Exploring 18th Century French Fortifications [Ep 3]

As tensions grew on the Chignecto Isthmus, with its formal militarization by the British in 1750, the French responded in kind. French authorities gave the order under Jacques Pierre de la Jonquière, the Governor-General of New France, to construct a palisaded fort at Pointe Beauséjour in 1751, in order to counter British militarization of the Isthmus. This new French fort would be known as – Fort Beauséjour.

Fort Beauséjour

Beginning in April 1751, Lieutenant Gaspard-Joseph de Léry would direct its construction. It would be a rather unique Fort, in fact a star-shaped, bastioned fort with five-metre-high earthworks, the very first of its kind in North America. This in contrast to typical forts of this period which were usually square with four bastions, one at each corner. The five points of this star would be equipped with cannon platforms, while inside the Fort’s walls were four armoured enclosures called, “casemates,” as well as a powder magazine, but also barracks and officers’ quarters. Of all the French Forts in the region, it would be the best armed, with a garrison of around 150 men. Combine this with the Fort’s panoramic views of the region, it was an exceptional location on which to build.

But life in this fort was far from idyllic. For the soldiers it meant cramped quarters with mosquitos in the summer and severe cold in the winter, while their days were spent digging and maintaining ditches, carrying water and cutting and transporting firewood. The Acadian frontier, as it has been called, was no easy place to be garrisoned, not to mention, described as rather dull.

One Little Hiccup

To make things a little more interesting, in order to build and arm this fort, supplies had to be brought in, but there was one big problem. The Bay of Fundy, where Fort Beauséjour was located, was controlled by the British Navy. So, to bypass this control, goods would have to be transported across the Chignecto Isthmus from the Northumberland Strait.

At first, the French established two supply depots in nearby Shediac, from which supply ships carrying troops, tools, materials and weapons were unloaded for transport across the Isthmus to the new fort. But this was not an easy 29km route, with goods transferred from ocean to land to river and back to land. It was clear a new road and depot would be crucial.

On the Road to Fort Gaspareaux

So, they decided in the same year Fort Beauséjour was built (1751) to construct a small but critical fort called Fort Gaspareaux. It was situated on the opposite side of the Chignecto Isthmus, on the Northumberland Strait to receive and transport goods across the Isthmus to Fort Beauséjour. These goods then being transported on a new supply road that would follow a very old and well used portage route across the Isthmus, used by local Indigenous peoples for thousands of years. This fort was a glorified warehouse for the French, never meant to withstand an effective siege, its primary purpose was to serve as a garrisoned link between Quebec, the Fortress of Louisbourg and Fort Beauséjour. It was just a small, palisaded fort, about 100 feet on all sides, manned by only a garrison of no more than 14 soldiers at any one time. It consisted of earthen walls, a shallow ditch and palisade, with a blockhouse at each corner, all outfitted with a small cannon.

This fort would only ever see conflict once, in 1756, when the British occupiers of this fort were ambushed while collecting firewood by a Mi’kmaq war party who would kill nine British soldiers. Today, grave markers from this skirmish are still on site and considered the earliest known military gravestones in Canada. Unfortunately, these headstones and a rough outline of the Fort’s earthworks are all that remain of this important link in the French network.

So now that we understand why and how these three forts were built, and because we all know that forts have one purpose…we have to ask…where’s the kaboom!?

In the next episode (blog), we will learn about what truly ignited the conflict on the Chignecto Isthmus in 1755 and how the forts we’ve explored were involved, finally understanding how five years would change the entire course of history.

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