Guest Author - Cavelle Natasha Layes
The fortress of Louisbourg has a very colorful past. One that is full of victory and defeat, life and death. But where did it all begin? Here I will share with you all I know about the founding of Ile Royale, the building of the fortress, and life behind its walls.
The first Europeans on record to have landed in Ile Royale were the British in 1597, however the real history of Louisburg did not begin until the year 1713. This is the year that King Louis XIV (the king of France) claimed Ile Royale as his own. After hearing of his troops failed attempt at constructing a proper winter port in Fort Ste-Anne due to its extreme icy conditions, King Louis sent them to explore Ile Royale.
He had heard word about its excellent military position as well as abundance of fish and more importantly its ice free harbor and was sure the land would prove well. The French troops boarded their ships and sailed to their new destination. Ile Royale (now known as Cape Breton Island) and Ile Saint-Jean (Now known as Prince Edward Island) were the only land in the new world left in their possession. The French had previously handed over Acadia and Newfoundland to the British by means of treaty which had ended the war of the Spanish Succession.
It was not long after they arrived that the French sent word back to King Louis reporting that everything he had heard was indeed true. The waters of the Grand Banks were stocked full of fish, and the water surrounding the land was deep enough to allow large ships to enter the harbor as well enabled the troops to see enemy ships far before reaching land.
Upon hearing this King Louis gave order to utilize Ile Royale as their new winter port. Later after reports of much success in the new land reached the king, a new order was sent out for a settlement to be built. The construction of the towns began in 1719 and continued for years, in fact its construction was not completed until the night before the settlements siege.
When completed the settlement consisted of a large fortress with a township on its outside grounds and a wall surrounding the settlement protecting them from outside attacks. Inside the fortress was a fort which housed the kings barracks. This fort stood towering over the settlement and somewhat resembled a castle. This was (at the time) the largest building in North America. Their new home was named Louisbourg after their king.
Life behind in Louisbourg was thriving, the abundance of fish proved to be very valuable and brought many more people to live in the township. A method was developed that allowed the cod to be easily preserved. The towns people would salt the cod then lay them in the sun to dry. By doing this they found that the fish lasted longer on its journey across the sea.
As more people came to live and work in Louisbourg the more traders arrived as well. Louisbourg soon became a well know center of trading, specializing in the exchange of manufactured goods and items imported from France. The growth in trading accounted for the large rise in traffic going within Louisbourgs harbor and is on record to be one of the busiest harbors in the in the 18th century. In 1734 Canada's first lighthouse was built to aid in the rise in traffic, helping ships navigate through the fog filled harbor.
The British had been watching Louisbourg with an eager eye and seen it becoming more prosperous and with it grew power. In an ideal spot the land was impossible to pass up and the British planned their first attack. This was the first of many battles involving the Fortress.
Learn more about these attacks as well as the fortress' destruction in my article "The Siege Of Louisbourg" you can also learn about the fortress as it stands today as Canada's largest historical reconstruction in my article "The Fortress of Louisbourg".