Hello again everyone and welcome to another post in the series concerning my 2014 road trip round the Maritime Provinces of Canada which you can read from the beginning here.
My dear friend Lynne and I were in a very old campervan / RV called Betsy who was holding up fairly well, despite us having more or less completely re-fitted her to make her roadworthy before we began. It was all a bit of an adventure really but it was going well and in the previous post Betsy had carried us as far as Louisbourg and specifically the Louisbourg Motorhome RV Park and Campground. If you want to find out what happens next then please read on.
14th July, 2014.
I promised in the previous post that I would tell you about the campsite here and I shall with most of the images taken on a ludicrously early start this morning. I was up, showered and dressed, caffeine-loaded and walking around just after 0800 which regular readers will know is a most unusual event for me and it was the second day in a row it had happened, worrying times. At this rate I was going to end up with a “normal” sleep pattern.
Go there for the smell!
“I have spoken many times on my Canada pages here about the quality of the campsites / RV sites in the Maritime Provinces and it seems almost churlish to pick one from another but this really was a delight.
The shore location could not be better and gives rise to the title of this piece. Just open the window of your RV or unzip your tent in the morning and you will smell the sea. Pure ozone, and it is an absolute joy. Occasionally, depending on when the fishermen come back in, you will also get a wee whiff of freshly caught fish which might not be to everyone’s taste but I love it. This place is as “up close and personal” (as I believe the expression is) to the ocean as you will get.
OK, we’ve got the natural attributes out of the way, so what about the physical attributes of a campground? Frankly, they are peerless. The clubroom or whatever it is called is sumptuous with big, comfy armchairs overlooking the water, books and whatever else you would need to spend a day or ten. It’s reminiscent of a London gentleman’s club in a Nova Scotian maritime surrounding.
The few brief encounters I had with the staff were all extremely positive and I commend them on it. They were helpful to a fault.
Louisbourg is not really a huge place and the site is right in the middle so walking anywhere is not a problem whereas a lot of Canadian sites are some way out of town which is a bit of a problem if you are in an RV and have to unhook to head into town for dinner!
I can do nothing other than recommend this place highly, it really is a great place to stay.”
Whatever disorder was waking me up at daft o’clock in the morning was obviously not contagious as Lynne slept a few more hours and we eventually went out to explore at about midday which was our normal practice. Before I tell you what we did, let me share with you my overall impressions of this very historic town.
A bit of a parsons egg.
“If you are not au fait with the concept of the parsons egg then let me explain. There is an old story that a young parson (junior minister of religion) was at dinner with some parishioners and when asked how his eggs were he replied very diplomatically, “Well, they were good in parts “. You get the point.
There are a selection of excellent places to eat, the campervan (RV) site is one of the best we stayed at and there is plenty to see and do here although the “main attraction” did disappoint a little (see below for details).
Despite the shortcomings of the slightly Disney reconstructed fort (honestly, we are coming to it!), the rest of the town is well worth visiting for a day or two, it has worked very hard to attract visitors and is a very welcoming and pleasant place to visit.
I thoroughly enjoyed Louisbourg and would recommend it to anyone travelling this part of Nova Scotia.”
So what did we see then? Well, we did not have to drive far to find our first stop.
The very first.
“As the very name suggests the Maritime Provinces are inextricably bound to the North Atlantic that laps their shores. Whilst often beautiful these can be extremely treacherous waters, not least for the appalling and very frequent fogs that plague shipping in the region. It is therefore hardly surprising that Nova Scotia has as many lighthouses as it does and I would even go so far as to say it is the unofficial symbol of the Province.
You see lighthouses everywhere, not just by the ocean. For example, where people in the UK may have a garden gnome you will regularly see a small model lighthouse of the typically local octagonal wooden design in the garden. They really are ubiquitous so it is no surprise that Louisbourg has a lighthouse and we decided to make the short drive out and have a look at it.
Arriving and parking up at the conveniently located carpark we set about exploring, guided by reading the many excellent and informative boards situated about the site. I found out that the exact place I was standing was the site of the very first lighthouse in what is modern day Canada, originally begun in 1730 which really is early in the history of this relatively young country.
A fire later destroyed the lantern and there was a brief hiatus but service was resumed in 1738 although things were not all sweetness and light in the area at the time and the lighthouse became a focal point for military activity during the wars between the British and the French over control of the region.
The reason for this is that it afforded an excellent artillery position against the Louisbourg Fortress across the bay. A mere 20 years after the new light began operation and during the last siege of Louisbourg (1758) the British abandoned the position but not before they had destroyed the fortress and caused a goodly amount of damage to the lighthouse. You can still see the remains of the British emplacement which feature in one of the images.
A new wooden lighthouse was built in 1842 but burned down in 1922 after which the building currrently standing was erected. Again, you can see the remnants of the foundations of the 1842 structure. There were keepers here until as late as 1990 when this light, like so many others in Canada, was automated.
More recently local charities, volunteers and businesses have constructed a series of walks from the lighthouse which basically fall into two sections. The first is only 1.5km. and is suitable for anyone whilst the longer walk to Cape Lorraine is 5km. and suitable for more experienced walkers. Regrettably, we did not have time to do either although the coast out that way looked beautiful. I suppose I shall just have to return and do it another time!
