This is my travel journal for October 3, 2017, but also fits into Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week: The letter L with at least two syllables!
Today our ship docked at Sydney, on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. We had signed up for an excursion to the fortress of Louisbourg, which my husband visited back in the ’80s, and likened it to Williamsburg, Virginia. The excursion was to leave at 11:00 but we were a little late getting started due to difficulty in placing the gangway. It caused a people jam on the stairways going down to Deck 3, but eventually we were all on our way.
On the bus, our guide introduced herself as Almina, and the driver was Edmund. Almina told us a lot about Cape Breton Island, Sydney, and Louisbourg – which she pronounced “Louburg.”
She had put a map of the fortress on each seat so I followed along on the map as she told us what we were going to do as a tour and what were the highlights to see on our own.
In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht gave Newfoundland to the British. During the period between 1719-1744, it was populated by cod fishermen, merchants, and pirates (besides the native people, of course). At this time the fortress was built and expanded.
The period of 1745-1748 was the siege of New England Loyalists and France gained control of Louisbourg. In the second siege, during the French and Indian Wars, in 1758, the fortress was attacked again. The battle lasted seven weeks, France lost, and the fortress was destroyed.
Until 1928, only ruins remained – foundations of houses and other buildings, including the house belonging to the Fizel family, above. After that, a team of archaeologists and historians began excavating the site and detailed documents about the fortress were found.
In 1960, a reconstruction project was begun, which hired mainly unemployed people for the meticulous rebuilding of the fortress. The reconstruction expanded and continued to add more structures up through the 1990s.
Louisbourg became part of the national parks system and uniformed guides reenacted life as it was in the 1700s.
Almina gave us 3 questions to find the answers to:
1. What is the difference between a fort and a fortress?
2. What vegetable did they NOT grow here and why?
3. Why do some of the buildings have a fleur-de-lis on them?
As a group, we first went to building #13, the engineer’s residence, where a servant – a woman dressed in period costume and acting completely in character – showed us how she made hot chocolate, while another servant passed out cups of cocoa to everyone.
The female servant said it was time consuming, so she had to get up early when the master wanted it. She told us she’d been up all night making ours! Assuming we were guests of her employer and having to serve us hot chocolate, she concluded we “must be rich.” But, she noted as she looked around, “I don’t see any lace.” She wondered about the women who didn’t have husbands, asking if these women worked. One of the women in the front said she had a pension.
“A pension? I don’t know what that is,” the servant said convincingly.
She herself was not married, she told us – she’d worked in this household since she was a teenager and if she’d fallen in love and wanted to marry, she would have lost her position. She said this matter-of-factly, but there may have been a tinge of bitterness behind her words. Now that she was older, she didn’t expect any of the young men or soldiers to take an interest in her anyway. But on the other hand, being single meant she didn’t have to share what she had with anyone. As for the family she grew up in, she left them behind in France to take this job and lost contact with them.
Furnishings in the engineer’s home:
She talked about an important part of her job, preparing food: lobster was a poor man’s food – it was so common and besides, rich people didn’t want to eat creatures that were “bottom feeders.”
Someone asked her about what vegetables she grew in the garden. She named some, like beans, but when someone inquired about potatoes and tomatoes, she said they didn’t grow them. Tomatoes, she said, are poisonous: “They’re a member of the nightshade family.” Although this is true, Almina said it’s not the real reason they didn’t eat tomatoes in 18th century Louisbourg. Although the people of that time didn’t know this, the real problem was that their dishes were pewter. Something in the tomato reacts to the pewter, rendering them unsafe to eat! (Lesson: Don’t serve tomato soup using a pewter ladle!)
I was impressed with this “servant” – she totally stayed in character.
Outside, we met a soldier, dressed in a uniform with a white coat and layers of wool stockings. He told about life as a soldier in that remote outpost, and showed us how he primed and shot his musket – he could get off about 3 shots a minute, and that’s because he was very skilled at it.
Soldiers were issued uniforms upon arrival at the fortress, which they had to pay for, so right form the start they were indebted to their officers, since few of them had the money to pay for the uniform outright, and so they had to earn the money first. If they didn’t have a uniform, they would be cold and have trouble staying alive in this windy place.
Soldiers worked from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. They bunked in barracks full of fellow soldiers. The picture he painted of that life was bleak, but men enlisted in order to have steady employment and a certain amount of status compared to a common laborer or a man who couldn’t find steady work. They were dependent on the good will of their commanding officers, who “gave” them things (actually sold them, because it would be deducted from their pay) and looked out for them.
For a serious infraction, a soldier might be shackled to a wooden horse that stood in the yard. The offender would mount the horse and his feet would be shackled underneath. His hands would also be cuffed. He would have to remain there, enduring the vagaries of the harsh climate as well as the taunts of his fellow soldiers, until his commanding officer saw fit to unshackle him.
From there, Almina took us to the military chapel, where she narrated more about the life and history of Louisbourg. We were given free time to explore the fortress, but we were to be back at the bus by 2:45 p.m.
In the summer, there are lots of tourists here and the place is fully staffed with costumed employees demonstrating various aspects of life in 18th century Louisbourg. In October, things are winding down, but some of the staff remains. There is still lots to see.
We missed some of the demonstrations, though, such as the lace makers, because Dale and I went to the Hotel de la Marine to have lunch. It was 18th century food served by waitresses in period dress. We had pea soup, which contained sliced carrots and was served with bread. It was quite filling.
However, we had to wait about 10 minutes for a table and the service was a little slow. At the table where we were seated was a young German couple from Nuremburg in Bavaria, who were travelling on their own, although they did have an itinerary and booked places to stay. They had rented a car and were doing a lot of hiking. We enjoyed talking to them.
Answer to question #1: a fort houses only military, while a fortress has both military and civilians living there.
Answer to question #2: Tomatoes, because they thought they were poisonous.
Answer to question #3: The fleur-de-lis, the symbol of France, was placed atop buildings owned by the French government.
If we had more time, we would have been able to see everything there was to see in October. If you don’t mind crowds, however, you should visit Louisbourg in the summer when everything is in full swing. It is definitely worth a visit if you travel to Cape Breton Island.