Travel Find: Historic Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, where the past is present

Alan R. Earls

Take a step back in time with a visit to the Fortress of Louisbourg in the Cape Breton region of Nova Scotia. It's one of the most extensive historical re-creations you'll find anywhere.

Walk the beautiful wind-swept peninsula and enter the impressive fortifications that once shielded a bustling 18th century town - and aimed to protect all of French Canada - and you'll soon forget your schedule and your next destination, and find yourself in another place and time.

Louisbourg is accessible only by shuttle bus. Costumed guides lead the way as you explore a place originally built and fortified under the auspices of King Louis XV between 1719 and 1745. On the eve of its completion, the town was under siege by a force of British troops and colonists from New England. Despite its elaborate defenses it eventually surrendered.

After a brief return to the French flag, it was again assaulted and conquered by a British-led force in 1758. This time, the British finished the job by blowing up the fortress and all the town's structures, leaving an overgrown site that was periodically stripped for building stones over the centuries.

Some 200 years later, Louisbourg underwent an unlikely rebirth when visionary political leaders saw in the site's restoration an immediate opportunity to create jobs for unemployed miners and a chance over the long term to create a stunning tourist destination. They succeeded in both goals - the National Historic Site project has been recognized as one of the top destinations in Canada, with nearly one-quarter of the original walled town fully reconstructed.

Visitors will find period food for sale at restored eateries and bakeries (including a hearty, fresh "soldier bread"), barracks and homes open for tours and a variety of reenactment activities, films and interactive experiences. Learning about the harsh life of an 18th century solider helps you appreciate your own comfortable life. But above all, is the attraction of the site itself: The empty harbor that once sheltered a mighty fleet, the nearby barrens and swamps across which the besiegers approached the fortress and the reborn town, standing sentinel against the gray sea.

Fortress Louisbourg is open from the middle of May until the end of October. Adult admission is about $14, child admission about $7 (reduced prices offered in May and October). Find more information at http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/ns/louisbourg/index_e.asp