There is a gem of a location to check out in Cape Breton, only about 30 minutes outside of the city of Sydney. It’s a place you don’t want to miss, and is an incredible sight to see: The Fortress of Louisbourg.
The Fortress of Louisbourg is full of history, and is a National Historic Site of Canada. When you attend the site, all of the actors treat you as though you are in the year 1744, wearing the attire, and teaching you about their way of life at the Fortress. This year Parks Canada required that everyone wear masks while indoors at any building, so since it is the year 1744, we are wearing masks to protect us from small pox! So they do a really great job of making you forget about what year it is and focusing on learning how the French lived in the 1700s.
The Fortress is a reconstruction of the original after archaeologists spent many years excavating the site. Between the 1960s and 1980s Parks Canada worked to rebuild about one quarter of the original Fortress, so that guests could come and experience this amazing Fortress themselves.
A Brief History
This site is full of history, the Fortress was occupied by the French and was a centre of off shore trading and fishing. The British ended up capturing this Fortress on two occasions, once in 1745 and 1758. The original settlement was founded around 1713, and in the 1740s it became “Louisbourg” after King Louis XIV of France. While visiting the Fortress, we learned a lot about the history here – including how King Louis XIV was very loved by his people, and would even go to battle with his men.
In the siege of Louisbourg in 1758, the British successfully took apart the Fortress so that the French weren’t able to return. Today, we are lucky that we are able to see the Fortress reconstructed since the French documented so much information for us to use.
Actors and Immersive Experience
When locals think of the Fortress of Louisbourg, they immediately start telling you about all of the fun stories and memories they have there. Cannon demonstrations, firing a musket or trying on the 1700s attire, tasting freshly baked bread, getting yelled at by the French guards as to why you are at the Fortress and so much more. Unfortunately this year due to COVID, there is a lot less of the park open to visitors, as they didn’t have a lot of time to get the site ready for guests when they finally heard they had permission to open. So this year there is a lot less of the more immersive experiences, as a lot of buildings are closed. There is no food other than a small canteen to get a quick bite to eat, and this year the entrance is at the back of the site rather than through the big drawbridge “Dauphin Gate”.
However, even though there is a lot less of that “full immersive experience” that Louisbourg is so famous for, I need to point out that the Parks Canada staff and the actors there all went above and beyond with us. Since there is a lot less happening at the site this year, there are also less guests. So the employees here took so much extra time with us to joke, to explain their culture in the 1700s and to even play some musical instruments for us! I can’t say enough that the staff still made this a truly memorable experience and did such a great job. It was fun to have more one-on-one interactions with them. At the Commissaire-Ordonnateur’s property, he made sure to explain the history of each location we were originally from (and in our party we had three different locations, two in Canada, and one in the United States) and he was able to historically connect each of us somehow to the Fortress and explain what our land was known as during the 1700s. He also took the time to joke about my ankles showing. Apparently I would have been a bit too popular in the 1700s showing off my ankles!
So all in all, despite that a lot less of the Fortress was opened, the staff truly made this a lot of fun, and probably even more educational by how much information they took the time to act out or provide us.
As mentioned earlier, there is a lot less opened currently due to the corona virus pandemic. Parks Canada has worked especially hard to still make sure that the historic site is as safe as possible for your family to visit this year such as:
- Wear masks in all buildings (watch out for the small pox outbreak in 1744!)
- Notices on all buildings with COVID-19 information and physical distancing markers of 6 feet
- Sanitizer available upon entry of every building
- Only one person per party to enter the admission building to gain entry
- Only 9 buildings are currently open to the public at the site
- Restaurants are closed – with only a small canteen open for a bite to eat
As always, businesses are trying very hard to follow provincial guidelines during the pandemic, but we need to make sure that we all do our part as well to ensure a safe area and that these wonderful places can stay open for our enjoyment!
The Fortress of Louisbourg is an incredible place to visit in Nova Scotia. If you have never been to the Fortress before, I would highly recommend to wait until the pandemic is over or when life is slightly more “normal” to be able to fully enjoy the immersive experience that the Fortress has to offer.
If you have already been to the Fortress before, or you are local to the area, I do recommend to still visit this year! If you’ve already had the full immersive experience before and are still interested in the history and the Fortress, this is actually the perfect time to go back and learn more. There are not many people there and like I said earlier, the staff is absolutely incredible and will spend so much time with you – even more than they could normally to tell you stories about their way of life and answer any questions that you may have.
The Fortress is a Canadian treasure, and we can’t wait to go back again after COVID and enjoy it again. Make sure to add this gem to your list of places to visit in the Maritimes!
To see some of the amazing sites at the Fortress of Louisbourg, check out our YouTube vlog below: