We drove to Louisbourg, stopping at Sidney Mines and New Waterford to look at coastal artillery emplacements. We were intrigued that the observation posts where disguised at churches to fool the enemy. I am talking about both World Wars, when German boats where a constant threat to our shores. This large bay was actually a staging area for ships before they went overseas and were engaged for 7 years in the Battle of the Atlantic. Sidney Harbour today is where you would catch the ferry to Newfoundland and Labrador.
We arrived in Louisbourg early in the day as I wanted to be sure we got a camping spot. I had 2 goals in this area – visit the Fortress of Louisbourg (probably my favourite National Historic site) and see NorthStar, the hotel and restaurants which have been renovated by design stars Colin and Justin!
We stopped into NorthStar first to see the hotel and inquire about meeting Colin or Justin. Mrs. MacDonald, their hostess and all around #1, told us we had just missed the boys. What? Oh, but they just left, she told us! Reassured that we might meet them later in the evening or for breakfast the next day, we checked into our camp site, across the street.
Off we went to the fortress, which was even better than I remembered from our last visit. Imagine that this was at one time the capital of New France, a busy trade port and military fort. It was built in the early 1700s. After a few years (about 40), the British had to come fight over it to protect their own interests in New England and other parts of what would be Canada. They won that time, transported the French back to France, then the French returned and the whole thing happened all over again, only this time the British deported all those French citizens. Of course, not all of them had been born in France, and were actually Canadians, so not everyone went back. Eventually, the fortress was no longer needed and fell into ruin. But in the 1970s, it was partially (I mean like 1/5 of it) rebuilt to its historical grandeur by a great number of artisans that used to be coal miners. The construction of the buildings is amazing as many of the techniques and materials are similar or the same as the original building.
And by the way, they just added a space for the local indigenous people, the Mi’kmaw, to showcase their culture. The Mi’kmah lived in what is now Gaspésie, New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia, long before the French arrived. They were friendly and happily shared their territory and food with French settlers. They were able to co-exist in this way for a number of years. Unfortunately, the British had a different approach and wanted to acquire land and rule people (I’m quoting Parks Canada literature, not my own thoughts). This upset the delicate balance of a previously harmonious living arrangement. At any rate, I spoke quite at length with Line Batiste, a local Mi’kmaw artist (basket weaving). She told me she was able to support herself with her art and had made sure her own 3 children had learned the traditional weaving methods. She offered me a braid of sweet grass as a gift, saying it had medicinal quality.
As if this day wasn’t exciting enough, we decided to pop on over to the NorthStar (the Bothy is their restaurant and bar), to possibly listen to some live music and just maybe, meet Colin or Justin?
We walked into the Bothy and stood near the bar to get a seat and who walks past me? Colin, of course! My mouth dropped open and I went all starstruck. So here’s the truth about Colin and Justin – they don’t just design pretty places and spray their stardust and come and go as needed. They actually live at the NorthStar, run the place, serve at the bar, wait on tables, you name it! They chat with customers, sit at your table if they have a moment and are the most genuine people.
Leon bought me their book, Escapology, and had them sign it. That Leon, he is always so thoughtful. And the next morning, we went for brunch at the breakfast room and ran into Colin outside his truck, telling us about the ravens that are constantly trying to destroy his truck box cover. And there was Justin, making sure the tables were set, people were served, etc.
Let me back up a bit though. At the bar, the previous evening, one of the employees asked if we had enjoyed the museum? It took a minute for me to realize he worked at the Glace Bay Miners’ Museum by day and this was his evening job. The gentleman commutes each day because he wants to see the NorthStar succeed in an environment that is not always friendly to strangers. This talented young man is also about to study law in Belfast, Ireland so he can round out his undergrad studies in International Business from Concordia in Montreal. You never know who you’ll meet when you travel!