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History and Unspoiled Natural Beauty at Louisbourg

Story by: Chris Bellemore

I’m from Ontario, so I’ll start there. I’d never been to Louisbourg before I moved here. When you’re driving along the Louisbourg Highway, Route 22, you see all these spruce trees and it looks like you’re going nowhere. Then, about a half-hour southeast of Sydney, it just opens up into this quaint little fishing village, which I’ve always found kind of charming—it’s industrial but it’s charming at the same time. And when you get to a certain point, you look to your left and you see a towering lighthouse and you look to your right and you see this fortress, which is unlike being anywhere else, at least in Canada. To me, this is such a unique destination compared to other places you could go.

A Night in the Fortress of Louisbourg: the Lartigue House 3

Fortress of Louisbourg

Some places you just know have lots of stories to tell and this rocky, southeast coast of Cape Breton Island is definitely one of those places. The French settlers arrived in the early 1700s establishing themselves in fishing and trading. But by the 1760s, the Fortress had been sieged twice and ultimately destroyed by the British. Now, the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site is the largest reconstructed site in North America. From the smell of bread baking and the sound of cannon fire to the costumed animators going about their business, the Fortress offers a unique opportunity for visitors to experience daily life in the mid-eighteenth century and immerse themselves in that period. There are also activities for children and evening programs like ghost walks and special meals. You can also learn about important connections with Mi’kmaw people at the Mi’kmaq Interpretive Centre.

History and Unspoiled Natural Beauty at Louisbourg
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Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site 1

Crashing Waves on Sandy Beaches

Part of the Louisbourg story are the beaches, not just because that’s where the British came ashore for their final siege, but because Kennington Cove and Anson’s Cove are two of Cape Breton’s more pristine beaches. Here, the usually rugged, rocky coastline gives way to sandy beaches and crashing waves. It’s an amazing place for swimming, body-surfing or just relaxing on the beach.

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History in the Fresh Air

Louisbourg is a great place to enjoy the unspoiled natural beauty and salty, breezy ocean air along one of the scenic walking trails in the area. The Old Town Trail is a very popular trail that commemorates the generations of families who lived there and takes you right up to the Fortress walls. The Royal Battery Trail, Simon’s Point Trail and the Ruins Walk also provide opportunities to learn about the history of the area.

Two adirondack chairs overlook the ocean

Railway Museum

The Fortress is such a big story, that some of smaller stories sometimes get lost in the bigger picture. These are the stories, though, that make up the bigger picture. And you’ll get to hear some of these stories at the Sydney and Louisbourg Railway Museum—like the connection between Louisbourg, the railway, and the Titanic, the many shipwrecks in the area, or the town’s history of recreational sword-fishing and commercial processing back in the 1930s. With its iconic yellow caboose, the Museum is right at the entrance to town along with the Visitor Information Centre. As visitors are welcomed to Louisbourg they can get a little sense of the history and the people here. In the museum you will find all kinds of information about the trains that once served the community and you can access a vintage second-class train car in one of the buildings.

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One thing I like to do is kayaking. Louisbourg has a protected harbour in that it’s pretty sheltered from the wind, and it’s a neat place to paddle around. There’s lots to discover there, between the town, Fortress and lighthouse shores, including Battery Island, which in itself is an important part of the story of the struggle between the French and the British. Ocean kayaking on the edge of the continent is an experience in itself,  and I would like to see people become more aware of Louisbourg as a destination for accessing the ocean because it is a pretty neat place to kayak around.

Fortress of Louisbourg 2

Discover the Coastline

The rugged coastline, and relatively isolated location, can give you the feeling that you’re in a very remote area. You can be five minutes outside of Louisbourg and it kind of feels like you’re on an abandoned island. The Gooseberry Cove/Wild Cove Trails, about 10 minutes outside of town at Little Lorraine, are part of that very remote coastline experience. It’s a little bit boggy, a little bit wet, but an experience, I would argue, that you don’t really get anywhere else in Cape Breton. It’s different than hiking the Coxheath Mountains or the Skyline Trail. It’s a coastal trail unto itself and it goes on forever. You can pick how long you want to go out there. Fifteen minutes north-east of Louisbourg is Main-a-Dieu which also has an amazing beach and boardwalk. I consider that to be one of my favourite beaches on the Island and at the Coastal Discovery Centre there’s more information about the history of the area.

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Eat and Sleep…

The Fortress has made Louisbourg a destination for tourists and you can find an array of Bed and Breakfasts in the area as well as cottages, inns and an RV park. But as much as the town caters to tourists, it also serves year-round residents with a variety of places to eat. Jake’s Lounge is located at the Fortress Inn and has a new menu that has been getting really good reviews. Hwy 22 opened up last year during the pandemic offering indoor and outdoor dining experiences and The Big Red Bus – Louisburger Chipwagon has been a fixture here for many, many years. It’s basically a chip wagon during the summer months, but they operate a restaurant in the Louisbourg General Store during the rest of the year. Newer operations started this year, including the Spoondrift Café and Gift Shop and the reopening of the Point of View Suites under different ownership, offering even more options for visitors looking to spend a few days in the area. The Louisbourg Market offers the work of local artisans throughout the year and the Louisbourg Playhouse features an extensive lineup of top local, regional and international acts. You can stay informed of the goings-on in the area through the Louis Links Facebook page.

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Chris Bellemore

Chris Bellemore

Chris Bellemore moved to Cape Breton/Unama’ki over 10 years ago, captivated by the stories that have shaped the island over time. A resident of Louisbourg, he volunteers as president of the Sydney & Louisburg Railway Historical Society and works in external relations and cultural resource management for Parks Canada. Read more on his blog here:

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