Nova Scotia

Louisbourg looks to rising tide of cruise ship traffic

The internationally known fortress town in Cape Breton is working toward developing a second claim to fame as a cruise ship destination.

Cruise ships were once a rare sight at the Cape Breton seaport; this year, at least 10 are expected

The cruise ship Le Boreal sits at anchor in Louisbourg harbour in 2015. (Submitted by Ian Harte)

The internationally known fortress town of Louisbourg is working toward developing a second claim to fame as a cruise ship destination.

In the past, cruise line visits to the historic Cape Breton seaport have been rare. But that is about to change, according to Jenna Lahey, chair of the Louisbourg Cruise Ship Committee.

There will be 10 cruise ship visits between April and October of this year, with the first one, MS Fram, arriving on April 26, she said.

"It's a great opportunity to make our mark this year. We're really excited about it. Louisbourg is a very unique place," said Lahey.

While the fortress itself, which was built by the French in 1713 and later restored in the 1960s, is the biggest draw, Lahey said the surrounding community will need to become involved if cruise ship visits are to become an economic fixture.

Louisbourg will be visited by at least 10 cruise ships in 2018, according to the town's cruise ship committee. (Submitted by Ian Harte)

The municipal councillor for the area, Amanda MacDougall, said the cruise ships present a "wonderful opportunity" for the town, but agrees it must be treated as a long-term project in order to grow the business.

"It's really up to the community to say: 'What can we do to offer an experience,'" she said, noting there has been a lot of interest shown by prospective artisans and vendors who want to offer their wares to the tourists.

Lahey points to such things as a farmers market, along with food trucks and special lunch offerings in the downtown area. 

The waterfront is expected to be bustling, she said, with the Ocean of Opportunity Marine Science and Heritage Centre open to anyone who wants to speak with a marine biologist and check out the lab setup in the facility. The complex also includes a heritage boat-building shop and a museum.

Darcy Harte works on a five-metre row boat in Louisbourg. (Darcy Harte)

The new cruise ship traffic is coming through the hard work of Parks Canada, Destination Cape Breton and Lloydette MacDonald of the Louisbourg Harbour Authority, Lahey said. She also credited a partnership with the Port of Sydney as another key factor in attracting the visits.

Figuring out how to get the tourists from the downtown to sites such as the Louisbourg Lighthouse Trail and the Old Town Trail are issues still on the agenda of unresolved items.

"That's our biggest challenge right now," Lahey said.

MacDougall sees the development as a boon for all of Cape Breton, since "smaller luxurious" cruise ships such as Silver Cloud and Hebridean Sky will also be stopping at Baddeck and other ports.

She said while they are not the gigantic cruise liners that frequent the Port of Sydney, many of them nonetheless carry upwards of 300 passengers, and they can have a huge economic impact on the local area.

"It can be quite an influx of people all at once, for sure," said MacDougall.

With files from CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton