Day 17 |
Sep 24, 2013

Louisbourg, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

By Chris Cutler, Naturalist

Co-ordinates: N 45º55’, W 59º58’
Weather: sunny
Air Temperature: 13ºC, 55ºF
Wind: 16 km/h

Afoot down the gangway, we stepped ashore on the island of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and back in time. The partially restored French fort of Louisbourg, now a National Historic Site, was our goal. As an 18th century New World port, Louisbourg was extremely important, with outrageously abundant cod as the main export. Strategically, it was situated on a shore adjacent a fine harbour where any sea-going, would-be invader from abroad could be watched. Over two miles of walls 30-feet high and 36-feet wide once surrounded a community of families, merchants, and soldiers who alternatively thrived, got invaded twice by ragtag colonists and their Royal English backers, and/or died from smallpox in a heady period of colonial empire building between 1713-1758.

When Cape Breton’s coal seams ran dry, the government stepped in, retrained miners as masons and carpenters, and started to rebuild the devastated fortress town. A trove of diaries and billets of trade plus abundant archaeological finds provided researchers with the tools needed to rebuild and recreate the once bustling establishment.

The re-creation entailed not just 50 different buildings, from the King’s Bastion and its jail to marvellously appointed private homes, but animators garbed in period attire that through their stories truly brought history alive. In a kitchen we drank hot chocolate and saw a clever mechanical rotisserie. In a storehouse we heard how fishermen stood in barrels lashed to the side of a shallop to avoid deck-covered slime from the prodigious catch of fish. We saw boat-building, musket firing, and refined feminine fashions, such as the billowy panniers used to accentuate a woman’s hips, and capacious wigs that at times housed mice. Regular bathing was optional but a change of chemise de rigeur, as was the covering of one’s hair to avoid dropping lice into food. The stories intrigued, like the one about the Guinean slave Marie who gained her freedom, married a local Mi’kmaq man and started her own business.

Back onboard, Geologist Stefan Kredel presented “Earthquakes: Reason and Effect” and elaborated on the effects of tsunamis. Many of the places we have visited on this journey are close to the edges of continental plates where earthquakes are generated. Staff Assistant Travis Wadeley assisted guests with future cruise bookings. Onboard photographer Richard Sidey presented a spectacular visual recap of our voyage with his beautiful photos and video in the official trip dvd. The many scenes brought back memories of all of the different places we have been to, the things we have seen, and the many friendly people we have met. Expedition Leader Kara Weller thanked the expedition team and all of the guests thanked her for her hard work. Over this two-and-a-half-week long voyage from the icy shores of Greenland to the verdant boreal forests of Canada, Silver Explorer will have travelled 3,077 nautical miles. Our final dinner together gave us a chance to reflect on the journey and to share stories one last time. Tomorrow we’ll arrive in Halifax and bid fond farewells to the ship’s officers and crew and to our new found friends.