Shore excursion to Louisbourg Fortress

Shore excursion to Louisbourg Fortress

Author Anne Plau

Our cruise on Holland America Line's MS Zuiderdam begins in Quebec and ends in Fort Lauderdale. One of our travel destinations is Sydney on Cape Breton Island. We were in Sydney a few years ago. We saw a lot of the scenic island during a private taxi ride. And we visited the historic district of Sydney. We report on this in detail in our article A day in Sydney and Cape Breton.

Sydney Cruise Terminal - the largest fiddle in the world

Sydney Cruise Terminal - the largest fiddle in the world


A beautiful cruise terminal awaits us 

We reach Sydney at 8:00am It's still quite cool, but the sky is clear and temperatures rise to 22 degrees at midday. At the pier we see the 17 meter high fiddle, which is characteristic of Sydney's cruise terminal. It is the largest fiddle in the world and represents the people who immigrated from Scotland and Ireland in the late 18th century. Gaelic is still present as a language today, as is Celtic culture.

Today we would like to see the historic Louisbourg Fortress. Since the shipping company's excursion offers do not convince us, we will look for a local provider, as we did several years ago. Taxis wait for customers in front of the cruise terminal. The prices of the different tours are fixed and we quickly come to an agreement.


Joan Harris's Cruise Terminal



MS Zuiderdam at the Joan Harriss Cruise Terminal 


The historic Louisbourg Fortress National Park 

The four-hour drive to Louisbourg, to the gun emplacement opposite, the oldest lighthouse in Canada and other photo stops we wanted should cost 240 Canadian dollars (168 EUR). There is also entry to the fortress. The Louisbourg Fortress Historical National Park is located a good 40 kilometers southeast of Sydney. We make quick progress on the well-developed road 22. After 30 minutes we drive through the new town of Louisbourg and a little later reach the large area of ​​the fortress.

Fortress of Louisbourg


History of the city and the fortress 

The first French settlers came to Cape Breton in the 17th century. They use the island as a base for fishing off Newfoundland. In 1719 they began building the fortified city and port of Louisbourg. Fishing and fish processing led to increasing prosperity in a short period of time.


Fortress of Louisbourg - historic sailing ships



Fortress of Louisbourg - site map 


There was also trade with France, Quebec and the Caribbean. This quickly brought envy to the scene. The English besieged the settlement as early as 1746 and it was finally captured in 1758. The fortifications were destroyed and fell into disrepair.

It stayed that way until the 20th century. In 1928, the entire area was declared a national historic site. In 1961, Park Canada began the project of rebuilding the city as it looked in the 1740s. Archaeological excavations of the remains of the fortifications and buildings as well as historical documents, maps and building plans served as the basis for the reconstruction.


Fortress of Louisbourg - Buildings within the fortress



Fortress of Louisbourg - Buildings within the fortress 



Fortress of Louisbourg - the sea gate



Fortress of Louisbourg - offshore bastion 


City walls, the citadel, the city quay, streets, houses and warehouse buildings were recreated in great detail using original material. About a quarter of the original city and fortifications have been rebuilt so far.

An open-air museum filled with life 

Today, the National Historic Sites of Canada manages the Louisbourg open-air museum. The fortress serves as a living historical museum and is open to visitors all year round. Guided sightseeing tours with historically costumed guides, various museums in which original finds from Louisbourg can be seen, and a small tavern are among the attractions.

Fortress of Louisbourg - Commander's dining room
Fortress of Louisbourg - General Magazine
Fortress of Louisbourg - wool workshop

In the restored buildings, visitors can see how baking, spinning and barrel-making were done 300 years ago. Especially during the season, hundreds of people work as extras in the historic complex.

We wander through the extensive area for a good two hours and are thrilled by what we see. We could spend a lot more time here. The buildings are beautifully restored. Many rooms are decorated with original items found during the excavations. And the tavern even serves local wine.

Fortress of Louisbourg - Storehouse


Fortress of Louisbourg - Storehouse


Regional drinks from the Nova Scotia region


Regional drinks from the Nova Scotia region 


Sydney and Louisburg Railway Museum 

We drive again through the new town of Louisbourg, which is located on the wide bay opposite the historic national park. Coal used to be shipped in the small fishing port. On Cape Breton, around 140 kilometers of railway tracks led to the ports of Sydney and Louisbourg. The mines became unprofitable and attempts to transform the old railway lines into tourist attractions were also unsuccessful. Since the beginning of the 21st century, only the museum has been a reminder of the old days.


Louisbourg - S&L Railway Museum



Louisbourg - S&L Railway Museum 


Battery Island 

We continue around the bay to Battery Island. Opposite the old Louisbourg fortress, an additional gun battery secured the harbor entrance and the city. Few remnants of it are still there.

Next to it is the Louisbourg Lighthouse. The beautiful old lighthouse has not been in operation for years. He is the fourth one at this point and is a good 100 years old. The first was built in 1734, making it the oldest lighthouse in Canada.

Louisbourg Lighthouse
Louisbourg Lighthouse
Bastion in front of the Louisbourg Lighthouse

Membertou Trade & Convention Center 

Back in Sydney we ask our driver to stop at the Membertou Trade & Convention Centre. The venue was named after Membertou, a chief of the Mi'kmaq Indians. The Mi'kmaq were the first inhabitants of Cape Breton. The Convention Center is the center of urban life for descendants of the Mi'kmaq. Conferences and events take place in the large building. And there are shops that sell Indian handicrafts.

Sydney - Membertou Heritage Park


Sydney - Membertou Heritage Park



Sydney - Membertou Heritage Park 


Out and about in Sydney 

Our taxi driver discharges us safely at the cruise terminal. There is still enough time for a tour of the historic old town district and along the water. The Old Sydney Walk starts right at the cruise terminal. The visitor center in the terminal has an overview plan. For further details of the sights, I would like to refer you again to our article: Ein day in Sydney and Cape Breton.

Sydney - the big fiddle


Old Sydney Walk 

We walk along the esplanade in a north-westerly direction and soon find ourselves in front of the St Patrick's Church Museum. The former Catholic church from 1828 has been used as a museum since 1966. At Debarres Street we keep right and immediately turn into Charlotte Street. This is where most of the historic buildings are located. Of particular note are the 1786 Jost Heritage House, the Cossit House Museum, St George's Anglican Church and the Old Sydney Society Museum. But the other old houses, mostly wooden houses in cheerful colors, are also pretty to look at.

Sydney - Historic District - Charlotte Street
Sydney - historic district - Cossit House Museum
Sydney - St George's Anglican Church

Harbor Boardwalk 

Sydney lies in a bay that extends far into the country. To the south of the cruise terminal, a beautifully landscaped promenade runs along the water for more than a kilometer. The path is partly paved with gravel or covered with wooden planks. On the promenade you will find sculptures, a band stand and plenty of benches to sit on. And it always offers unobstructed views of the bay.

Craft Market 

Before we go back to the ship, we visit the Craft Center in the cruise terminal. We like the items on offer, such as art objects, handicrafts or clothing, because of their special design and high quality. And of course there are inviting restaurants.

Sydney Waterfront Boardwalk


Sydney Waterfront Boardwalk



Sydney - Craft Center outdoor area 


We leave Sydney 

After eight hours we leave Cape Breton Island. The “Scenic Sail Away” is celebrated on the pool deck of the Zuiderdam. This means that the kitchen provides delicious finger food snacks to accompany the bar's drinks. It is still pleasantly warm and many of our fellow travelers are enjoying the beautiful landscape passing by just as much as we are.

Sydney - View of Westmount


November 2023