By Earl Hunsinger
Is time travel possible? If you were dropped in the middle of Fortress Louisbourg, you might think so. The Fortress of Louisbourg Historic Park is the largest historical reconstruction in North America. It is the reconstruction of an 18th century French fort and town. So far, over 60 buildings have been reconstructed, along with its massive fortification walls. The site is located in Nova Scotia, Canada, south of Sydney on route 22, just beyond the modern town of Louisbourg.
The project has been called Canada’s most ambitious attempt at preserving history. This is not just because of the reconstructed buildings. Fortress Louisbourg is much more than a historical reconstruction, it is an entertaining historical reenactment. Walking through its gates is like stepping back in time, specifically to the year 1744. About a hundred historical reenactors in full and meticulously accurate period costumes make the place come to life. Here, you will meet people from all walks of life, that is, life in the 18th century. This means, that you’ll meet the rich and the poor, nobles and servants. You’ll meet engineers, soldiers, bakers, musicians, merchants, and fishermen.
Just as the reconstruction in Louisbourg is based on extensive archeological and documentary research, the reenactment in Louisbourg is not generic. In other words, if you question the individuals that you meet there, they won’t tell you that they are a typical servant, merchant, engineer, etc. They will give you the name of a specific person that they are portraying and their background. Usually, they will do this in character. This portrayal and the town itself are based on approximately 750,000 pages of documents copied from archives in several countries.
Here, you’ll see these individuals engaged in their daily activities. For instance, you might see a servant girl cooking over a fire built in a fireplace of one of the wealthier homes. You might see a lady sitting and creating beautiful handmade lace. Since, in 1744, there was an ongoing power struggle between the French and the English for control of North America, you will probably see some activity at the soldiers’ barracks. Here, you will learn how the soldiers lived, and what was involved in maintaining their equipment. You might even see them firing their muskets, or firing the fort’s cannons.
Louisbourg began as a fishing port, becoming the capital of Ile Royale, or Cape Breton Island. During the first half of the 18th century, this and other eastern ports in Ile Royale were producing and exporting between 13 and 17 million pounds of dried codfish every year. Because of that, dried codfish can be seen, and smelled, in Fortress Louisbourg today.
The historical site also includes a working bakery, where you can purchase fresh loaves of bread made according to authentic recipes from 1744. If you like a more substantial meal, three period restaurants feature delicious food and beverages prepared based on 18th century recipes and traditions, and served by costumed staff. Of course, since they follow the church calendar, meat dishes aren’t available on Fridays and Saturdays, which were days of abstinence.
Does Louisbourg sound interesting to you, but you just can’t make it to Nova Scotia? The Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site offers a 3D tour that allows you to get a taste of what it’s like. If you are able to visit, you’ll be amazed at what it’s like to step back in time.
For more information on this historic site, please see The Official Research Site for the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada, which has information in both English and French.