Fort Saint Louis

Article No: 43

Fort Saint Louis
Yarmouth Vanguard, Tuesday, October 24, 1989

At Villagedale, Shelburne County, just south of the swimming area of Sabim Beach, are located the Sand Hills. In a western direction, there is a rock bluff which extends one hundred yards or more before it slants down to the south side of the beach. It is now about completely covered with trees; some fifty years ago, it was all bare. At that time, a great amount of bricks and stones could be found scattered mostly on its southern slope. These were the remains of the first fortification ever built by the Company of New France, which had been organized in 1627, at the time of King Louis XIII, by Cardinal Richelieu, Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary of France, for the development of its Canadian colony.

After the death of Charles de Biencourt in 1623, son of Jean de Poutrincourt, Charles de La Tour, his cousin and childhood friend, took charge of the small group of not more than 25 men, who constituted then the whole population of Acadia. La Tour established his headquarters at the trading post of Port Lomeron, which became to be known as Port La Tour.

Hearing of the creation of the Company of New France, Charles de La Tour, in 1627, wrote to the King and to Richelieu, telling them that Acadia was in danger, as England was making plans to seize the colony. Two years later, the Kirk Brothers, who were French Huguenots who had taken refuge in England where they became the most aggressive enemies of their native land, seized all the main ports of Acadia, including Port Royal, at about 200 kilometers from Cape Sable; they were forwarded by William Alexander, the one who gave to Nova Scotia its name. This was taking place while Richelieu was answering the distress call from La Tour; but his convoy was intercepted by the Kirks. It so happened that Port La Tour was not visited because the Kirks, in their conquest of Acadia, did not know of La Tour's hideout. It is then that Richelieu decided to build a fort for Charles de La Tour, for the defense of the Cape Sable region.

The task of gathering the materials for the fort and to equip two vessels to bring them over was entrusted to Jean Tuffet, of Bordeaux, a member of the Company of New France. Champlain tells us that "the Sieur Tuffet saw to the fitting out, in the year 1630, of the ships from Bordeaux, which were laden with the necessary commodities for making a settlement on the coast of Acadia; and put on board workmen and artisans, with three religious of the order of the Recollet Fathers. All these, under the conduct of Captain Marot." This was taking place in the early Spring. The "settlement" was to be Fort Saint Louis, named after Saint Louis IX, King of France (1215-70), most probably one of the ancestors of Charles de La Tour, by his mother Marie de Salazar, and, of course, of the descendants of his son-in-law, Jacques Mius d'Entremont, Sr.

Charles de La Tour chose for its erection the south-western slope of the Sand Hills. His choice could not have been better. Not only is it the highest point of all the coast from Barrington all along to Cape Negro, including Port La Tour, but also, from this vantage stage, one has a most splendid view of the two entrances of the Barrington Bay, on each side of Sable Island. It dominates the entire Bay, being thus a most strategic location for a fort. An author, Couillard-Despres, gives high praises to La Tour's judgment for choosing this site.

Started in early summer of 1630, the construction was all done by December. It was to be the largest structure ever erected at Cape Sable during the course of its Acadian history. Nicolas Denys, who visited the fort in the Summer of 1635, calls it "a good fort" which stood La Tour "in good stead".

I visited the site in the late 1920s with my uncle, H. Leander d'Entremont, who was the first one to call to the people's attention this location. At that time, I helped to take measurements of the foundations still visible of some of the walls. They could be traced in a straight line for a certain distance; then they would disappear, to appear again a little further away, always in the same straight line. Facing the Bay, there seemed to have been two walls, about three feet apart, unless it was just one wall three feet thick, on a total length of about 160 feet.

Even long before the 20th century, these ruins were noticed by a number of navigators. In "A Geographical History of Nova Scotia," published in 1749 in London, we read that, behind Cape Sable Island, are to be seen on the continent the ruins of a "strong fort, which was capable of sustaining a rigorous resistance."

In 1886, Professor Arnold Doane published in the August 12 issue of the weekly Barrington newspaper, "The Cape Sable Advertiser," the following description of this location as it stood then. He writes: "On the brow of this bluff you will notice a line of stone heaps - three, four or more - and in the rear of these one or two continuous lines of stone wall. Still further in the rear, there are numerous remains of walls in squares and other rectangularly shaped enclosures; some of them having in their center the imperfect foundation in circular or other forms, of some building of former days. Bricks are also scattered here and there". Prof. Doane, not having the slightest idea that there was a fort located here, thought It could have been an Acadian village. Note that the Acadians never built their houses of bricks or stones. Furthermore, there were never here more than three families, after the fort was destroyed.

The fact is that, Charles d'Aulnay, during the feud between him and Charles de La Tour, in a frantic rage against his rival, set the fort on fire in the Fall of 1642, while La Tour was away, and burned it down to the ground.

Charles de La Tour, Jr., talks about a "castle" that he had here, on the Sand Hills. It is most likely that he built it out of the ruins of Fort Saint Louis. A pencil sketch of this "castle" is given in Thomas Proud's "New Mapp of New England from Cape Codd to Cape Sable", (1691), that I reproduced in my "History of Cape Sable...", Vol.2., p. 249.

It as [is?] here, on the Sand Hills, that the Acadians, who came back from Boston in 1766, spent the Winter, as I have said in my sketch No. 34.

It is unfortunate that the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, notwithstanding evidence to the contrary, has set two big signs in Port La Tour, at the entrance of the site of the old Fort Lomeron, known in the 1620s as Fort La Tour, which was taken up by Thomas Temple around 1660, indicating erroneously and misleading the people that here was the site of Fort Saint Louis.

It is unfortunate also that the excavations which took place in 1987 on Sand Hills, under the auspices of Park Canada, were conducted close to the crest of the hill, while the ruins visible years ago were spread on the slope.

Note: In last weeks sketch, the word "Gabells" stands for "Gavel's, not "Blauveldt's".

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