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British Land at Louisbourg

For the week of Monday June 8, 1998

On June 8, 1758, a powerful British fleet landed soldiers under heavy French fire in Gabarus Bay, near the harbour and fortress town of Louisbourg on Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). The landing party received reinforcements and gradually advanced to set up a ring of attack batteries ever closer to the town. After a seven-week siege, Louisbourg surrendered on July 26. It was a severe blow to French ambitions in the North Atlantic.

Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site

Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site
© Parks Canada

The harbour and town of Louisbourg were settled and fortified by France after 1713 to provide a safe base for fishing and naval operations in the western North Atlantic. Britain and France, colonial powers in both North America and the West Indies, were locked in a rivalry which often flared into open warfare between 1690 and 1815. In 1745, France lost Louisbourg, then re-acquired it in 1748 through a treaty. A year later, the British established Halifax, the present capital of Nova Scotia, to keep an eye on Louisbourg. An ongoing hope of the New England colonies, though, was to capture Louisbourg again. The outbreak of the Seven Years War in 1756 gave them a new opportunity.

The fortified towns of Louisbourg and Québec were the main French strongholds in North America. The British prime minister decided to attack both, with Louisbourg as the first target. When the decisive struggle began in 1758, Britain sent 39 warships, 155 transports, and nearly 30,000 soldiers and sailors. Louisbourg was defended by 10 naval vessels and nearly 7000 soldiers and sailors.

Modern re-enactors at Louisbourg in mid-18th century uniforms

Modern re-enactors at Louisbourg in mid-18th century uniforms
© Parks Canada

The landing on June 8 was opposed by French artillery, yet the British gained the shore and set about to encircle the harbour. The French hoped for reinforcements from Europe, but almost nothing slipped through the Royal Navy blockade. The British seized an increasing number of strong points around the harbour, so the fortress came under cannon fire from several directions at once. Damage to the town and the burning of several French warships convinced the French governor to surrender.

The length of the 1758 siege at Louisbourg may have saved Québec for a year, but the next year, in Louisbourg harbour, a great fleet assembled to sail up the St. Lawrence River to besiege and blockade Québec. At Louisbourg, the British feared that a future peace treaty might once again give away what had been won in the war, so in 1760 they demolished its surrounding fortifications. Three-quarters of the ruins can still be seen at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. Most of the British siege works of the 1758 campaign survive, though located in the forest. About one-quarter of the original fortified town was rebuilt by Parks Canada during the 1960s and 1970s, to its appearance in 1745. The result is the most ambitious historical reconstruction in Canada, and one of the most impressive in the world.

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