Welcome to Louisbourg
“It was near midnight, June 1, 1758, when the lookouts on Cape Breton Island noticed something odd. The fog that had covered the island for weeks, now cleared enough to show lights off shore. Dawn revealed a large fleet laying outside Gabarous Bay, six miles west of Louisbourg. Worse yet, the ships flew a white banner with a red cross, the colors of Briton’s Royal Navy.”
The French came to Louisbourg in 1713, after ceding Acadia and Newfoundland to the British by the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession. France’s only remaining possessions in what is now Atlantic Canada were the islands of Cape Breton and Prince Edward, which were then called Isle Royale and Isle Saint-Jean. The French used these islands as a base to continue the lucrative cod fishery of the Grand Banks.
In 1719, they began to construct at Louisbourg a fortified town which was only completed on the eve of the first siege in 1745. The town and settlement along the harbour shore soon became a thriving community.
The cod fishery accounted for most of the Isle Royale’s prosperity. Dried before export, the fish was salted and laid on stages which lined the beaches of Louisbourg and its outports. Louisbourg became a hub of commerce, trading in manufactures and various materials imported from France, Quebec, the West Indies, and New England.
One might think that the fortress would be prepared for any onslaught. Yet, while the harbour was well defended, the main landward defences were commanded by a series of low hills, some dangerously close to the fortifications; all provided excellent locations for siege batteries.
The first attack came in 1745 following a declaration of war between Britain and France. Charged with the fervour of a religious crusade, and informed that the fortress was in disrepair with its poorly supplied troops on the verge of mutiny, the New Englanders mounted an assault on Louisbourg. Within 46 days of the invasion the fortress was captured. To the chagrin of the New Englanders, only three years later the town was restored to the French by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.
In 1758, Louisbourg was besieged a second time. Without strong navy to patrol the sea beyond its walls, Louisbourg was impossible to defend. Attacking with 16,000 troops supported by 150 ships, a British army captured the fortress in seven weeks. Determined that Louisbourg would never again become a fortified French base, the British demolished the fortress walls.