Nova Scotia

Slavery Tour opens at Fortress of Louisbourg

The stories of slaves will finally be told at the Fortress of Louisbourg in Cape Breton.

Interpreters of African descent lead tourists through historic site

The stories of slaves will finally be told at the Fortress of Louisbourg in Cape Breton.

The Slavery Tour, formally launched Wednesday at the National Historic Site, depicts the lives of the 358 slaves owned by the French between 1713 and 1768.

Four interpreters of African descent are leading tourists through the fortress, telling the unknown stories of slaves.

Ken Donovan, staff historian at the fortress, said the launch of the Marie Margarite Rose slavery tour tells the story of the people who looked after the French officers' children, cooked the food, cleaned the house and did whatever else needed doing.

"It goes house to house, and virtually every house here had a slave. But, we reverse the telescope — we don’t begin with the owners of the house, we begin with the slave," Donovan said.

Charlene Curtain was the first black interpreter at the fortress. She was hired 11 years ago, but now she animates the role of Marie Marguerite Rose, a native of Guinea, Africa.

"It's an honour because most people of African Nova Scotia do not know this woman, do not know the history of the fortress. They believe it's only French. We want to tell our story, we want it to be known, we want people to come talk to us when they come to visit," Curtain said.

Rose was bought by Louisbourg naval officer Jean Loppinot in 1736 and worked for his family for 19 years, bringing up his 12 children. She was freed in 1755, and then married a Mi’kmaq hunter.

"Together they ran a successful tavern that served her former owners and other profiteers of slave labour," Donovan said.

Graham Reynolds, who attended the launch of the tour, said it's about time the story of Canadian slaves was discussed.

"This really sets the record straight, that it wasn't just the English and the Americans, but the French and the Canadian experience was very much defined by slavery," he said.

The Slavery Tour is now a permanent part of the live interpretation of the history of the Fortress of Louisbourg. Tours will be offered weekly, Wednesday to Saturday, beginning at 2:30 p.m.

The Fortress of Louisbourg is the largest reconstructed 18th-century fortified town in North America. There are more than 50 buildings on the 4.9-hectare site.