Would your family enjoy spending the night alone in an 18th Century fortress…with only a single sheet of canvas between you and the elements? How about the freedom to explore the restored town, beach and trails throughout the night, and then again the next morning, before any visitors or staff arrive?
With Parks Canada’s Wake Up in the Past! equipped camping program, it’s possible to have the entire fortress of Louisbourg, on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, to yourself… for the whole night.
Debbie Maladaick, and her children aged 5, 9 and 11, booked an 18th Century Camping experience this summer. She describes how excited the kids were when they spotted their tent:
“We got there early in the day, to take advantage of the tours. On the first guided tour, we came through the fortress doors, and the kids spotted our little little in the middle of the fortress. They were so excited, they kept telling everyone: that’s where we’re going to sleep!”
When you book the Wake Up in the Past! experience, you can arrive at anytime during the day to explore the fortress. Then, at 5:00 pm, when everything starts closing down, you drive your car up from the parking lot to the main building (normally a no-go area for cars), and the fortress is yours!
Equipped Camping means that everything is provided and ready to go: a period tent, lanterns, floor mats, a propane stove, and a fire pit to make your own fire.
“As we started unpacking the car, we looked across to the the main road in the distance, and we could see all tour buses and cars leaving. That’s when it started sinking in that were were actually going to be the only ones there for the night”, says Debbie.
For safety, families are given the cellphone number of a Commissionaire, who is on duty and can assist in case of an emergency.
The 18th century facilities are basic. There were no tent zippers in the 1700’s! Rest assured, you can bring some of your own sleeping gear, such as pillows and air mattresses. And and if you need to use the bathroom? Yes, there is access to a 21st century bathroom, just a short walk from your tent. (It’s the best of both worlds!).
“Once we were set we had supper over the campfire, and then the kids just explored.” says Debbie, “The kids did so much climbing and running around. It was really amazing to have the run of the whole town.”
Was it spooky? Although Louisbourg is known to harbour ghosts, Debbie’s family wasn’t phased. “Not spooky at all,” say the kids,”it was just totally awesome.”
Although the camping was the highlight of the trip, the tours came a close second. While the fortress is open, you can enjoy (for a small additional cost) tours such as Time Travel (ever tasted 18th Century hot chocolate?) or the Rookie Tour – a special program for kids aged 5-10 years. “Everyone was so friendly, and the kids learned so much,” says Debbie.
The kids also really enjoyed the Scavenger-hunt appeal of the Parks Canada Xplorer’s Booklet.
And to eat? In addition to whatever food you bring for your campfire, there are plenty of places to eat inside the fortress, such as the Hotel de La Marine, or Grandchamp House, where staff in period costumes serve you period fare (If you choose the peasant’s menu, you are given only a bowl and a spoon!).
But Debbie and the kids tried something different: they bought a single loaf of delicious rye bread from the King’s Bakery and then bought some butter and jam from the fridge in the cafe. It was the perfect picnic… plus a great way to save money. With the bread costing $5.00 and the condiments at .30 cents each, the entire family had a hearty soldier’s lunch for under $8.00!
Another highlight for Debbie, a Halifax-based photographer, was the light that she discovered when she took the kids on an early morning hike: “No one else sees that light at Louisbourg, because no one else is there at that time of the morning. I felt really lucky.”
Next time? “For some reason, the kids can’t wait to be locked up in prison,” says Debbie, referring to the Prisoner for a Day experience, which lasts for 30 minutes and sees participants fed plain bread and water, and then marched to the stocks. (We hate to break it to them that this particular experience you have to be 13 years or older!)
Have you experienced an amazing family experience at Louisbourg? Please tell us in the comments. We’d love to hear your story!
Wake Up in the Past! 18th Century Camping At Louisbourg
When: Camping available from July 1st to October 15t
Website: Wake Up in the Past! (Parks Canada Website)
Facebook: Fortress of Louisbourg Facebook Page
Cost: $70.00 per night per tent (up to 4 people)