The best books on the history of Canada’s fortress of Louisbourg

Who am I?

For 23 years I was lucky enough to work in the 18th century. Well, as close as is possible for someone born in the 20th century. That happened because I was a staff historian at the Fortress of Louisbourg, where I passed many hours studying a million pages of documentation and over 500 maps and plans of the long-ago society. That research allowed me to write many books and articles—for both academics and the general public—about the onetime French stronghold and bustling seaport. I found the work fascinating, and I credit my time at the Fortress of Louisbourg for making me the historian and writer I became.

I wrote...

Louisbourg: Past, Present, Future

By A.J.B. Johnston,

Book cover of Louisbourg: Past, Present, Future

What is my book about?

I wrote this book for the widest possible readership. As befitting a high-altitude, simplified look at such a complex historic site, the book is richly illustrated and has many sidebars. The story presented runs from before the French settled there in 1713 through its subsequent rapid growth and social evolution to the tumultuous wars that ultimately decided its fate. The book ends with a glance ahead to how rising sea levels will threaten the one-fifth reconstruction of the onetime French colonial town. Readers who would like longer narratives and more in-depth analyses might wish to check out some of my other books about Louisbourg, like Endgame 1758, Life and Religion at Louisbourg, and Control and Order at French Colonial Louisbourg.

The books I picked & why

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Louisbourg Portraits

By Christopher Moore,

Book cover of Louisbourg Portraits

Why this book?

Using a wide range of original sources — diaries, letters, official correspondence, criminal cases, and maps and plans — Christopher Moore does a terrific job in this book of presenting the world of 18th-century Louisbourg. He restores to vivid life five people who actually walked the streets of the colony over two and a half centuries ago. Through the dramatically different stories of those five individuals, Moore offers innumerable insights into what society and culture was like in the French colonial town. First published in 1982, the book won Canada’s Governor General’s prize for best non-fiction book of the year.

Louisbourg, From Its Foundation To Its Fall, 1713-1758

By John Stewart McLennan,

Book cover of Louisbourg, From Its Foundation To Its Fall, 1713-1758

Why this book?

Not many history books remain in print — and highly useful — more than a century after publication. Yet this book by John Stewart McLennan, first published in 1918, is one. His narrative of the rise and fall of Louisbourg remains a compelling and fact-based history that continues to satisfy many readers, especially those primarily interested in Louisbourg as a pawn in the game of imperial struggle between France and Great Britain. To be sure, McLennan’s book is light on the social, cultural, and religious history of Louisbourg, but there are lots of other authors who have explored those themes in more recent decades. 

Aspects of Louisbourg: Essays on the history of an eighteenth-century French community in North America

By Eric Krause (editor), Carol Corbin (editor), William O’Shea (editor)

Book cover of Aspects of Louisbourg: Essays on the history of an eighteenth-century French community in North America

Why this book?

For a wide range of scholarly — yet highly readable — essays on the onetime French stronghold, Aspects of Louisbourg offers a great starting point. It’s an eclectic collection of fifteen essays by ten different authors. The focus in each paper varies, with some writers examining economic or social themes, and others looking at military history. From the rugged life of 18th-century fishers to gardens and material culture, to the complexities of the garrison or recent commemorative activities, the essays paint a comprehensive picture of both French colonial Louisbourg and what in the 20th century became the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada.

Louisbourg : The Phoenix Fortress

By A.J.B. Johnston,

Book cover of Louisbourg : The Phoenix Fortress

Why this book?

This book is a true marriage of images and words. The photographer and the writer worked closely together to establish the central storylines they wanted to communicate — under the themes of seaport, fortress, and community. They then chose the best photos to illustrate and enliven the evocative text. Reardon’s photos are outstanding. They highlight the many moods, colors, and characteristics of the renowned Canadian national historic site. First published in 1990, the book remains a wonderful photographic portrayal of the Fortress of Louisbourg and its costumed animators.

French Fortresses in North America 1535-1763: Québec, Montréal, Louisbourg and New Orleans

By René Chartrand, Donato Spedaliere. (illustrator),

Book cover of French Fortresses in North America 1535-1763: Québec, Montréal, Louisbourg and New Orleans

Why this book?

As fascinating as Louisbourg’s history is all by itself, it is also important to place it in a wider context. René Chartrand provides just such a comparative look in this well-illustrated book about four major French colonial centers, including Louisbourg. Readers are able to grasp the imperial significance of the French colonial stronghold on Cape Breton Island (then known as Ile Royale) and compare it to the brief histories of three other North American towns: Québec, Montréal, and New Orleans.

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