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




A wise nation preserves its records, gathers up its muniments, decorates the tombs of its illustrious dead, repairs its great public structures and fosters national pride and love of country by perpetual reference to the sacrifices and glories of the past.

Joseph Howe (McLennan article - use script)

During the 1914-1961 period, Louisbourg became a public resource.  This period spanned World War I and World War II -- critical times in which Canadians developed a collective conscious.  As they faced death in European wars, many Canadians thought about the kind of country they wanted for themselves.  Using public money for public benefit was one thing they agreed upon. They were  keenly aware that Canada was not Europe:  it had a unique past and different values. 

Once World War I ended, the federal government established the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) to foster public knowledge and enjoyment of Canada's past.  The decision was a timely one, for World War I had compelled the Department of Militia and National Defence to ested itself of several fortifications which had lost their military purpose. Those that were sites of "stirring events" in Canada's early history were added to the Department of the Interior's National Park system because it was one of the few government departments empowered to own property.[1]  The HSMBC, which was (and still is) a board of appointed iniduals operating under the aegis of the department responsible for National Parks, combined public custodianship of these sites with action on the objectives of the Historic Landmarks Association -- undertaking as a government responsibility the role of ensuring Canadians had a knowledge of their own history. 

As a national resource of primary value, Louisbourg was one of the first sites the HSMBC discussed.  While everyone agreed that the fortress ruins and their artifacts must be protected, this was a complicated task because Louisbourg's original town site had been sub-ided into privately owned lots for over a hundred years -- and Canadian law permitted owners full right to control their property and its contents.  Ottawa sent Geological Survey of Canada to define the exact nature of the problem.  Further action was then suspended while various groups decided what to do -- and how to pay for it.

Matters moved slowly despite protests from a group of influential maritime supporters that Louisbourg "was one of the most important [historic sites] in Canada, and its present condition was a disgrace."[2]  In May 1924 the property that had originally belonged to Kennelly -- about 1/5 of the original site -- was acquired by the Parks Branch.  With this, Louisbourg was proclaimed a National Historic Site in 1926.  Four cairns containing placques were immediately installed around the harbour. By 1928 the federal government had set aside funds to expropriate the remainder of the property.  Work began in 1929, and continued during the summers of the depression. A year-round caretaker was installed, and in 1936 a masonry museum was built to hold the artifacts emerging from the excavations.   

Louisbourg was groomed as a public resource -- to welcome the curious and retain the knowledge embodied in its remnants for the benefit of all.  In 1940 it became Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Park.  The change was an administrative one, but it signalled a long term public commitment to the site and to its preservation.   

Because "the two races who there competed ... are making Canada what it is today",** Louisbourg was adopted as an appropriate symbol of Canadian nationalism in the post World War II era.  As a site on which both French and English Canadians shared a common past, Louisbourg became a rallying point, common inspiration for Canadians to address the new requirements of the future.  

In the post war era, businesses subscribed to fund Louisbourg as a sign of national security. Politicians voted to support it as a centre of cultural continuity.  One result of this was that, Fortress Louisbourg received funds to expedite work in 1949, 1950 and 1955.  While these funds were initially expended to assist in post war re-adjustment, they established that as a public project Louisbourg qualified for special public works programs.

At Louisbourg Canadians encountered most of the fundamental issues of historic sites development for the first time. By 1955, when Fortress Louisbourg starred as the feature subject of Confederation Life's annual calendar, professionalism and public responsibility had become well established features of Canada's approach to preservation.  


Prime Minister Arthur Meighen

Meighen, who was himself a maritimer, promised support for development of this      site. He was one of many prominent business and political figures who lent support to   this site.  Another was Quebec Nationalist Henri Bourassa.

Senator J.D. McLennan / Archdeacon Draper

Both of these prominent local men worked hard to promote Louisbourg's recognition.  They lobbied for federal acquisition, then served on a volunteer board to work with government officials on early site planning and administration.

Major J. Plimsoll-Edwards of Halifax / J.C. Webster of Shediac

These early HSMBC members were sent to assess the potential of Louisbourg in 1923.  They returned with schemes that far outstripped government resources -- schemes for acquiring the entire townsite and rebuilding it to its former glory.

Artifact removal/protection

One preservation issue encountered at Louisbourg was the need to respect artifacts, which all too often were seen as curios rather than sources of  information. In 1935, one keen participant wrote "we are digging up all kinds of old French bottles, broken, the bottoms would make dandy ink bottles ... or ash trays."[3] 

Katherine MacLennan           

Katherine MacLennan served as Honourary Curator of Louisbourg Museum for twenty-five years. Her dedicated service is indicative of the alliance between public   and private resources that made Louisbourg's preservation possible.


