Bik­ers at fortress

Group of 250 mo­tor­cy­cles par­take in a peace­ful in­va­sion of his­tor­i­cal site

Cape Breton Post - - WEEKEND - Ran­nie Gil­lis Ran­nie Gil­lis is a re­tired teacher and guid­ance coun­sel­lor who lives in North Syd­ney. An avid writer, pho­tog­ra­pher and moto-jour­nal­ist, he is the au­thor of sev­eral books and has writ­ten travel sto­ries for var­i­ous Cana­dian and Amer­i­can magazi

It was a soli­tary tour­ing mo­tor­cy­cle, a large black Har­ley-David­son, and I watched quite fas­ci­nated as it made its way slowly past the white-washed walls of the Des Roches House.

The Des Roches House is a re­pro­duc­tion of an 18th cen­tury cot­tage, which would have been the fam­ily home for a Basque fish­er­man, back when the Fortress of Louis­bourg was in its hey­day.

As the big bike ap­proached the Dauphin Gate, the main en­trance to the fortress, it was stopped by a lone sen­try in uni­form, who was armed with a mus­ket.

The driver was a tall man and a phys­i­cally big man, who looked quite in­tim­i­dat­ing com­pared to the rather slim young sen­try who was de­tain­ing him. Wear­ing a black leather vest, a yel­low T-shirt and a sil­ver mo­tor­cy­cle hel­met, the driver was forced to wait for sev­eral min­utes, be­fore he was even­tu­ally given per­mis­sion to cross the draw­bridge over the dry moat and en­ter the fortress. He was the last biker man in and the last mo­tor­cy­cle.

I hap­pened to be the first biker man in and, as far as I know, my black Yamaha Mid­night Ven­ture was the first bike in, on that first Sun­day in Au­gust, al­most six years ago.

In fact, thanks to a media pass, my bike may have been the first tour­ing mo­tor­cy­cle to ever en­ter this im­pres­sive site, which is the largest his­tor­i­cal re­con­struc­tion in North Amer­ica.

This event, part of the first Thun­der in the High­lands Bikefest in 2009, was to start at five in the af­ter­noon, af­ter the fortress of­fi­cially closed for the day. Be­cause I ar­rived early, I was able to find a good van­tage point on top of the outer de­fen­sive wall, which gave me a panoramic view of both the in­ner har­bour and the fortress.

Also on the wall were three young mu­si­cians, a drum­mer and two fife (mil­i­tary flute) play­ers. With their bright red uni­forms and blue tri­an­gu­lar hats, they were go­ing to pro­vide a mu­si­cal salute to the lucky 250 bik­ers who were tak­ing part in this rather unique ex­pe­ri­ence.

I was equipped with two cam­eras, one with a pow­er­ful tele­photo lens and one with a wide an­gle lens.

It took the bet­ter part of one hour for the large group of mo­tor­cy­cles, from all parts of Canada and the United States, to as­sem­ble in a park­ing lot on the op­po­site side of Louis­bourg har­bour. (With my media pass I had been al­lowed to drive on to the site by means of a ser­vice road, that took me around be­hind the fortress, on the ocean side.)

Need­less to say, the lo­gis­tics in­volved in plan­ning the firstever Thun­der in the High­lands Bikefest were rather daunt­ing. Chair­man Scott Boyd and his or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee based their idea on two pre­vi­ous mo­tor­cy­cle ral­lies that had been held in Cape Bre­ton.

On both those oc­ca­sions the ral­lies were or­ga­nized by the Har­ley Own­ers Group, and were in­tended pri­mar­ily for own­ers of Har­ley-David­son mo­tor­cy­cles. This time it would be dif­fer­ent.

The three-day week­end was open to all mo­tor­cy­cle brands, and took place in mid-sum­mer, when no other mo­tor­cy­cle ral­lies were tak­ing place in At­lantic Canada. How suc­cess­ful was it? Ap­prox­i­mately 1,500 mo­tor­cy­cles and 2,000 riders and passen- gers, made the event a rous­ing suc­cess. How­ever, what re­ally set this rally apart from all other mo­tor­cy­cle gath­er­ings in Canada or the United States, was the fact that 250 mo­tor­cy­cles were in­vited, thanks to Parks Canada, to ac­tu­ally ride into the Fortress of Louis­bourg, one of the most fa­mous his­tor­i­cal sites in the world.

Al­most 300 years ago, dur­ing the first siege of Louis­bourg in 1745, a com­bined force of more than 4,200 Amer­i­can mili­tia, Bri­tish sailors and Royal marines, along with 80 ships, took al­most seven weeks to force the sur­ren­der of the be­lea­guered fortress. The de­fend­ers were out­num­bered more than two for one, hav­ing a com­bined to­tal of only 1,800 French sol­diers and marines and lo­cal mili­tia.

Now, ex­actly 264 years later, on this sunny Sun­day in Au­gust 2009, a group of 250 mo­tor­cy­cles would par­take in a peace­ful in- vasion of this fas­ci­nat­ing his­tor­i­cal site.

Next week:

249 mo­tor­cy­cles, plus one strag­gler, in­vade the Fortress of Louis­bourg.


A to­tal of 249 mo­tor­cy­cles, in a line that stretched for al­most two miles, wait to be ad­mit­ted to the Fortress of Louis­bourg.

A vast col­lec­tion of mo­tor­cy­cles, from all parts of Canada and the United States, as­sem­ble in a park­ing lot be­fore head­ing out to the Fortress of Louis­bourg. For most of those tak­ing part, this was their first view of the his­tor­i­cal re­con­struc­tion, and they were im­pressed.

Three young mu­si­cians, re­splen­dent in their colour­ful uni­forms, welcome the vis­it­ing bik­ers to the fortress. The cannon be­hind them was one of ap­prox­i­mately 100 large guns that de­fended the fortress.

A soli­tary drum­mer, in his red uni­form and dark blue tri­an­gu­lar hat, prac­tises be­fore the ar­rival of the vis­it­ing bik­ers.

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