Eight Days East: Louisbourg

louisbourg

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.