Day 16 |
Sep 12, 2009

Louisbourg, Canada

By Dr Toby Musgrave, Botanist

Weather: sunny, no clouds and with light zephyrs

Sadly this was the last day of our expedition voyage from Kangerlussuaq in Greenland to Halifax in Canada where not only do the guests depart, but we, the Expedition Team also go our separate ways. Writing this, it seems so long ago that we all embarked in a cold but sunny Greenland. We have seen so much - the highlight for me (and many others) was the 21 polar bears, but also to see a bald eagle cruise no more than a handful of metres above my head while driving a Zodiac this morning was also a very special moment.

So given the start of the voyage, it was appropriate that our last day was not only sunny but also very warm. Indeed, today was the first time since joining the ship that I felt hot without the intervention of copious layers of thermals and outdoor gear. And how good it felt to walk about in nothing more than a polo shirt and light trousers, and to be hot!

The warm walk was conducted around the Fortress of Louisbourg. A National Historic Site of Canada, this was a fascinating visit. With a long and rich history of French occupation and British conquest, this fortress was founded in 1713 and finally abandoned by the British in 1768. With their focus on developing Halifax as a naval base, much of Louisbourg was destroyed by the British military in order to prevent the French being tempted to take it again.

Two centuries of neglect saw the fortress become an archaeological ruin, but in the 1960s partly as a job creation exercise but mainly in recognition of the site’s historical significance, a fifth of the site was excavated and the buildings recreated. Today the recreation feels incredibly authentic because those tasked with the project were also able to make use of 3/4 million pieces of archival information. Thus not only does the layout of the buildings follow exactly the archaeological evidence, but their structure and form is fully authentic. You really do have the sensation of walking back in time, a sensation heightened by the historical interpreters who dress in period costume.

Our hour’s tour was led by an incredibly knowledgeable and articulate guide who, through her explanations, further brought history to life. We finished our accompanied stroll in the pub to sample the hot chocolate and rum toddy (made from the locally produced screech rum - apparently that’s what you did when you first tasted it!)

Then we were on our own. I pottered around the fort and Governor's residence before letting my professional interest take the lead and investigating the recreated gardens that grace the spaces between a number of the houses. I find the recreation of ‘everyday’ gardens as supposed to the gardens of the great and the wealth to be very poignant for they show how the forgotten common folk would have gardened and where they would have enjoyed their few leisure hours.

The morning simply flew by and it was time to return to the ship either from the Fortress or from the modern town, to which a number of intrepid guests had walked. The afternoon was dedicated to packing, a chore thankfully interrupted by the screening of Part II of Richard’s excellent film of the voyage. A last few items were crammed and forced into the reluctant suitcase before the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party and Dinner. And so to bed to grab some sleep before tomorrow’s hectic activity of getting home and the sadness of saying adieu to new friends and colleagues.