Nova Scotia

Fortress of Louisbourg adopts modern look for reopening

The Fortress of Louisbourg is open for business again, but things look a little different this year at the national historic site.

'We wanted to make sure we had the capacity to do everything in a safe manner,' says official

Gisèle Beaudry, portraying an 18th century servant. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

The modern-day mask might not match the 18th century clothing, but visitors can once again enjoy a trip to the past at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site.

The Parks Canada site reopened to the public July 20 with a few significant changes. Interpreters are wearing surgical masks when indoors, access has been restricted to nine of the museum's buildings and the historical restaurants are closed.

Founded by the French in 1713, the fortress fell to the English twice and was demolished in the 1760s.

The fortress is a living history museum, with costumed interpreters portraying the daily lives of people in the 1700s. That usually involves staff getting up close and personal with visitors, showing them how to cook, do a handicraft, dig in the garden, fire a cannon or getting them to try on a costume.

Eddie Kennedy, Fortress Louisbourg's visitor experience manager, said staff are happy to be back, but they've had to change how they carry out their work.

Visitors are only allowed in sections of the buildings open to the public and have to stand behind a rope while interpreters stand on the other side. Kennedy said that means staff have had to tell their stories differently.

Interpreters Jorelle Owoundi Tsogo, Nancy Kennedy and Mark Delaney. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

"They're getting very creative and finding ways to still give the visitor that experience in an environment that maintains both their [safety] and the safety of the visitor," said Kennedy. "Staff have been fantastic in helping us discover that path."

That's included doing more things outside, doing demonstrations or getting a photo by standing two metres behind a visitor so they can get a selfie.

Gisèle Baudry plays the role of a servant at the museum. She said she misses the hands-on interaction with guests.

"I just think we're like guards, we're not performing like we normally do," said Baudry. 

But interpreter Mark Delaney said visitors seem to be taking it in stride.

"I've been pleasantly surprised, it takes a little bit of getting used to. [Visitors] can't see your mouth in many cases when you're wearing the mask inside … so those social cues are missing and it's a bit of a learning process for everybody," said Delaney.

Phased reopening

Both Delaney and Baudry said visitors seem to be interested in getting photos of interpreters with their masks on to document the experience.

"They often tell me to smile when they take a picture, so obviously they have a sense of humour," said Delaney.

Kennedy said Parks Canada is taking a phased approach to the reopening of the site. As time goes on, they may reintegrate other experiences back into the park's offerings, including their 18th century camping experience.

"We wanted to do sort of a test run first. This is our first week open to the public and we wanted to make sure we had the capacity to do everything in a safe manner," said Kennedy. "What you see today may not be what you see tomorrow."