourg's sleepy obscurity.  The iron horse brought industry, commerce and outsiders with a progressive view of society.   

5 Harbour

By the turn of the century, Louisbourg's harbour had become the key to its prosperity.  Extensive commercial winter use created the need for a Pilot Commission and Service, which in turn attracted Lunenburg fish canners.

6  View through the cave

In 1900, Professor Benjamin Rand of Harvard described Louisbourg as "the most interesting historical ruin in the eastern part of North America"*  


[1]    Province of Nova Scotia. Proposal for Partial Restoration of the Fortress of Louisbourg, March 1961, quotes Parkman, p.2.

[2]    D.J. Kennelly, Honourary Secretary, "Louisbourg Memorial", Minutes of the Louisbourg Memorial Fund, [1905].  Copies in National Archives Canada, Park Canada Central Registry Files, 1897-1969, File FL02, Microfilm T11283.

[3]  Province of Nova Scotia. Proposal for Partial Restoration of the Fortress of Louisbourg, March 1961, describes the experioence of Louis Barcroft Runk, an American visitor, p.2.