This Week in History


Community seeks safe harbour, ideally with good fishing...

For the week of Monday June 17, 2013

On June 23, 1713, about 200 people boarded the Semslack with their bags packed and watched their town, Plaisance, Newfoundland, disappear below the horizon. They were headed to their new home – still unknown – in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

The Frédéric Gate at Louisbourg
© Parks Canada / G. Corbett / 1985
After France was defeated in the War of Spanish Succession, it was forced to cede most of its Atlantic colonies to England. French colonists living there were faced with the choice of swearing allegiance to the British crown or leaving within the year. The fishermen feared they would have to leave their gear behind to make room for more people in their boats. Fortunately, France sent the Semslack, commanded by Joseph de Monbeton de Brouillant dit Saint-Ovide, to pick up the Plaisance colonists.

Saint-Ovide’s mission was simple: with an initial group of French colonists on board, cruise the coast of Cape Breton in search of the best site to build a fort and fishing base. The Semslack first visited Sainte-Anne and Saint-Pierre, but the former forts there were in ruins. In the end, Havre-à-l’Anglois was chosen for its proximity to the fishing grounds and its protected harbour. Not wishing to keep a name associated with their enemy, they renamed the spot Port St-Louis (later Louisbourg) in honour of the King of France, and the island was named Île Royale.

Re-enactment of drying cod filets
© Parks Canada / F. Cattroll / 1983

The new arrivals, most of them soldiers and other men, fortified the area and worked the new land. For 30 years, Louisbourg was a growing and bustling trade centre. Basques, Bretons and Normans mingled with the French in the fish trade, while the Mi’kmaq and merchants from other colonies came to trade goods. The fortress town seemed to provide a better life for the Plaisance deportees, but their hopes were dashed by the resumption of war.

The Fortress of Louisbourg was designated of national historic significance for its pivotal role in the battles between France and England, including its role as a major supply port. The Role of Placentia (Plaisance) was designated a national historic event in 1951.

It is the 300th anniversary of the founding of Louisbourg! To learn more about the history of Louisbourg, please consult Peace Treaty at Utrecht Changes Map of North America and British Land at Louisbourg in the archives of This Week in History. To learn more about the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, click here.

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