Fort Lennox National Historic Site
Map of Île aux Noix by Bougainville,
© National Archives of Canada
Going back 250 years...
Spring 1760, and New France is almost entirely occupied by the British Army. The island providing a base for French troops continues to resist the invaders. However, the British are determined to conquer these troops, who are protecting Montreal. They are working on a plan: the siege of Île aux Noix.
The Compagnie de Lacorne at a
© Parks Canada
French soldier in 1760 defending
Île aux Noix
© Parks Canada
The Seven Years’ War
General Montcalm wounded
at the Battle of the
Plains of Abraham.
© La Nouvelle-France,
It was in 1754 that hostilities between France and Great Britain began in the North American colonies. In dispute were control of the territory and of the fur trade monopoly in the Ohio Valley. Not until 1756, however, did the mother countries go officially to war. This was the start of the first major world conflict in history: the Seven Years’ War.
This major conflict led to numerous confrontations across the territory, with the French winning some and the British coming out on top in others (Louisbourg, Oswego, William-Henry, Carillon, etc.).
In the spring of 1759, Quebec City was besieged by the joint forces of the British Navy and Army. The ultimate confrontation between the two enemies on the Plains of Abraham ended with the city being taken by the English and the French troops retreating on September 18.
General Lévis during the Battle of Sainte-Foy. Bombled. Engraving
© La Nouvelle-France, Hachette, 1904
One year later, in 1760, French troops under the command of the Chevalier de Lévis attempted to retake the city. They won a victory, the battle of Sainte-Foy, but in vain, with Quebec remaining under British control.
Despite the fall of this important city, all was not lost for the French. They still controlled Montreal as well as the territory between Quebec City and Lake Champlain. This portion of territory became the target of British forces. To hold onto it, the French chose Île aux Noix, a strategic defensive point to counter enemy penetration on the Richelieu River, which was an ideal invasion route, a practical way to transport artillery pieces and a major commercial artery. Île aux Noix thus combined perfect strategic advantages.
Battle of the Île aux Noix
Aware of the need to protect the Richelieu-Lake Champlain axis, a French colonel, Bourlamaque, undertook the construction of a fort on Île aux Noix in the summer of 1759.
The following year, three enemy offensives were launched. Led by generals Amherst and Murray and by Colonel Haviland, these attacks targeted Montreal and the Great Lakes.
Exercises by gunners of the
Compagnie franche de la Marine
© L’armée française en Amérique-Historical
Arms Series No.7
On August 16, 1760, Colonel Bougainville, Bourlamaque’s successor, was witness to the arrival of more than 300 vessels under the command of Colonel Haviland, with 3,400 Englishmen aboard.
The British colonel disembarked his troops on the east shore of the Richelieu and began bombarding the French fort.
From August 17 to 22, the English consolidated their positions and continued to advance around the island, installing batteries of heavy guns. According to the English captain Jenks, “the French seemed to put up little resistance and responded weakly to enemy fire.”
On August 23, the British revealed the guns they had set up over the previous days and engaged in an unremitting bombardment that would last throughout the siege. During the night, soldiers even attempted to cut the chains placed in the river to bring vessels to the north of the island so as to attack the French from behind. However, the French grenadiers aborted this operation.
At that time, the French troops’ provisions, munitions and morale reached their lowest ebb. Desertions threatened the fort and, on August 25, the English dealt the coup de grâce to the troops on Île aux Noix by capturing their flotilla. The absence of communication compromised command of the Richelieu River and of the route to Montreal.
Combat between a French fleet and the English in 1760. Webber. Engraving
© La Nouvelle-France, Hachette, 1904
On August 27, Bougainville and his staff received the order to evacuate the island, given that the capture of the fort was just hours away and that saving the city of Montreal was paramount. While the French soldiers tried to reach Saint-Jean, about 40 men stayed behind in the fort to conceal the retreat and make the British believe the fort was still inhabited.
On August 28, Colonel Haviland’s troops took control of the fort on Île aux Noix. The siege had lasted 12 days.
According to the English, Bougainville and his men could have withstood the siege for some time longer, with the finding of adequate supplies of food and munitions for several more weeks.
The surrender of Montreal
With the capture of Île aux Noix, the route to Montreal was free. The remainder of Haviland’s campaign proceeded quickly, and the three army corps joined in Montreal.
To avoid the suffering that a bombardment would have caused to the population, talks were held immediately.
On September 8, 1760, Montreal surrendered. The downfall of the city marked the capitulation of New France.