Bikers at fortress
Group of 250 motorcycles partake in a peaceful invasion of historical site
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.
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.