It was chilly and dank as Le Boreal pulled into Louisbourg. The dock was about 25 feet shorter than the ship and configured in such a way that made it necessary to use tenders. We were greeted at the dock by a smiling lady in 18th century period costume.
A short bus ride and we arrived at the Fortress of Louisbourg, a National Historic Site of Canada and North America’s largest historic reconstruction. The original settlement, called Havre a l’Anglois, was constructed in 1713 and grew into a fishing port, a major commercial port and a well-defended fortress. The walls were constructed over a 20-year period, from 1720-40.
By the mid 1740s, Louisbourg had become one of the most extensive European fortifications in North America. “Life was hard here,” our guide explained, “especially in winter.” As most of us were feeling chilled, even though it was September, we could well imagine Louisbourg on a Canadian winter day.
We had already heard how Britain and France constantly battled for territory in this new land; captured by British settlers in 1745, Louisbourg was returned to France in the 1748 treaty that ended the War of the Austrian Succession. Captured again in 1758 during the Seven Years’ War, it was completely destroyed by British engineers.
The town and fortress were partly reconstructed during the 1960s, using some of the original stonework and providing work for unemployed coal miners. The site is operated by Parks Canada as a living history museum.
During our three-hour visit, we strolled the streets, chatted with costumed townspeople and took many photos as they went about their daily tasks, baking breead, caring for their animals, making lace (the only activity available to high-born ladies) and preparing meals. We watched soldiers drill and listened to the town crier, who declaimed that a fisherman had been found guilty of stealing a sheep.
Our guide once again emphasized how difficult – and boring – life was within this settlement. But as it is in many places, those in charge – the governor, the high officials, the ranking military men – lived reasonably well, dining on delicacies from France and the Indies and furnishing their homes with fine things from France.
When we returned to our ship, we, too, dined well, for it was tea time on Le Boreal – and that meant tea sandwiches and superb miniature pastries. Just enough to keep us happy until yet another well-prepared dinner was served.
Life is not hard on a cruise ship, especially a French ship.