Woke up early.
Went to the Fortress of Louisbourg.
They say you need at least three hours to visit. I took two days.
You arrive at the visitor’s centre, where you board buses to the Fort.
On day one it was very foggy. So as the fort came into view it had a ghostly feel to it. The buses drop you off and you experience a day in the life of the fort in 1744 – just when hostilities between France and Britain were resuming.
(It was attacked and taken by the British in 1745, returned to the French by treaty, and then attacked and taken again by the British in 1758)
The Fort, as it currently stands, was constructed in the early 1960s in part to give jobs to unemployed coal miners. This reconstruction rebuilt 1/5th of the site.
The first day we took a walking tour, and visited the buildings to speak with the interpretors (people in period costume relaying information about their day-to-day lives in the Fort.)
The second day we took an archaeological tour of the ruins (parts of the other 4/5ths of the site). There are a lot of the parts of the fort that have been lost and destroyed because of the changing shoreline, crashing waves, and erosion – the work of nature.
What remains of the original buildings are foundations. These foundations are under fields of sod and growth. By the shoreline the foundations have been covered up with rocks that have been pushed ashore by the powerful waves of the Atlantic ocean.
While we were there, a group of archaeologists were unearthing both a French and a British powder magazine (The British built theirs when they occupied Louisbourg after 1745). To uncover the walls, the archaelogists had to move many rocks.
Earlier in the day I visited what had been a battery (Battery Royale) across the bay, and it consisted of piles of rocks and depressions in the earth. Again at this location the rocks had been pushed to their location by the powerful ocean.
As we walked around the site (the ruins) it was clear that Louisbourg could never be rebuilt to represent its original size – not just because of the sheer enormity of the work that would have to be done (never mind cost) but seeing that so much of the site was essentially swampy and/or threatened by the sea, it just isn’t practical.
It was also a realization of how much higher the ocean level is today than it was in the mid-18th Century.
As we walked around Louisbourg it also serves as a testament to how we look at historical sites in Canada.
The British levelled the place after the 1758 siege – because they didn’t want the French to be tempted to retake it/rebuild there. The British were content with their chosen fortress at Halifax, so they didn’t need/want to maintain Louisbourg.
For years the site was just rubble.
People came and took rock to build other buildings.
In the 1930s they build a museum. It’s design is very, umm, government of Canada. Complete with copper roof (you can picture it — sort of like a mini-parliament building style)
Inside the present day incarnation of this museum they have a good scale model of Louisbourg, as well as a recreation of what the museum would look like in the 30s. So it’s a museum, of a museum.
Which is exactly what the 1960s version of Louisbourg looks today.
It has that “rebuilding the past” historical approach that was 60s, 70s, and 80s. Buildings built on original foundations, with materials that would have been used at the time, so that visitors can get a sense of what life would be like back at a certain time.
For a really good example of this visit Ste. Marie Among the Hurons in Midland, Ontario. There were no structures that existed from that missionary. In the 1960s they rebuilt a whole missionary to show what it would look like. As a kid, I thought they were original buildings. But, no, they weren’t. It’s the same in Louisbourg. While the foundations are for the most part real, everything else is just a faithful reconstruction.
Which, going back to our archaeology example, this sort of reconstruction could be looked at as, well destructive by the way they treat the site today. Today’s approach may be compared to the archaeological walk. As in – y0u walk around, without trying to disturb too much of the site, and talk about what is there.
I think the other “museum in a museum” is the 1960s version of Louisbourg — just the way it was designed.
There is an exhibit (possibly my favourite “museum in a museum” moment) entitled the “Theme Lounge.”
Travelling Companion had no idea why I loved the Theme Lounge so much. She hated it.
I think I like it because it captures Louisbourg in the early 60s perfectly. It felt like opening a time capsule. It smelt kind of musty in there, so it could have been a time capsule.
In the Theme Lounge there are these plush chairs. They’re sort of orange. There are books. They’re pretty worn out. They probably are the same ones that were there in the 60s. There’s a small theatre area (with the same groovy plush chairs). The best part is probably the dead end that has one plush chair, one small side table, and an ancient pay phone (one that just has a slot for coins. No digital display, no place for a swipe card.)
A close second to this ‘museum within a museum’ theme would be the display they created about the creation of Louisbourg. Some highlights in this exhibit include the room with the microfiche machine (for display purposes only) and the one where they have a early 1960s “historian” who is hunched over a typewriter beside some books doing some research about the Fort.
Other things about Louisbourg (the Fort) that were great (and perhaps a bit more traditional):
– the enthusiasm of the interpreters. They had incredible passion for the subject material and stayed in character. It was entertaining, informative, and available in both official languages.
– the food! We at at all three places. Everything from the roast beef at L’Epee Royale to the turkey pot pie and soup at the other places was delicous and all in good 1744 fun. (TC loved this stuff.)
– the weather. Seeing it in fog and sun gave different feels for the fort. During one tour we saw a photo of the fort getting hit with waves in the winter time. It was quite incredible. I was happy to have visited in the summer. 🙂
Okay, it’s late, so I’ll continue to update in the next couple of days.