Louisbourg, 18th-century fortified town, capital and major settlement of the French colony of Île Royale (Cape Breton I), 1713-58.
Louisbourg, 18th-century fortified town, capital and major settlement of the French colony of Île Royale (Cape Breton I), 1713-58. In the 17th and 18th centuries, France and Britain competed both for territorial control of Atlantic Canada and for domination of the valuable cod fisheries off its coasts. In the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), France ceded Newfoundland and Acadia to Britain. That year the French colonized Île Royale and founded Louisbourg, which quickly became a substantial town and seaport. Unlike the other communities of New France, Louisbourg and its outports carried on little agriculture; instead the export of cod paid for almost all the colony's supplies. From its base in the fishing industry, Louisbourg developed diversified shipping links. The port annually welcomed trading vessels from France, the Caribbean, the British American colonies, Acadia and Québec. Basque, Breton and Norman fishermen joined the fishing industry each summer, and the town's settled population, drawn partly from France, partly from other parts of New France, grew to roughly 2000 by 1740 and double that in the 1750s.
Though its governor was subservient to the governor general of New France at Québec, Île Royale functioned as a separate colony. The centre of French power in the region, Louisbourg was an important military base with a permanent garrison. A major fortification program began in 1719 and by the 1740s cannon-bearing stone-and-mortar ramparts encircled the town. Military engineers under Jean-François Verville shaped the town in accordance with the fortification theories of Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707) and the urban design theories of early 18th-century France.
Louisbourg was besieged in 1745 during the War of the Austrian Succession by troops from New England supported by the Royal Navy, and in 1758 by the British army and navy. Each time, the town was obliged to capitulate after suffering serious damage from artillery fire and naval blockade, and the population was exiled to France. After the first siege, France recovered the colony by treaty, but soon after the second the fortifications were demolished and the town permanently abandoned. The fall of Louisbourg, with the capture of Québec in 1759 and Montréal in 1760, ended France's military and colonial power in N America, although Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, acquired by France in 1763 after the Seven Years' War, partly replaced Île Royale as a base for the fishing industry.
The modern town of Louisbourg, a small fishing port, grew up at the other end of Louisbourg harbour. The fortress of Louisbourg became a national historic site in 1928, and in 1961 Parks Canada began reconstruction based on comprehensive archaeological investigation and the colony's well-preserved historical records. Part of the fortifications, the citadel buildings, the town quay and several streets with their homes, shops and taverns are now rebuilt in intricate detail. Open to the public from spring to fall and interpreted for visitors by guides, costumed animators and museum displays, the reconstruction of 1744-era Louisbourg is today a major visitor attraction, an important contributor to Cape Breton's tourist economy and a world-class model of historic-site reconstruction.