Time trav­el­ling in Nova Sco­tia

Garry Shaw dis­cov­ers that the past is very much alive in this east­ern Cana­dian prov­ince

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

The year is 1744, and I ar­rive at the gates of the for­ti­fied town of Louis­bourg a lit­tle ap­pre­hen­sive – would the French sen­try, dressed in his blue mil­i­tary uni­form, and – a lit­tle more wor­ry­ingly – hold­ing a long ri­fle, let me, a Brit – the en­emy – into the fortress I’d read that the gar­ri­son al­lowed lo­cal peo­ple in and out of the fort dur­ing day­light hours (with the gates sealed at night), but the guards were al­ways on the look­out for Bri­tish spies. Their test, so I’d read, was sim­ple: if you spoke French, then you were ok. If not, then you were a spy and im­pris­oned. Luck­ily, the sen­tries were also known for tak­ing bribes, but what if I met one of those pesky rule-abid­ing ones

The walk to this point had been re­mark­ably des­o­late. A sim­ple path, with an ex­panse of grass to one side and the ocean­front on the other. In the dis­tance, as I fol­lowed the path, keep­ing one eye on the ap­proach­ing gate­way and its po­ten­tially trou­ble­some guard, the up­per storeys of colo­nial houses – all grey rub­ble-stone and wood – peeked at me over the fort’s walls, re­veal­ing a taste of the hid­den world be­yond. Di­rectly ahead stood the fort’s main en­trance, the Dauphin Gate, sur­mounted and dom­i­nated by a coat of arms: a crown above three fleur-de-lis, ar­ranged like two eyes and a mouth, an emotionles­s face, with the en­tire en­sem­ble rest­ing upon two star­tled

In this land of her­itage, tra­di­tions were not past, but still very much present. His­tory was not some­thing to just read about, but to be lived in the here and now

stone fish. The sen­try looked me up and down. My French was rusty, but a few hasty ‘saluts’ and a ‘ a va bien’ later, fol­lowed by a quick march past the guard­rooms and their toi­lets (emp­ty­ing di­rectly into the ocean), and I was in. I had suc­cess­fully left the 21st cen­tury and trav­elled back to the 18th. Time travel isn’t as hard as peo­ple say.

Ok, so it wasn’t 1744, and I wasn’t anx­ious about my prospects of get­ting into the fort be­cause I’d bought an ad­mis­sion ticket. Still, I was meant to think it was 1744 and so far Louis­bourg was do­ing a great job. My sense of im­mer­sion in the past was star­tling, a feel­ing mag­ni­fied by the lack of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy in view (cars are banned from com­ing near the site, for ex­am­ple, hence the long walk). As I’d quickly learned af­ter my ar­rival in Nova Sco­tia, liv­ing his­tory mu­se­ums and ac­cu­rately re­con­structed his­toric sites are a sp cialit of this east­ern Cana­dian prov­ince, and in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar among both lo­cals and tourists. As a fan of im­mer­sive his­tor­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ences my­self, I couldn’t help but dive into the area’s rich, var­ied, and of­ten tragic colo­nial past (though ad­mit­tedly, many of the peo­ple liv­ing in th­ese past times prob­a­bly didn’t find it that en­ter­tain­ing). And of the penin­sula’s var­i­ous im­mer­sive of­fer­ings, Louis­bourg pro­vided the pièce de r sis­tance.

Leav­ing the Dauphin Gate be­hind, I could see that the town cov­ered a wide area, stretch­ing back from the ocean­front, with its wood-framed and rub­ble-stone build­ings, each with their own land, sep­a­rated and marked by wooden fences. Sol­diers, with black tri­corne-hats and stock­ings pulled high over their trousers, marched past me, car­ry­ing their ri­fles and chat­ting. Some were bang­ing drums. Groups of women strolled along the streets too, wear­ing che­quered aprons, loose dresses, white bon­nets and neck­er­chiefs. Pigs, sheep and chick­ens, oinked, baaed and clucked away in their pens at one point, I watched a man herd a sounder of pigs along a street.

As I ex­plored my old/new en­vi­ron­ment, I passed the home of the town mag­is­trate, named Joseph Lar­tigue it was now a bou­tique, sell­ing repli­cas of 18th-cen­tury items. Next came a bak­ery, which had re­tained its orig­i­nal floor­ing and of­fered bread made to an au­then­tic pe­riod recipe. Other build­ings, spread out across the town, con­tained dis­plays about the his­tory of the site and the peo­ple who had lived there.

Lo­cated in Cape Bre­ton, an is­land im­me­di­ately to the north of Nova Sco­tia, Louis­bourg (named af­ter King Louis XIV) was set­tled by the French in 1713, with con­struc­tion on the for­ti­fied town start­ing in 1719, a process that took 25 years. It had been founded at a com­plex time in Cana­dian his­tory, when Nova Sco­tia had been handed from the French to the Bri­tish, but rather oddly with­out Cape Bre­ton be­ing in­cluded in the deal. Tak­ing ad­van­tage of this cu­ri­ous omis­sion, the new French set­tlers used Louis­bourg as a base for cod fish­ing – the fish be­ing dried and ex­ported – and as a trade hub be­tween the Old and New Worlds it quickly be­came New France’s main east coast trad­ing cen­tre. But in 1745, when war once again broke out be­tween the French and Bri­tish, Louis­bourg be­came a tar­get. Over the next 20 years, the town re­peat­edly changed hands be­tween the two sides, un­til the Bri­tish, de­cid­ing enough was enough, dis­man­tled its for­ti­fied walls. In 1763, they aban­doned Louis­bourg com­pletely, leav­ing it to fall into a pile of ro­man­tic ru­ins. Not that you’d no­tice to­day.

