Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Louisbourg Fortress—Could This Ancient Bastion in Nova Scotia Be North America’s Most Engaging Living History Program? We Think So!

©Bert Gildart: “State your name and tell me where you are from,” demanded the guard at Dauphin Gate.

“You say you’re from Montana? Well I’ve never heard of it. We may have to hold you for awhile. We’re on the lookout for spies, and you look a little too English for your own good. Maybe you’re one of those New Englanders, trying to study the lay of the land.

“Are you trying to help out them Britishers? Or maybe you’re trying to assess our strengths and help plan an attack…”

“Yes, I think we’ll have to hold you two for awhile.”

We were about to enter Louisbourg Fortress, located just east of the Cabot Trail, and we’d reached it following an hour-long drive from St. Ann’s Bay Campground (just across the harbor from Englishtown).

We’d set aside two days for our tour of the ancient fortress and by the end of day one had concluded that Louisbourg might well be the setting for North America’s most provocative living-history presentation.

Set in 1744, the year before Louisbourg fell for the first time to the British, almost 50 individuals have so thoroughly immersed themselves in the history of the times that you may have to work a bit to shake them from the time warp in which they seem so embedded.

Take, for instance, the executioner, Sylvere Samson, who takes much pride in the real-life drama his ancestors played throughout early day French Canada.

Look at Samson and judge for yourself. From his countenance, you can conclude that you’re about to face the guillotine. And, here, that’s Samson’s role (more on him in a minute), just as it was in real life for several of his ancestors.

Essentially, Louisbourg owes its early-day existence to the fishing industry and to the Catholic religion, which requires its subjects to eat fish on certain days of the week.

Back in the 1700s, this point of land was ideally located for Nova Scotia’s fisherman who built homes all along this point. Here, they sailed the nearby seas of Newfoundland, and easily fulfilled the need of the Catholic Church.

Because of its location, Louisbourg not only became a trading post for fishermen, (particularly cod) but also a mighty fortress in every sense of the word, for whoever controlled this entrance also controlled much of the interior of North America. Enemy fleets that tried to sail past Louisbourg and up the St. Lawrence to Quebec had first to contend with this highly armed fortress.

As a result, the British and French fought over its possession twice, once in 1745 and then, because French regained control through a treaty, again in 1758. This was the final time, for to prevent Louisbourg from falling yet a third time, British soldiers bombarded and burned the fortress and village into dust.

And so it remained until 1950, when over one third of it was restored to its original condition in a massive multi-million dollar project intended to provide the area’s out-of-work coal miners with employment.

Their work was first rate, for everything, said one of the interpreters, was meticulously restored down to the square handmade nails holding the buildings fast. As well, the houses are authentic, from the dirt floors in the fishermen’s homes to the wavy glass panes in the walls.

Pewter bowls are used in the pubs and taverns, and everywhere, the dress is authentic (or made to look authentic) to include the use of wigs, which certainly impart to the men a bedraggled appearance.

The look was typical for a 1744 outpost, the period in which the guard at Dauphin Gate was fixed and where we’d been thrust into an ongoing interrogation. Back in those days Montana didn’t exist, something we had to explain.

Knowing the British eyed the fort, and wanting some assurances that we were not spies, the guard at Dauphine gate engaged us further in conversation, even escorting us into the guard house, which was warmed on this late September day by a fire whose flames licked the walls of the huge hearth.

Here, in the spirit of the times, we were questioned further. Satisfied with our response, the guard finally concluded that it might be OK for French security and the welfare of Louisbourg if we continued our venture.

And so we entered the fortress of Louisbourg.

Our entrance into the exquisitely reconstructed ancient fortress reinforced the period, particularly easy to do on this cool autumn day when most visitors had left. Cannons peered through thick stone walls and the fortress was protected yet further by a mote.

The streets were dirt, and a few of the men were clad in red, and this we were told represented men from a unit of Swiss-German mercenaries. However, many other uniformed men wandered the dirt streets and they were dressed in the gray and blue typical of French soldiers. Some of these men were in “training” firing their musket and cannons and marching to the beat of a practiced drummer.

A little further along and we came to several 1700-style pubs and taverns whose doors were graced by ladies waiting to seat clients and take orders for grub and hot rum. In yet another tavern, a soldier’s tavern, Donald played a flute—and drank his ale.

Though we took in the old church, ate period foods, and watched the firing of cannons and guns, one of most engaging personalities remained Samson, the executioner.

Samson’s story was engaging because he convinced us that here at Louisbourg he was actually following in the footsteps of one his ancestors. Samson said his family came from France, and that his family’s trade had been that of an executioner (by beheading).

“There’s lots of evidence in the genealogical records to show that I am related to the first beheader who arrived in North America,” exclaimed Samson. “In Levi (a small village just outside of old Quebec, which we visited and made previous postings) there’s a plaque honoring Joseph Samson. He was one of my ancestors and the plaque declares that a Sergeant Samson was the area’s executioner.

“That’s my role here,” said a stern-looking Sylvere, “even though no real Samsons worked here. Still, Louisbourg used an executioner, but because the town had such difficulty engaging such a man here, they converted a prisoner—a murderer in fact—into an executioner.”

Sylvere continued his narration, explaining that his family had been professionals. Then, with the first smile I’d seen crossing his face, he beamed out his observation.

“My family came from respectable backgrounds,” said Samson. “They were proud of their work, and I’ve read they did a first-rate job.”

I smiled back in admiration, concluding that if I were about to face the guillotine, I’d want Samson to do the job, for I doubted there’d be any foul ups.

The drop of metal would be swift, and it would be clean, of that I was certain.

One Response to “Louisbourg Fortress—Could This Ancient Bastion in Nova Scotia Be North America’s Most Engaging Living History Program? We Think So!”

  1. Danielle Eleftheros Says:

    Thank you for writing this glowing piece about the Fortress. I spent 20+ summers of my life there (as an animator) and enjoyed the history and role play as much, if not more than yourself. I’m glad you recognize the quality and importance of staying in character.

    Thanks again,

    Fortress faithful :~)

Leave a Reply