Imagine living in a remote location, possible across a cold, giant ocean. Also, it’s 250 years ago. The village you have settled is among the best fishing waters in the world. Your village’s currency is now cod. Though, you yourself still deal with your native France’s livre. In the summer there would be 7-8,000 people. Just 1 or 2,000 come winter time. It was so successful, so profitable that walls 30 feet high were built. 800 soldiers are commissioned to protect the fishing grounds and the village. 400 fishing vessels fill the harbor every day.
Today, just one fifth of that village and it’s reconstructed buildings exist. Its inhabitants are merely actors, characters to educate. Today, a living museum stands in its place. It is a very interesting piece of history.
Settled in 1713 by France the fishing port grew and by the mid 1740s it was the 3rd busiest port in North America after Boston and Philadelphia. The British, seeing it’s success, laid siege to the fortress in 1745 and won. The French tried and failed to take it back the following year. In 1748, the British returned it to France for lands in Austrian Netherlands and a trading post in India. In 1754 a few skirmishes developed into the French and Indian War which expanded into the Seven Years’ War in 1756. In 1758 the British regained control of the fortress after a six week siege. Two years later the British systematically destroyed the fortifications to prevent the French from using the port when peace returned to Cape Breton Island.
Upon our arrival a French soldier greeted us in full uniform complete with musket. He informed us we needed to be out by 5:00 before the gates closed. Should we not be out before the closing we would be stuck inside the fortress but not to worry, there would be plenty of space in the jail to sleep. Our poor little Bang, seeing a soldier in uniform with a gun five feet long, didn’t understand that he was just an actor and he couldn’t stop his tears. Fortunately, the soldier was kind-hearted and gently explained that he was only kidding. He showed him hat (which had fake hair on it to make it look like he had a pony tail) and his gun. Bang was good after that.
On our journey to the Fortress we told the boys that they could ask questions to the people there. Anything they wanted to know they could ask. All the people have French names so they could even ask them that. They are in character and will answer your question as if it is 1740. The Blacksmith, for instance, started working with his father in the forge when he was 7.
There was a cannon demonstration, too. Atop the fortress wall, from the hill upon which the top picture was taken, were two cannons (though they faced outward, of course). Once was loaded with six pounds of gunpowder and fired. The boys (and their parents) were seriously impressed. After the firing we were allowed to approach the armaments to see them for ourselves and to talk to the soldiers in charge. We were informed that the cannons could fire a cannonball 2 miles and it would take about 22 seconds to reach its target. Though the cannon was only accurate at a mile and a half. Again, we were impressed.
After that we listened to another soldier tell us about the muskets. How they work, how to use them, and how to fire it. We even got to see it fired. We were told that musketballs were extremely inaccurate, 50 yards was their maximum range. Soldiers weren’t to fire until they could see the whites of the enemies eyes. This demonstration was Bang’s favorite part of the day.
Just before we left, just before the gates closed, we saw a smaller cannon fire. The boys were impressed by the sound of it. Just think of what it sounded like with all 100 cannons firing along with those on the ships that were storming the harbor!
It was definitely a learning experience and one I hope the boys remember if not forever, at least for a very long time. Characters, questions, cannons, muskets, costumes, buildings, animals, blacksmiths, bread makers…