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New France builds a Mighty Fortress

For the week of Monday September 2, 2013

On September 2 1713, France claimed the land where it would build the town of Louisbourg. After losing the War of the Spanish Succession and ceding a part of Acadia (mainland Nova Scotia) and Newfoundland to the British, France needed a new base in Atlantic Canada. The formidable Fortress of Louisbourg on Isle Royale (Cape Breton) was the solution.

The Fortress of Louisbourg
© Parks Canada
Louisbourg grew from a small village into the capital of Isle Royale, with 2,000 permanent residents, and the largest centre for fishing and trade in New France. Many displaced French colonists moved there and hundreds of French traders visited the town each summer.

To protect the town, French authorities built impressive fortifications. Construction took more than two decades to finish and, once completed, Louisbourg was one of the best defended towns in North America. Walls surrounded the town and the mighty fortress was armed with more than 100 cannons. The only entrances were through the gates, which were constantly guarded by some of the 700 soldiers permanently stationed there. 

Defensive wall and cannons
© Parks Canada

Louisbourg’s economic and strategic advantages made it a target for British attacks. The fortress was captured twice by British forces, first in 1745 and again in 1758. The second British victory marked the end of the fortress-era at Louisbourg. British authorities wanted to make sure that the French could never use the defences again and demolished most of the walls.

Some of the ruins have been preserved. Parks Canada undertook a major project in the 1960s to rebuild about a quarter of the town as it would have looked in the summer of 1744. It is the largest reconstruction of an 18th-century fortified town in North America.

A place of profound significance in the British and French struggle and the most significant French fishing and commercial centre in North America, the Fortress of Louisbourg was designated a national historic site in 1920. The Royal Battery, which helped protect the harbour, was designated a national historic site in 1952 due to its role in the 1745 and 1758 sieges.

It is the 300th anniversary of the founding of Louisbourg! For more This Week in History stories relating to the Fortress of Louisbourg, please read: Peace Treaty at Utrecht Changes Map of North America, Ahead of her time: Marie Marguerite RoseBritish Land at Louisbourg and Community seeks safe harbour, ideally with good fishing.... For more information about the Fortress of Louisbourg national historic site click here.

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