Friday morning we planned to tour the Cabot Trail, but awoke to dull, low overcast skies and a fine scotch mist, with very low visibility. On checking the forecast, it was meant to clear up, but not until early afternoon. Probably not a good day to drive the Cabot Trail, so plan B was a drive down to Louisbourg to check out the fortress and lighthouse. After a quiet and relaxing morning we loaded the dogs in the truck and headed off for the approximately 45 min drive, to Louisbourg, which is on the East coast of Cape Breton, about 20 miles from Sydney.
Louisbourg – Fortress and Fishing Village
Through its history, Louisbourg has depended on the ocean, with the first visit by a European being an English vessel in 1597. In the 1700’s the French realised the strategic location and built a well fortified walled city at the entrance to the harbour in 1713. The British laid siege and took the port twice, in 1745 and 1758. Throughout the years it remained a vibrant port, dealing with coal and extensive fishing.
In 1960, the largest reconstruction project in North America commenced with the reconstruction of the fortress from the ruins, by Parks Canada.
Louisbourg Fortress – A Canada National Historic Site
As we were driving down to Louisbourg, Judi was checking the annual Parks Canada passes we bought back in Banff, and they said applicable in all National Parks and Historic Sites. Interesting, the passes should therefore be acceptable at all Park Canada locations, so we decide to ask, on arrival at the fortress.
Entering Louisbourg the signage to the fortress was poor, but we followed the GPS through the town and around the bay until arriving at the entrance, which led to a well maintained gravel road. After a number of minutes of seeing nothing but trees – no fortress, we finally found the visitor’s centre and a parking lot. We saw numerous signs posted with “No Dogs”, and as all the parking was in direct sun, we parked on the edge, in partial shade. Not perfect, but definitely better than full sun. We left the windows well down and headed over to the visitor centre.
First the good news, yes our annual passes are good for 1 year at all Parks Canada locations and the young lady even provided a list and map of all the locations. The bad news is that the visitor centre is not the fortress, which is about 3 to 4 miles away and accessed via a shuttle bus that runs every 15 minutes. Heading off to a remote location, leaving the dogs in the truck just doesn’t work for us, even if the windows are open and it is predominantly in the shade. Therefore, we decided Judi should take the camera and jump on the shuttle bus to the fortress and wander around, while Andy looked at the exhibits in the visitor centre and then went back to check on the dogs.
September is deemed as off-season, which means most of the buildings are not open and only a few employees wander around in period costumes. However, on arrival at the fortress you have a number of options – guided tour (extra cost), head phones for a self-guided tour or just wander around. Since Andy & the dogs were back at the truck Judi just wandered and snapped a few photos. The one above is the church within the walled city. Here are some additional photos.
Private vehicles are unable to drive out to the fortress, so we headed back to town for a spot of lunch, stopping at the Lobster Kettle, right on the water front. Looked great and reports were good, but as we arrived we noticed a bus with passengers disembarking and entering the restaurant. You guessed it, the bus filled the place. One of the staff gave us the names of a couple of places to try and the first one we spotted was the Station House, so we popped in for lunch. It was your typical greasy spoon, not the best, but not the worst either.
The 3rd of three lighthouses to adorn this site, it was the very first lighthouse operating in Canada when lit in 1734. Lighthouse number 2 was built in 1842 and the current one in 1923. The light was automated in 1990.
To the right of the lighthouse are the stone remains of the first light built in 1734. During the siege of 1758 the British inflicted significant damage to the light, which stood proudly at the harbour entrance opposite the fortress.
This is the view from the base of the light looking up the Cape Breton coast.
Cape Breton coastline with the surf from the Atlantic pounding ashore.
Judi standing at the point.
Judi with the lighthouse in the background.
While the coal exports have long since stopped, fishing is still an important and vibrant industry.