I would suggest that the mobility impaired traveller would only be able to view the lighthouse from the carpark or the road as the very nature of the terrain makes it a slight scramble to get up there.
A brief word of warning in conclusion. Do not get too close to the foghorn as warning signs here demand hearing protection beyond a certain point and looking at it I do not want to be anywhere nearby if it decides to let rip!
Well worth a look.”
We had decided that we were going to see the Fortress which is the big draw in Louisbourg but there was something to do first.
Sadly rather neglected.
“Readers of other pages of mine will know that I have a love for all things to do with railways which is possibly due in part to my paternal grandfather having worked on the railways in Northern Ireland all his adult life. I will never pass up a chance to visit a railway Museum and so it was that we pulled in here whilst driving round Louisbourg one day.
The railway story in this area begins in 1873 with a fairly inefficient operation initially introduced to bring coal from the Cape Breton mines and other resources to the year round ice-free port in Louisbourg. In 1895 the Sydney and Louisburg Railway (note the Anglicised spelling of the name) was founded and quickly acquired the name of the S&L, soon becoming very busy not to mention extremely profitable.
The line was utilised both for freight, which was it’s primary purpose, and also passengers who were mostly mine workers. By 1913 there were 176,000 passengers per annum but the freight traffic contiuned to expand right up to the 1950’s.
By then they handled over four million tons a year (the largest mile for mile tonnage in Canada), predominantly the coal for which the line had been built although there was yet another purpose as this was the terminus in winter for the Cape Breton – Newfoundland ferry.
The line proved it’s worth during two World Wars as Louisbourg was used as a staging post for men and materiel being sent to Europe. Everything was going well until the 1960’s when a series of problems in the local coal-mining industry led to the removal of the raison d’être of the line and it eventually closed in 1968.
As with so many other railways wordwide it was effectively left to rot, which is not good for wooden buildings, until a group of local railway enthusiasts took over and in 1972 opened it as the facility you can see now.
So what can the visitor expect if they come here? Firstly, let me state categorically here that I am not denigrating anyone’s efforts and the very fact that this place is still even open is a credit to those involved. I know that railway preservation / restoration is a costly and time-consuming business.
The Museum is housed in the original station building and adjacent freight shed (which seems to double as some sort of community centre / farmers market) and both are in good repair. The artefacts on display are well looked after but it is the rolling stock and locomotive sitting outside that seem to be in need of some TLC as they appear to be just rusting away which is a shame.
Highlights for me were the 1881 passenger car which is in a good state of repair and housed in the freight shed, a quirky model of a loco and tender which is actually a cribbage board, along with some of the smaller artefacts like old typewriters, telephones and suchlike.
The Museum is wheelchair accessible and admission is free although donations are obviously most welcome. I do suggest that if you do visit that you give as generously as you can afford to keep this last remnant of the S&L Railway going.
If you are into railways then this is well worth a visit.”
With my railway appetite more or less sated we finally made our way towards the XXXX Louisbourg Fortress, one of the most famous historical sites in the Maritimes. Let’s go and have a look.
“The main reason for people to visit Louisbourg is undoubtedly to see the Fortress albeit the town itself is pleasant enough as I hope my piece has shown so Lynne and I duly headed the couple of miles out of town to the site, well at least we thought it was the site but actually it isn’t.
We parked up in one of the several large carparks (designated for different types of vehicles like coaches, RV’s, cars etc.) and the very first thing I noticed was that it was no more than 5% full and this was in the height of the tourist season.
We proceeded to the large, impressive Visitor Centre to buy tickets, only to discover that we had to get a bus to the site proper, a journey of maybe 10 to 15 minutes with some pleasant views en-route.
On arrival at the actual site, it certainly did look impressive and must have appeared so to anyone with military designs on the place in days past. Our tickets were inspected by a period costumed re-enactor, interpreter or whatever the correct term is, who engaged one and all in conversation and played his part of the gate sentry very well.
We were informed of certain activities that were taking place and were then left to our own devices to go and wander. As it happens, we had signed up for a mead tasting and talk but that was a little way off and so we began looking round.
The first few buildings we visited looked to be in absolutely pristine condition and there is a reason for this which leads to my general disappointment in the place.
Having been left in a state of direpair, the Fortress was reconstructed virtually from scratch from the 1960’s onward and apparently primarily to provide employment for former coal miners from the recently closed local mines.
I am all in favour of preserving ancient monuments but I just feel this has not been done sympathetically and they have created a sort of Disney “Magic Kingdom”, hence the title of this piece.
Another problem is the almost total lack of artefacts in the buildings. If there are any at all, they appear to be of modern make and therefore not of much interest to me. There are various interpreters in period dress but the few I spoke to gave the impression they were totally disinterested although they were civil enough. This was in stark contrast to their counterparts at the excellent Halifax Citadel, which is run by the same organisation (see a previous post) and frankly puts this place to shame.
