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




Although Louisbourg historian Senator J.S. McLennan had always claimed there was "abundant material for an amost complete reconstruction of the town and its fortifications",[1] no one actually envisionned such an occurrence during McLennan's lifetime.  Just such a project did, however, begin in 1961.

The 1960s brought different times.  Canadians of the post war era were committed to the idea that every citizen, regardless of geographic location, had a right to "participate in Canada's economic development and receive from his participation his fair share of rewards".[2]  Just how this was to be accomplished became an issue when the Canadian economy slumped as Europe began to recover from wartime hardship in the late 1950s.  The Rand Commission on Coal (1960) was appointed to investigate potential.  It concluded that "the coal mining industry in Cape Breton cannot continue to be the backbone of the economy of the region."[3]  ersification was the answer. The Commission recommended that agriculture, fishing and tourism be expedited to provide a new economic underpinning. Development of "one of Eastern Canada's most scenic attractions",[4]the Cabot Trail, followed a Rand Commision recommendation.  Escalation of work on the Louisbourg project followed another.   

In 1961 the Government of Canada agreed to fund a symbollic reconstruction of Louisbourg's fortress "to provide work for unemployed coal miners, to give a boost to the tourism industry, and to inspire the region culturally and intellectually."[5]  While few Cape Bretoners took the project seriously, all recognized it was in the southern part of the island where the majority of the population was located.  Once undertaken, the reconstruction of Fortress Louisbourg  absorbed twenty-five million dollars and continued for the next twenty years.  It has been described as "the greatest restoration project in North America."[6] 

The revival of Fortress Louisbourg was based on formal professional processes.  Indeed, "The re-creation of an almost totally destroyed fortress was and is an undertaking of such magnitude that many of its aspects have served as an invaluable testing ground for techniques that have high relevance to future restorations of Canada's past."[7]Historians travelled to Paris, London and Boston to collect original documents and plans, and engineers pored over them to attempt to understand 18th century practice.  Archaeologists carefully excavated the site to confirm,  deny  or expand on the recorded information.  By the time they were finished, they had created a major historical and archaeological data base on 18th century life and rebuilt over a quarter of the original fortified town. 

Today Louisbourg is a popular tourism site. Visitors from around the world enjoy stepping into the living past. The cannon booms at noon, and drum rolls call costumed soldiers to attention.  Tourists stroll through eighteenth century houses where women cook, spin and tend gardens.  The buildings, their surroundings, period furnishings and inhabitants all create a special eighteenth century environment where today's visitors link with the past.  As one enthusiastic visitor commented in 1974, "Louisbourg is a staggering eyeful, a rare experience no matter how much travelling one has done.  And it is right here in Canada."[8] 

While historical reconstructions like the fortress may now be out of fashion, the thoroughness of the preservation methods developed at Louisbourg have set standards for a Canadian heritage industry that is respected around the world.  At Louisbourg, Canadians learned to reproduce 18th century artifacts using the methods of the time, creating a range of specialty products that are sold to 18th century heritage sites in many countries.  Ironically, this reproduction industry and Fortress Louisbourg tourism -- which today has visitation figures of  ** a season -- now sustains the town.  As an example of Canadian creative innovation, Louisbourg is a resounding success!  

Map Content

Aerial photo - or Rolph's map of site without ghosting


Ad - "Louisbourg's Progress has a Two-Fold Base",  Cape Breton Post, 7 April 1967, p.4.

This ad was placed by the Town of Louisbourg to promote industrial redevelopment in a changing time.  Note that the fishing industry was still considered the most credible form of employment.

Lab photo

"Pieces of ceramics are washed and spread out on tables like enormous jig saw puzzles.  There may be anywhere from 15-50 pieces in a vessel that must be fitted together,"[9]noted one author who was obviously fascinated with Louisbourg's archaeological investigations. During the 1960s, the on-going restoration was itself an entertainment for tourists.

