LOUISBOURG PORTRAITS: LIFE IN AN EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY GARRISON TOWN
Volume 11 Number 1.
Most studies of Louisbourg and most school texts in their references to the great French fortress on Cape Breton Island concentrate on its military history. Built for war and destroyed by it in just over a generation, Louisbourg played an important role in the transmarine struggles of the French and British empires in the eighteenth century. But the colony was also a significant trading and fishing centre and home to a diverse community of immigrants. The contemporary restoration of the fortress reflects this fact as does this colourful reconstruction of the lives of five ordinary townspeople of Louisbourg by Christopher Moore, a former staff historian at the Louisbourg project.
A penchant for record-keeping in the centralized bureaucracies of the French government and Roman Catholic Church during the period and the survival of many of those records have made it possible for Moore to chronicle the lives of colonists who, because of their poverty, lack of social standing, and preoccupation with the work of survival, would in other times or places have disappeared from history. Around a framework of evidence gleaned from parish registers, shipping lists, court transcripts, and other official sources, Moore has skilfully crafted a series of five compelling narratives of everyday life that mesh and overlap as did the lives of his characters.
Unlike many local studies, however, Louisbourg Portraits provides a context in which each tale must be understood. The account of the arrest of sailor Louis Davory for theft illustrates and is explained by Moore's review of the colony's system of justice, including its use of judicial torture. A letter from fisherman Charles Renaut to his wife is linked to consideration of the importance of the cod fishery in the Atlantic world, and in the life of Jodocus Koller, a Swiss mercenary turned farmer and businessman, the reader comes to appreciate the character of military and commercial life in the period.
The book serves as a useful corrective to the myth, sustained by far too many texts and teachers, that the history of Canada is a story of explorers, generals, and federal politicians alone. Louisbourg Portraits reminds us that our society has grown from a broader, richer, and more heroic past, populated by courageous fishermen, enterprising entrepreneurs, drunken vagrants, and litigious mothers-in-law. The book is a model for Canadian social history and will be a valued addition to schools and both public and private libraries.
Robert Nicholas Bérard, Dept. of Education, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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