Louisbourg gets set to celebrate 300 years

Staff ~ The Truro Daily News
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By Erin Pottie Cape Breton Post

LOUISBOURG — The summer to step back in time has arrived

An aerial view of Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site.

As part of the 300th anniversary of the founding of Île Royale and its capital, Louisbourg, a jam-packed calendar of events is planned for the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site.

Celebrations begin with a learn to camp event on June 22-23, that will see 300 campers pitch their tents on the terre-plein of the King’s Bastion.

Musical concerts, fireworks and an international blacksmithing gathering are included in the celebrations, while there are also culinary, cultural and archaeological experiences scheduled for North America’s largest reconstructed 18th-century French fortified town.

Lester Marchand, visitor experience manager with Parks Canada, said planning the more than 30 events at the fortress began three years ago.

“We started looking at new experience opportunities for the Fortress of Louisbourg, new ways of experiencing the fortress,” said Marchand. “For example, did you ever think you could experience the Fortress of Louisbourg on a motorcycle?”

A couple of years ago, fortress officials tapped into the niche market of inviting Cape Breton’s abundance of motorcyclists and motorcycling tourists to take part in the 18th-century experience.

Storm the Fortress was created, allowing bikers to roll their rides into the fortress grounds for a day of history and camaraderie.

Marchand said this year’s events will also celebrate a meeting of cultures, as people from all over the world came to Cape Breton to start a life in the land of opportunity.

In order to survive living on the harsh Atlantic coast, Louisbourg dwellers took up various trades, including traditional blacksmithing, farming, cooking and quill writing.

“We’re very excited about sharing the trades at the time, because it tells parts of our stories,” said Marchand.

Louisbourg’s history dates back to 1713, when a group of displaced French colonists landed on the desolate shores of Île Royale.

A protective base for the French fishery and off-shore trade, the fortress was later besieged and captured by the British in 1745 and again in 1758.

British troops would demolish its fortifications in 1760-1768 and abandon the town by the mid-1780s.

This month, Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq chiefs and members of the aboriginal community will gather to honour the cultures that met with their ancestors on Louisbourg’s historic grounds. Smudging and pipe ceremonies will take place in reverence for the lives lived and lost, while traditional drumming, dance demonstrations and workshops will  highlight aboriginal customs, traditions and ties to historic Louisbourg.

The Louisbourg 300 events are also expected to be a tourism boon for the fortress and surrounding community, although the direct impact of economic spinoffs for the former town are unknown.

Nova Scotia’s top musicians are also getting in on the action with the LouisRocks! concerts featuring Squid, Sprag Session, the Joel Plaskett Emergency, Matt Anderson and J.P. Cormier and Dawn and Margie Beaton, among others.

“Some of them are selling fairly quickly, like Joel Plaskett is fairly popular, and J.P. Cormier and Matt Anderson as well,” said Marchand.  

Business owner Parker Bagnell left a federal job 19 years ago to start up the Louisbourg Heritage House Bed and Breakfast and Louisbourg Harbour Inn.

He said there has already been a spike in room sales compared to the last few years, which have been a bit stagnant for business.

So far, there are more Americans making bookings, while the past few years have brought more visitors from the United Kingdom to the two establishments.

“The American economy was really bad, the dollar value and stuff like the passports and security, things that the government has put in place,” said Bagnell. “I think it’s basically the economy in the States.”

Bagnell said so far, this year has been the best June for bookings, while July and August are also filling up.

“I’m really enthusiastic, because the fortress people, they’re top-notch, the visitor services, the superintendent and the Fortress Louisbourg Association, they’re all working hard, so it looks really good,” said Bagnell.

“The marketing budget that was afforded by the federal government is a great kickstart. However, that money would just fall nowhere if it wasn’t for Parks Canada, especially the local guys picking up their game. We’d really like to see this carry through and they’re watching to see which things, which events, stick really well.”

epottie@cbpots.com

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