Fortress of Louisbourg

The Gibraltar of North America a marvel of reconstruction.

Written by Nelle Oosterom

January 28, 2011

Its location on a fogbound, isolated corner of Cape Breton looks a little lonely today. But back in the early eighteenth century, Louisbourg was one of the busiest seaports in North America, thanks largely to the lucrative cod fishery of the Grand Banks.

Because of its deep harbour and strategic position of guarding the entrance to the St. Lawrence, France spent twenty-six years and vast sums of money to build what became the strongest, most impressive fortress on the continent. After the British took possession following a siege in 1758, they dismantled every stone and brick so that the French could never again use it as a fortified base.

The government of Canada began reconstructing one quarter of the original walled town in 1961. It is the largest historical reconstruction in Canada, with fifty buildings over five hectares. It takes a full day to tour it.

Time period: 1720–1740

Things to do: Enjoy French comedie theatre in a period tavern, take culinary workshops that teach period cooking, or eat hearty at one of the site’s three period restaurants. Take in a murder mystery tour, or a ghost tour, with costumed interpreters. View archaeological digs. At the nearby beaches, dip your toes into the Atlantic and imagine wading to shore in full military gear as a British soldier during the amphibious assault of 1758.

Getting there: On Cape Breton Island, a long but scenic six-hour drive from Halifax. About a half-hour drive from the airport in Sydney. The restaurants on site offer authentic period dishes, such as fish soup and French pastry.

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