Louisbourg was the last place we visited on our trip back east and it proved to be one of the best decisions we made. We had originally planned to spend a couple of nights in Sydney, Nova Scotia, but when we arrived there it just didn’t have the charm we were looking for. We spent one night in Sydney and then lucked out with booking ourselves into the newly opened North Star Suites located overlooking the Louisbourg Harbour with incredible views of the ocean and of the Fortress of Louisbourg.
Louisbourg was first founded by the French in 1713 when the military began building a fort here to protect land claimed by France. The ice free harbour in winter meant that ships could easily navigate back and forth to France year-round. A light-house that was built in the mid-1700’s and then replaced in 1842 made the harbour more accessible allowing for an increase in boats and people settling into the area. Today the lighthouse stands as a welcoming beacon to the harbour and is also the starting point to trails that wind along the cliffs overlooking the water.
In 1894 the Sydney-Louisburg Railway (the spelling is a bit different due to the town taking the French spelling of Louisbourg) was completed bringing coal to an export port that was built here. Over the years the railway was used to transport the coal until 1972 when coal mines in the area began to shut down. Today there is a Railway Museum here located inside the 1895 station house.
The highlight of Louisbourg, and the reason most travellers make their way here, is the Fortress of Louisbourg. Built in the early 1700’s to guard and protect the French settlement of Isle Royale (now Cape Breton Island), the fortress is one of the most visited of Canada Parks. The fortress served as a base for the military, as well as for the export of fish, and the centre of commerce for this area.
At one time there were approximately 4000 people living on the 60 acre site. The fortress was the location of two attacks by the British…one in 1745 with the French eventually maintaining control, and the next one in 1758 when the British, with their strong navy and army presence, were able to capture the fortress. Not wanting the French to ever build a fortress here again the British destroyed the walls and the structures within them.
In the 1920’s the site of the fortress was named a National Historic Site and beginning in the early 1960’s the Government of Canada began the reconstruction of the Fortress of Louisbourg. Based on historical maps and documents, as well as using archaeological discoveries and original building foundations, approximately one-quarter of the town has been restored.
The Fortress of Louisbourg is open from June to October with daily programs and events that take place including military drills, guided tours, Mi’kmaw demonstrations, and story telling. Staff dressed in period costumes wander throughout the town answering questions and inviting visitors to step inside buildings to learn more about what life would have been like during the time the fortress was originally standing.
Louisbourg was a lovely way to end our trip to the east coast. Unfortunately it was also the one town that we noticed businesses had closed down…partly due to a decline in the fish stock offshore, and perhaps also due to the pandemic and a lack of tourists visiting during the last couple of years. I definitely hope that this town, like the fortress that gave the town its name, can be reinvented and become a destination for more travellers.