Monday, September 2, 2013

Day 47: Louisbourg Fortress

The main reason we came to Baddeck was because, as they say in their publicity, it is the beginning and end of the Cabot Trail highway, which circumnavigates Cape Breton National Park, right out at the tip of the continent. The cliff-hugging drive is considered challenging because of the tight curves, steep grades, and rough road—like the Big Sur highway, I imagine. It takes about five hours, not counting numerous view spots, eateries, and "cultural" attractions. 

Baddeck is the beginning and end of the Cabot Trail Highway
Cape Breton was socked in the whole of Labor Day week-end: showers, fog, heavy skies. This meant that the risk level of driving a cliffside road went way up, while the possibility of great scenery went way down. So we bowed to reason, and conceded the point to nature.

Another of our objectives was to tour the Louisbourg Fortress, an historical site operated by Canada's national parks. It is a partial reconstruction of a fort that was constructed by the French between 1720 and 1740 for the protection of a thriving fishing and commercial port against British invasion. It was besieged twice and finally destroyed completely by the British in the 1760s. The site lay untouched until the 1960s, when archaeologists began to reconstruct the fortress as it was in the 18th century. About 25% has been reconstructed, making it the largest reconstruction project in North America. It is operated by Parks Canada as a living history museum, meaning that costumed "enactors" give demonstrations of various crafts and activities from that time.

Threading from Baddeck around and over the arms of the Bras d'Or Lake, and passing Sydney, the big city in this area, the drive to Louisbourg, out on another coast of the Atlantic, took about an hour and a half. It was tolerable to walk around outside if you were well bundled-up, though the occasional gusts of mist in my face were unpleasant.

Louisbourg is on the south Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia

A bus took us from the Visitors' Center to the fortress, perched on a rocky point. Near the shore was a sod-covered hut for drying cod. Dried cod was an important source of protein in the 18th century and could be transported to Europe.

Cod-drying hut
The town is surrounded by a mote as well as a wall. Visitors cross the mote and enter through the Dauphin Gate.

The Dauphin Gate
We walked the broad boulevard along the shore to the Frédéric Gate, the entrance for ocean-going vessels, completed in 1742.


Frédéric Gate
Here is a block of buildings facing the sea. None were open to the public.

Buildings facing the ocean

The main street is perpendicular to the ocean and extends from the Frédéric Gate to the garrison.

Main street of town, looking toward the ocean
It was nearly noon, and Captain Dan wanted to photograph the canon-firing ceremony at noon, so we headed for the fort. The structure is huge, built of stone and brick, and decorated with fleur-de-lis—a substantial piece of architecture. 

King's Bastion Barracks building with guardhouse

The guardhouse is right outside the fort
The canon-firing ceremony involved a group of costumed soldiers bearing muskets marching in formation accompanied by drums and fifes. This was entertaining, but I couldn't get within range to get photos on my iPad. I was a little disappointed that some of the "soldiers" were played by hippy women who waddled up the embankment in an unsoldierly manner. 

Before we left the fort, we had a look inside the military chapel.

Catholic chapel within fort
The next event of the afternoon was a public condemnation. Just after we left the fort, a contingent of enactors streamed out the gate, portraying soldiers and a woman who was condemned for a crime. The group stopped on a rise above the town, and the local magistrate read, in both French and English, a decree which said that the woman had been tried for theft and found guilty. As they trooped on down the hill, the actress wailed, "Je suis si désolé. I am so sorry." I got some good video, but no snapshots. Later I got a good shot of the magistrate.

The Magistrate with his decree banishing the thief.
Then we strolled around town, exploring the old homes that were open. 

Modest home on Main Street

Prosperous home with flower garden

Visitors were fascinated by the sheep, geese and turkeys grazing in the yards. 

Sheep grazing in the yard.

Inside, costumed ladies gave demonstrations of 18th century skills, such as bobbin-lace making.

Winding bobbins for lace

Chatting about local history
The lunch service at the Hotel de la Marine was incredible: authentic, healthy, and quick. There was vegetable soup with clear broth; fresh, pan-fried haddock; roasted carrots and turnips; a tiny apple tart. Service was 18th-century style, which means pewter dishes, a napkin the size of a dishtowel, and only one large spoon to use for every dish (you use the handle to stir your tea). Seating was at tables for eight. We enjoyed talking to our table-mates, some from Alberta and later some from Michigan. 

On our way out we stopped by the Artillery Forge. I especially enjoyed a demonstration by the blacksmith. He gave an interesting talk about the bellows used to intensify the heat in the forge, then he demonstrated the forging of an iron hook.

The blacksmith gave an interesting demonstration

We headed back to Baddeck about four o'clock. Near the turnoff for the Cabot Trail highway, Captain Dan decided to investigate the ferry at Englishtown, which he recalled from his map study. Thanks to a sun break, we enjoyed the rural scenery on the little road down there. The ferry crosses St. Anne's Harbour, an inlet from the Atlantic. Actually a spit of land crosses most of the distance and the ferry takes only six minutes to cover the remainder, using a cable for guidance and carrying about twenty cars per trip. We had fun watching and photographing the ferry, and the restless clouds.

The Englishtown Ferry
On the way back through town we returned to the Bell Buoy restaurant for our last meal in Baddeck. We enjoyed our last look at the harbor on the Bras d'Or lake in the pale sunset.