Chateau St. Louis

Louisbourg's centrepiece, the 360 foot long Chateau St. Louis, was scheduled to open during Canada's Centennial.  It was an appropriate focus for national pride. "About the whole project there is an air of rediscovery and national self-respect, derived from the knowledge that we will not allow significant parts of a national heritage to slip from sight and memory."[10]

Miner - close-up / Also men working on the walls

Miners displaced from the Cape Breton coal industry provided the labour for rebuilding the site. While they worked, they were retrained for a new role in the labour market.  Some learned 18th century wood and stoneworking techniques which they continued to use at the fortress, but others learned the modern electrical, heating and plumbing trades required to ensure the reconstructions were safe.[11]

Postcard life image

Fortress Louisbourg invites visitors to take part in 18th century life by recreating an environment rich in everyday occurrences.  Here, ** describe

Overview of the site

One archaeologist described Louisbourg as "a giant time capsule.  For 40 years, during an important period of history, it saw intense occupation....then, suddenly it was sealed off and left abandoned for 200 years.  Louisbourg is unique as an archaeological site."[12]

Ministerial visit

Here a ministerial party pauses for photographs as they review Louisbourg progress. As a political vehicle the restoration of Fortress Louisbourg was ideal.  It endorsed both English and French roots in Canada, while providing economic stimulation to a hard pressed region. 


The educational benefits of realizing an example of 18th century life came as a surprise.  Students were absorbed when bumps on the ground could be turned into a meaningful model, but astounded at the scale of the historic town as it began to reappear

Time line

1961 - Canadian Charter of Rights

1967 - Canada's Centennial

1968 - track for the S&L railroad joining Louisbourg to Sydney and Glace Bay was torn up

1969 - reconstruction of the Chateau St. Louis at Louisbourg completed

1970 - this year, 100,000 visitors toured the Louisbourg site[13]Province of Nova Scotia. Proposal for Partial Restoration of the Fortress of, March 1961, p.2.

1981 -  the reconstruction of Louisbourg was declared "complete" when approximately 1/3 of the site had been reconstructed.  "Development" ceased, and  Fortress operations were reduced to on-going park and collections maintenance.

1993 - this year ** visitors from ** countries toured the Louisbourg site

1994 - 75th Anniversary of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada

1995 -  275th Anniversary of the founding of the fortified town of Louisbourg 


[1]    McLennan to Webster, 28 November 1928.  Webster Correspondence, NBM, cited A.J.B. Johnston, "Preserving History:  The Commemoration of 18th Century             Louisbourg, 1895-1940", Acadiensis, Volume XI, No.1, Autumn 1981, p. 79.

[2]    Hon Jean Luc Pepin, Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, "Inidual Cape Bretoners Must Help New Corp", Cape Breton Post, 7 April 1967, p.3. ** maybe            should use a direct quote from the Rand Commission.   

[3]    "Inidual Cape Bretoners Must Help New Corp.", Cape Breton Post, 7 April 1967,   p.2.  These were the conclusions of the Donald Report.

[4]    "Great Strides Made at Fortress Restoration", Cape Breton Post, 7 April 1967, p.4.

[5]    Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site: Themes and Objectives. Halifax: Atlantic Region, Parks Service, Environment Canada, 1980, p.3.

[6]    "Louisbourg:  Greatest Restoration Project in North America", Atlantic Advocate, May 1972, p.15.

[7]    "Great Strides Made at Fortress Restoration", Cape Breton Post, 7 April 1967, p.2.

[8]    Lenore Crawford, "Fortress of Louisbourg a Staggering Experience", London Free Press, 16 June 1973.

[9]    Jeanne Wayling, "Resurrecting Louisbourg** vf" , Canadian Motorist, c1966**,  p.12-14, 25.

[10]    "Full Exposure", Halifax Herald, 29 December 1965.

[11]    Ruth Lea Taylor, "Fortress Louisbourg Lives Again", Vancouver Province, 14  March 1974, p.1.

[12]    Jeanne Wayling, "Resurrecting Louisbourg", Canadian Motorist,  no date**, p.12. Wayling is quoting American archaeologist Edward Larrabee who directed the first phase of the excavation.

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