When fire destroyed Louisbourg's 19th century lighthouse, the Department of Marine and Fisheries decided to rebuild on the site of the original 18th century French one. To do so, they destroyed 200 year old ruins which consisted of seven to eight feet of  exterior walls, an intact doorway and several steps of a circular staircase. This incident pitted one public benefit against another, outlining what was to become a continuing struggle between preservation and progress in the post World War II era.

Casements of the King's Bastion

The casements of the King's Bastion continued to symbollized Louisbourg in this period. Thomas Adams, a British landscape planner consulted about development,  considered this enough. He recommended the runis be stabilized and left alone, remarking "There is a certain grandeur and wildness ... that makes one feel in a mood to enjoy its romantic character and visualize historic events."

Recognition as an historic site

A crowd of 400 attended the ceremony officially recognizing Louisbourg as a National Historic Site on 10 August 1926.


This is one of four commemorative placques unveiled in 1926 when Louisbourg became an historic site.  These placques represent the first attempt to provide a public interpretation of the site's contents. Each plaque was bi-lingual, acknowledging for the first time Louisbourg's importance as a French site as well as an English one.

Excavations and Museum

During the 1930s, the Department of Mines began to excavate the Louisbourg site using careful survey and engineering techniques as a basis. The museum was built in a contemporary federal style thought to reflect the proportions of the French Regime.

Ruins with people on top

Louisbourg became a public resource to enable Canadians to develop respect for and familiarity with their past.  Here an informal picnic group visit the best preserved of the ruins.  

Louisbourg harbour

During World War II, Louisbourg prospered as a military repair point and a harbour for the shipment of coal required for  munitions production.  When the war ended, all of this activity ceased.[4]

Chronology Items  

1918 - World War I ends

1919 - Louisbourg closed as year-round port

1923 - the HSMBC appointed its maritime members, Major J. Plimsoll-Edwards of Halifax and J.C. Webster of Shediac, to act as a committee of two to make recommendations on the old Louisbourg site, they recommended the entire townsite be purchased for public interpretation.  

1926 - Louisbourg named a National Historic Site

1929 - stock market crash, depression      

1936 - Cape Breton Highlands National Park became Atlantic Canada's first national park 1939      

- World War II declared                                              

1940 - became National Historic Park. 

1942/5 - Louisbourg harbour became a major boat repair centre

1951 - end of Lbg harbour as large scale shipping base

1951 - name of "Louisburg" changed to recognize the town's French roots.  It becomes "Louisbourg".

1952 - opening of Louisbourg Fisheries Ltd. - fed/prov deal with US /Lunenburg fishing companies for economic redev.

1955 - Canso causeway was completed joining Cape Breton by road to mainland Nova Scotia                     

1956 - Louisbourg population 1320

1957 - Hawker Sidley acquired the Sydney steel plant, perpetuating Cape Breton coal and steel industries

1958 - this year 50,000 visitors toured the Louisbourg site[5]

Map Content

Geological Survey map marked with monuments, placques trails and early excavations

Relevant numbers for monuments and markings 

1          1895 Society of Colonial Wars Monument (removed in 1964 - may have been relocated)

- 1928 HSMB plaque at King's Bastion

5          1926 HSMB French and British batteries of 1745 & 1758

6 1926 HSMB plaque at Dauphin Bastion

7          1926 HSMB plaque on lighthouse on east side of harbour

8          1936 museum & curator's house

9          1937 monument to war dead in English cemetery, erected by Society of Colonial Wars - monument in the shape of a cross

-           1939 Monument erected by Major Newton        

-           1939 Monument erected to the Brothers of Charity

11         1945 Monument to the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame

12         1958 plaque at the King's Garden


[1]    A.J.B. Johnston, "Preserving History:  The Commemoration of 18th Century Louisbourg, 1895-1940", Acadiensis, Volume XI, No.1, Autumn 1981, p. 64-65.

[2]    Extract from Major J. Plimsoll Edwards' speech in Minutes of the HSMBC meeting of 25 May 1923 as quoted in A.J.B. Johnston, "Preserving History:  The Commemoration of 18th Century Louisbourg, 1895-1940", Acadiensis, Volume XI, No.1, Autumn 1981, p. 68.

[3]    Archives of the Fortress of Louisbourg, Louis Cann to T.W. Fuller, 16 July 1935 as quoted in A.J.B. Johnston, "Preserving History:  The Commemoration of 18th Century Louisbourg, 1895-1940", Acadiensis, Volume XI, No.1, Autumn 1981, p. 69.

[4]    John W. McKinley, "Louisbourg's Teamwork Eases Reconversion", Saturday Night, 4 January 1947, p.23.

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