Louisburg disappoints

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Louisburg should have been a hit.

I like history. I’m one of those weird people who thinks Canadian history is pretty interesting. And I love the colonial period, especially military history from the era.

Fortresses are a favourite, too. I spent many years in Kingston, and Fort Henry and the martello towers loom large in my memory. Then there’s the Citadel, and the blockhouse in Windsor; the castles I saw in Europe or Japan; even the little fort I toured in Kuching (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Margherita). I think it’s awesome we live by Fort Beausejour. Its relatively derelict state is more than made up for by its combative past.

Maybe my expectations were too high, but Louisburg fell a little flat for me. I took the trip up this past weekend, the tail-end of a week’s vacation.

Bras D’Or Lake was beautiful, following the coast up #4. Even an accidental side trip into Sydney was a pleasant surprise. Having spent no time in that city, I assumed it was just a giant tar pond. Turns out it has lovely residential streets that would give Halifax’s pleasant, treelined neighbourhoods a run for their money.

But Louisburg?

OK, the town was quaint. Nothing to do, but friendly, with nice harbour vistas. The cabin we rented was functional, affordable and clean. Can’t say I’d want to live there – the very essence of sleepy – but nothing negative about the place.

Fortress Louisburg, though, was disappointing.

It’s mid-June. Don’t give me any of that “It’s better in July, in tourist season”. June is tourist season. If you’re open, you should give tourists the full experience.

Few buildings were open to the public. Only a handful of staff were in period costumes. No horses, no wagons, no baker, no blacksmith. A couple of women wrangled chickens, and there were a few soldiers, most just relaxing with tourists.

For the most part, the streets were empty.

Now, it’s possible I missed out by not paying the extra $7 a head for the “time travel” pass which, yes, gives you access to more buildings and more people in costume. But I call BS on that.

The price should be the price. Don’t charge me to come in, then charge me again to have a decent time. And even then, would it have met my expectations? A person or two sitting on an old chair telling me a story for five minutes isn’t what I’m looking for. I wanted a gardener being, well, a gardener, and a cooper spending his days mending barrels.

The fortress itself is impressive, but even that is marred by the fact it’s a reconstruction. I guess I can’t whine about that – I knew it going in – but I guess what I’m saying is that it’s no more impressive than the aforementioned forts and those forts are the real deal.

The thing that amazed me the most, honestly, was just the massive scale of it as a public works project. I couldn’t imagine what it would cost to build it again in 2013.

A couple final, petty gripes. The lineup to pay for admission was interminable. No sense of urgency whatsoever. Less than 10 people in line and it took forever. And the gift shop was so lame. Some printed sweatshirts, a few knick knacks, some books. Oh, and a Buddha statue for sale. Nothing says colonial Louisburg like Buddha.

Again, as with the ticket lineup, no sense that the person doing the job had any skin in the game. Is this the gift shop you’d have if you actually cared to make a profit? Where were the oil paintings or the locally crafted iron work, or the detailed brass cannon in miniature? Why couldn’t I buy a trade axe or tricorne hat? (I always wanted to own both and wear them every day, like a gentleman adventurer.) Why wasn’t it just, well, cooler, with more 18th century replicas for sale?

Louisburg doesn’t suck. It’s worth the detour if you have another reason to be in Cape Breton. But it’s no destination, sorry.

And yes, apparently I am the guy who comes off a week’s vacation and gripes about it to people who have been working the whole time. But really, was I going to write an entire blog post about the tasty grilled cheese sandwich at the Fortress View Restaurant?

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