We went to our mead tasting and listened to a pretty drab script about mead etc. The young man presenting it had regrettably little ability to hold an audience and his obviously well-used jokes fell a little flat. I am not knocking the guy as he is probably not a professional actor or comic but maybe he may be better suited to demonstrating musket drill.
Another source of slight annoyance is the predominance of merchandising here. We all know historic sites cost a fortune to maintain and everyone expects a gift shop on the way out of a Museum / art gallery or whatever but a quote from their own website gives an idea here. “There are more than a dozen buildings open to the public including three authentic working 18th century restaurants”. That is 25%(or slightly less) of the buildings the traveller can visit that are devoted to merchandising and that is not to mention the Bakery and the two “Boutiques”, for which read gift shops.
Certainly, this site has a phenomenal history but visiting this interpretation of the site taught me little or nothing about it. It is easily enough found online and you’ll probably get a better idea there.
I am sure it would be great if you have young children and want to let them run about looking at people in costumes marching and firing guns etc. which brings me to my final point here which is one I made about the Halifax Citadel . There it was a minor issue but it was much more pronounced here.
I have no doubt it is driven by some Equal Opportunities legislation or whatever but why are such a proportion of the “soldiers” female? Obviously this is totally historically inaccurate and detracts completely from whatever illusion of authenticity they don’t really try that hard to promote at the Fortress.
Having visited so many other great Museums and Historical Site in Nova Scotia and really enjoyed them, this place really did leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth.
For mobility impaired travellers, the surroundings are accessible to all visitors but it is important to note that the reconstructed 18th century buildings within the fortified town are not fully accessible.
I take no pleasure at all in writing negative reports in my blog as I can generally find something good anywhere I go but I cannot, in conscience, recommend this place to other travellers.”
Oh dear, that wasn’t so good and so beer o’clock was most definitely upon us. Fortunately, I had “marked”, “clocked” or “scoped” “a couple of tasty looking boozers” on the way out and for those of you that are not fluent in surveillance speak that means I had noticed two licenced establishments that looked reasonable!
Pleasant place for a drink.
“I love Nova Scotia, simple as that. There is, however, one thing that causes me no end of confusion about the Province and that is the simply unfathomable licensing laws. I really have no idea what century or even millennium they came out of and I had a few interesting experiences with them. Our visit to the Grubstake is yet another case in point.
Lynne and I had decided to go out for a walk round town one evening as the campsite where our RV was parked up was excellently sited right in the middle of town which is not usually the case in Canada. At least it meant we didn’t have to unhook the campervan (RV) and drive into town which obviously means Lynne cannot have a drink as she very responsibly does not drink and drive.
A mere five minutes walk brought us to the Grubstake restaurant / bar which I had read and heard very good things about locally. We did not wish to dine as I had laid in supplies and had my menu vaguely planned for later in the evening and so we walked into the large and spotlessly clean, very pleasant looking venue.
Having learnt the score by then I asked would it be OK for us merely to have a drink if we were not dining. The very pleasant waitress apologetically told us she would have to go and check, which she did whilst we were left standing like two lemons at the end of the bar. Now, I do not blame her in the slightest as she was merely trying to do the right thing.
A few minutes later she returned and indicated that it would be OK just to have a drink. I don’t suppose anyone from the Nova Scotian Tourist Board or whatever it is called will ever read this but it is a matter you really need to sort out. You either licence a place to serve alcohol or you don’t, end of story. It really did confuse and slightly irritate me.
OK, enough of this, the reader will want to hear about the premises and not the shortcomings of local licencing legislation. We were asked where we would like to sit and chose a table in the rear portion of the establishment. The drinks were promptly served with the beer being in good order and the service was friendly and chatty in that typically Nova Scotian way, especially when she heard my accent.
We had a couple of drinks which were about averagely priced for the area and then went on our way.”
It was another short walk to my next target.
My kind of pub.
“On a wander round Louisbourg one evening (and there is not really that much to wander round) we headed for this place which is advertised on the same sign variously as the “Fortress Inn” and “Jake’s Lounge and continental breakfast”. Well, it was the evening and so breakfast wasn’t really a consideration, continental or not. All we wanted was a drink and so in we went.
It was obvious that this place is the reception for what I subsequently discovered were a number of motel type chalets out the back but the bar is the main draw here and certainly the locals seem to frequent it.
The couple of nights we went to the Fortress / Jake’s, we were the only travellers in the place and it seems that everyone knows everyone else there but that is not to say they are cliqueish (sp?). We were made to feel most welcome, even getting an excellent tip for a local mechanic to fix a slight problem we had with our campervan (RV).
Actually, I was surprised there were not more travellers as the excellent campsite we were staying at was only about ten minutes walk away. The place is obviously fairly sports themed with various photos and pieces of memorabilia adorning the walls but that is not to say it is macho or anything like that and Lynne was made to feel most welcome.
Absolutely worth a visit as this is a proper pub and I loved it although regrettably the internet suggests it is only open seasonally. I have no idea what the locals do off-season!”
After a very pleasant evening in the bar it was back to Betsy for supper, a night cap and bed. If you want to see what we get up to next, you’ll just have to stay tuned and spread the word.