The de­ci­sion to re­con­struct 25 of Louis­bourg, in­clud­ing about 50 build­ings at a cost of 25 mil­lion, was taken in 1961, with the idea of fix­ing the site as it ap­peared in 1744 – a Ground­hog Year rather than a Ground­hog Day. It be­came the largest re­con­struc­tion pro­ject in North Amer­ica, and cre­ated work for lo­cal res­i­dents, left un­em­ployed since the col­lapse of Cape Bre­ton’s coal and steel min­ing in­dus­tries. And this was not an at­tempt at ‘Dis­ney­fy­ing’ the past. Rather than splic­ing to­gether the town’s most dra­matic/daz­zling ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures, like Vic­tor Franken­stein stitch­ing to­gether his mon­ster, her­itage ex­perts ex­ten­sively con­sulted both ar­chae­o­log­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal records in or­der to faith­fully recre­ate the town the only con­ces­sions made were for health and safety rea­sons, and to aid vis­i­tor move­ment (ap­par­ently, so I read, some of the closed build­ings hide fire trucks and mod­ern equip­ment). In­ter­est­ingly, with Louis­bourg only op­er­a­tional from 1719 to the 1760s, a pe­riod of roughly 40 years,

Pre­vi­ous pages: The tall ship Hec­tor at Pic­tou (Im­age: © Garry Shaw)

Right, top: Re­con­structed Louis­bourg (Im­age: © Garry Shaw)

Right, middle: A demon­stra­tion of mak­ing lace at Louis­bourg (Im­age © Cana­dian Tourism Com­mis­sion)

Right, bot­tom: Lunen­burg County (Im­age © Cana­dian Tourism Com­mis­sion)

the replica town has now ex­isted, locked in 1744, for 55 years, much longer than its orig­i­nal life as a func­tional space, the replica now has a longer ac­tive his­tory than the orig­i­nal.

Be­fore leav­ing the 18th cen­tury, I de­cided to stop for a drink and a bite to eat, so I headed to the Grand­champ Tav­ern, an inn aimed at the ‘com­mon’ peo­ple, both then and now. Sat at a long wooden ta­ble, en­closed by white­washed walls and a wooden ceil­ing, my server handed me a spoon, which, given the lack of knives or forks at this time, I had to keep for each course, whether I was eat­ing soup or chicken. I washed it all down with a beer, de­scribed only as ‘brown.’ While I failed to slurp my chicken from my spoon, two kids, sat at the ta­ble be­side me, be­gan to fid­get ex­cit­edly.

Lis­ten­ing in, they seemed to think that a pub­lic ex­e­cu­tion was about to be held, and rushed off, leav­ing their par­ents and meal be­hind. They re­turned a few min­utes later, still giddy. Now, I’m not sure if Louis­bourg does hold mock ex­e­cu­tions, but what­ever the kids saw, it cer­tainly made them happy. His­tory had come alive (well, ex­cept for the per­son that had po­ten­tially been ‘ex­e­cuted’), and they’d ex­pe­ri­enced her­itage in a way that they’d never for­get. Th­ese are the mem­o­ries that forge the his­to­ri­ans of the fu­ture. They are why such liv­ing his­tory ex­pe­ri­ences are so im­por­tant, and why they are a clever use of the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal record.

The Aca­di­ans and the ‘Great Up­heaval’

About a week be­fore my visit to Louis­bourg, one of my first stops in Nova Sco­tia had been An­napo­lis Royal. It was near there, in 1605, that French ex­plorer Sa­muel de Cham­plain founded the first Euro­pean set­tle­ment north of Florida (he also founded ue­bec City on 3rd July 1608 – there’s a rea­son he’s known as the ‘Father of New France’). He humbly called this set­tle­ment Port-Royal, and in­tended it to be a fur trad­ing cen­tre, but it only lasted from 1605 to 1613 (al­though it did rise from the dead, Lazarus like, in 1939, re­con­structed from the orig­i­nal plans and pop­u­lated by cos­tumed in­ter­preters in­ter­est­ingly, like Louis­bourg, it’s an­other replica at­trac­tion that has far out­lived the orig­i­nal’s life­span). Sub­se­quent French set­tlers built a new Port-Royal a short dis­tance away on

Left, top: Lunen­burg County (Im­age © Tourism Nova Sco­tia)

Left, middle right: Adopt a lob­ster? Lob­ster Ket­tle Restau­rant, Louis­bourg, Cape Bre­ton Is­land (Im­age © Cana­dian Tourism Com­mis­sion)

Left, bot­tom right: Mar II Tall Ship, with Hal­i­fax sky­line (Im­age © Desti­na­tion Hal­i­fax/J. In­gram)

Left, bot­tom: This me­mo­rial church at Grand Pré is thought to stand close to the spot where the Church of Saint-Charles-desMines once stood (Im­age © Garry Shaw)

Right: The Aca­dian ceme­tery at Ma­jor’s Point (Im­age © Garry Shaw)

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