Eight Days East: Louisbourg

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Although the town of Louisbourg wasn’t too alluring, the fortress nearby certainly afforded a lot of colour to the place. We bought our tickets and a bus took us up into the fortress area.

I am no history expert, but this is the bare bones of Louisbourg’s story…

It was built by the French in the beginnings of Canada’s times, one of two fortresses built to hold France’s claim to the new land (the other was in Quebec). Louisbourg was not a fort with just a military function, but a fortress town that housed an entire community of families and businessmen, as well as all the military components. It was taken by the British twice. Although the fortress had strong protection from attack by sea, it was vulnerable to land attacks, and this is how the British won it, both times. By the time the 1960’s came along, the place was rubble and foundations, but the central part of the fortress was painstakingly rebuilt over the next two decades on the original foundations and became a national park. The staff there dress in the period costume of 1744 and “live” that time period. The houses are furnished, the gardens are planted in original formations, authentic dances and songs are performed in the streets. Establishments welcoming the wealthy have signs with print painted on them, and the peasants’ establishments have only the benefit of a symbol, as those poor people did not know how to read. My husband’s brother and his wife gravitated to the fancier establishment for lunch, but my husband and I thought we would sample the peasant life, and we headed into the lowbrow tavern for a midday meal. Serving girls in long, heavy dresses and with their apron tops pinned to their blouses directed us to rough tables, where strangers crowded in together. We were given large cloths to tie around our necks. The heavy spoons we were given were to serve us for the entire meal. We had vegetable soup in metal bowls, and shared a plate of bread baked on the fortress’s premises and hunks of white cheese. Our apple juice was served in heavy metal cups. We chatted with the couple across the table from us. They were from Victoria, a young couple with a veterinary clinic. (These brief opportunities to connect to other people are really the highlight of traveling, for me). We were really happy to have had this authentic experience at the fortress.

Interesting fact: The French living in the fortress at the time did not consume tomatoes. None grow there in the gardens. The reason for this is that they were considered poisonous. It was actually the pewter dishes reacting with the acidity of the tomatoes that made the people sicken and die of lead poisoning.

While in the fortress, we saw a musket and canon-firing demonstration, complete with soldiers marching to the fife and drum. The boom of the canon firing was absolutely massive; I could feel it echoing in my chest cavity, and everyone jumped. We toured the soldier’s barracks and the governor’s apartments, all furnished to the last detail, looking as though its occupants had just left the room for a few minutes. A lady and gentleman in the street were having a conversation about being sold unsalted cod, and the lady didn’t know what she was possibly going to do with all that fresh fish before it started to rot. The man turned to us and tried to enlist our help in procuring some salt for them. A lady in a kitchen showed us all the fancy gadgetry of the time, including a kind of clock-works system that turned the spit over a fireplace. She explained that the lady of the house didn’t like living there, and hightailed it back to France. Her husband followed her there from time to time, but at times of war, he had to stay at the fortress. When I nodded and said, “Yes, I guess he’d be stuck here,” she puffed up and roared, “I beg your pardon!?” It was quite hilarious when she warned the other occupants of the house that “this lady is a little evil.”

We found time near the end of our visit to walk the paths back to the ocean-front. As we walked, we were able to see the stone foundations of some of the other buildings that had not been rebuilt in the reconstruction–a convent and a monastery, just pits and rock and long grasses growing inside. Only a fraction of the fortress had been restored, and it must have cost an unbelievable amount to do even that, considering the attention to historical detail and the incredible accuracy.

It would have taken a good two days to tour every aspect of the fortress, so I feel like we had just a taste. This walk through history was well-worth taking. So many story possibilities there…I can’t let myself think about it; I have too many on the back burner already.

Eight Days East: Into Cape Breton

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When we left Prince Edward Island, via the ferry this time, we stopped in Pictou, Nova Scotia, for the night. We stayed in a very charming bed and breakfast establishment called “The Evening Sail.” We had an upper room (named “Jacob’s Dory”) beneath sloping ceilings, decorated charmingly in a nautical theme to the last detail. If we’d planned to stay a few days, we would have used the completely outfitted kitchen. It was one of those places where you could imagine just moving in and staying for a long time. Since we were on our way to the next adventure, we went to a nearby camping lodge for a meal, and then climbed up to our room under the eaves to enjoy a good sleep. The next morning, many travellers met in the common dining area to enjoy a great breakfast and some pleasant conversation. The baked goods were delectable, and we were all given ziplock bags to fill and take along with us for later. That was such a lovely touch.

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From Pictou, we headed to the Canso Causeway to get over into Cape Breton for the next phase of our journey. Cape Breton was a veritable feast for the eyes…the Highlands, trailing down from the Appalachians, rose high and green above us, and below them, pristine stretches of lakes and rivers and an inland fjord, all edged with hills of vast pine forests. We stopped in Baddeck for lunch, and then set out in search of the Uisage Ban Falls hiking trail. After some back-road driving, we located our destination, and set off into the woods. It was a bit of a tricky hike, as the trail was rocky and filled with roots. I must have tripped a hundred times, all of them without the humiliation of a fall. A ways in, we found a couple in there, searching for their dog, who had become separated from them. I wonder still if they ever found him. The hike to the falls took about an hour and a half. The falls were beautiful, water cutting through the rock in two levels, spilling into a pool surrounded by boulders and rock at the bottom. My husband took a pounding shower under the last level of spilling water, and then we all went back down the trail to the entrance again. We spent the remainder of the afternoon driving the Cabot Trail, enjoying the panoramic views and the rugged beauty of Cape Breton. In the evening, we arrived in Louisbourg and had a great meal at a little seafood place before retiring for the evening. Our B & B was not nearly as charming as the one in Pictou, but it was adequate and clean. We were quite excited at the prospect of visiting the Fortress of Louisbourg the following morning before our final long stretch back to Halifax.

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