502 - Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

Extra Research for Season 5 – Episode 2 – Specter of a Soldier

Rebuilt as a national historic site in 1961, the Fortress of Louisbourg was originally built by the French in 1713, where it stood above the rocky shores of the Atlantic in the southeast of what is now Cape Breton. Following a design created by the chief engineer of French King Louis XIV, the fortress was constructed with massive stone walls and space for 148 cannons, many of which were never filed.  As a military stronghold, the fortress was there to protect and defend one of New France’s busiest ports and guard the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River from an attack.

But Louisbourg was more than just a military centre, it was also the bustling colony capital known as Isle Royale. With fishing as its primary industry, the port also welcomed trading vessels from France, the Caribbean, the British American colonies, Acadia and Québec. The town square featured merchant stalls, taverns and other businesses to support the every-day life of the people who called the Fortress of Louisboug home.


A fight for the new world

On May 11, 1745, only a few years after the fortress was completed, the British attempted for a second time to take siege of the fortress. And on June 28, with dwindling ammunition supplies pressure from merchants, French governor Louis DuPont Duchambon surrendered. However, in 1748, the Louisbourg was returned to the French and the new governor, Augustine de Boschenry de Drucour strengthened defenses and increased ammunition stocks in case a second siege was to take place.

And in June of 1758, it did.

The British came in from the water, slowly dismantling defenses, taking out cannons and sinking warships until Drucour surrendered at the end of the month. The fall of Louisbourg led to the capture of Quebec and Montreal and ultimately led to the end of French power in what is now Canada.


Order in the streets

Louisbourg was, in many respects, a typical town for the 18th century. However, being separated from major governing bodies, the town had to come up with its own way of handling crime. They followed a three-tier court systems which examined cases based on level of severity ranging from ballif court to the court of high appeal.

Sentences were often severe. If you were caught stealing you could be branding with a large “V” for voleur, which is “thief” in French while murders were hung in public areas. For more minor crimes, public humiliation was often the chosen sentence, forcing convicted criminals to wear an iron collar and a special set of handcuffs, strapped to a pole in the centre of town.


What lies beneath

Just beyond the east gate is Rochefort Point, a primary burial site for Louisbourg. While archaeologists have recently excavated the remains of 31 individuals, experts estimate that this shrinking peninsula contains the remains of approximately 1,000 people. Analysis revealed that the average age of death is 24-years-old, and the majority of people buried there are male soldiers. One of the most intriguing discoveries from the archaeological expeditions at Rochefort Point, is that despite the fortress’ competing national identities, the majority of soldiers were buried in a way that respected their individual cultural identity.

There are a few remains buried inside fortress walls. Most notably, remains of Duc d’Anville, one-time governor of Louisbourg are buried under the floorboard’s of the chapel along with three other identified bodies, including that of an unidentified small infant. And once, after a storm rolled through the town, the remains for 42 individuals were revealed on the property. For many, that’s when mysterious specters started to appear, dressed in full military regalia and appearing in places where people shouldn’t be.


– Jane Caulfield


Photo Credit: Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

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