© Chris Shannon - Cape Breton Post
Defence Minister Peter MacKay speaks with Chip Bird, right, Cape Breton field unit superintendent for Parks Canada, following a daytime fireworks display that left the air smoky for a time Sunday afternoon outside the King’s Bastion at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. MacKay, who serves as Nova Scotia’s representative in the federal cabinet, was on hand to announce $1.3 million in federal funding for Louisbourg 300, a major celebration marking the 1713 founding of the fortress by the French.
LOUISBOURG — Daytime fireworks and cannon blasts at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site on Sunday officially kicked off an eight-month celebration of Louisbourg’s founding at the hands of the French military 300 years ago.
Upward of 30 events, most of which will be held in summer and throughout the fall, are planned to mark the historical anniversary.
It’s expected to be a tourism boon for the fortress — one of the most recognizable sites for tourists who flock to Cape Breton each year.
On Sunday, in the chapel inside the fortress’s King’s Bastion, the federal government announced it would contribute $1.3 million for the Louisbourg 300 celebrations to assist with funding new visitor programs, and to market the celebrations off-island.
“It’s really important that people across the country and indeed internationally become aware of the Fortress of Louisbourg and the town of Louisbourg, and Cape Breton,” said Chip Bird, Cape Breton field unit superintendent for Parks Canada.
Programming highlights include a cultural fair and encampment, culinary events, 300 fiddlers on the waterfront and the LouisRocks concert series with headline acts Joel Plaskett, Matt Andersen and J.P. Cormier.
Parks Canada will also take Louisbourg 300 celebrations on the road with events in communities across Cape Breton and in some of Canada’s biggest cities.
A full list of events can be found on the Louisbourg 300 website, www.pc.gc.ca/Louisbourg300.
Destination Cape Breton Association CEO Mary Tulle said during the news conference she hoped the celebration would be the “greatest gift” to Cape Breton’s tourism industry this year.
“What our hope is, is that those who come to Cape Breton this year, the No. 1 reason will be for Louisbourg 300, to come and experience what it was just not like 300 years ago but to experience so much more about who Cape Breton and who Nova Scotia is,” she said.
However, the stark reality is the number of visitors to the Fortress of Louisbourg has been slipping for the last several years.
In 2012, there were approximately 76,000 visits over the six-month period the national historic site was open to tourists. That was a five per cent decline from the year before.
Bird said he expects to see those numbers to turn around this year, but he’s realistic about how large attendance will be during the celebration period.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever see the huge numbers of 90,000 to 95,000; there’s been some big changes in the tourism industry.
“But what we are finding is that people are coming and they’re staying longer, therefore investing more in the Cape Breton economy and being able to spend a little bit more time here, and that’s really what we want to do with our promotion this time. The visit is not just two or three hours. The visit is a number of days.”
He also said recent budget cuts to Parks Canada won’t affect the tourist experience, with the same level of core staff during the peak season from July to the first week of September.
Many employees had their months of work cut from yearly to nine months, and seasonal workers had their employment cut to a shorter season. It also resulted in a number of layoffs last year from all Parks Canada sites in Cape Breton.
“What we’ve done is realigned the number of staff that we have with the period in which we have the most people here. From a visitor perspective, it’ll still be a pretty spectacular visit,” Bird said.