Nova Scotia

100 cannonballs at Fortress of Louisbourg might contain gunpowder, but will be safely detonated

The cannonballs will be transported to CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick to be detonated.

The cannonballs have been stored at Nova Scotia's national historic site for decades

Hundreds of cannonballs were found at Louisbourg. Some of them are still packed with gunpowder

1 month ago
1:59
Some old artifacts at the Fortress of Louisbourg are being removed from the site. Dozens of cannonballs in storage still contain black powder from 300 years ago. Matthew Moore reports. 1:59

Among the millions of artifacts catalogued and carefully stored at the Fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia, are 600 cannonballs sitting on wooden shelves.

The cannonballs have been there for decades, but staff at the national historic site recently began questioning whether the relics are actually dangerous and reached out to the Canadian Forces in Halifax for their expertise.

"They were just curious if any of them had any explosives or [if they] pose any risk," said Barry Noseworthy of the Fleet Diving Unit, which handles unexploded ordnance.

"They're really old. They've been dug up over the years and stored in this building since the early '60s."

Garrett Bessegato of the Canadian Forces examines several cannonballs found inside a storage building just outside the Fortress of Louisbourg. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

After conducting an initial examination last month, Noseworthy and his team are now busy collecting the roughly 100 cannonballs believed to contain explosive black powder or gunpowder.

"I've never dealt with anything this old, so we hate to see them go," said Noseworthy. "But for public safety and to minimize the risk, we unfortunately have to blow them up."

Noseworthy said black powder is the earliest known chemical explosive and is relatively stable as it requires a fuse to detonate.

He said though the cannonballs won't all be detonated at the same time, it should create a "nice, good bang."

Michael Butt carefully loads a cannonball believed to contain black powder onto a waiting truck. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

As part of their removal, disposal technicians are expected to transport the cannonballs to CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick on Friday. 

The cannonballs are expected to be destroyed in a controlled detonation Monday. 

Barry Noseworthy holds a hollowed-out fragment of a centuries-old cannonball that likely contained black powder. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

Members of the diving unit will not be removing fragments of cannonballs found on the fortress property — ones that were likely used in battle — or the solid steel cannonballs that were typically fired in hopes of damaging enemy ships.

Noseworthy said these items are relics from battles past, including wars waged between the French and the British in the mid-1700s.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erin Pottie

Reporter

Erin Pottie is a CBC reporter based in Sydney. She has been covering local news in Cape Breton for 15 years. Story ideas welcome at erin.pottie@cbc.ca.

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