Uncovering Hints of Turbulent Times — Fort Louis/New Fort in Placentia, NL

Uncovering Hints of Turbulent Times — Fort Louis/New Fort in Placentia, NL

Archaeologists have diligently sought to unearth the objects of Fort Louis/New Fort in an effort to tell the stories that time has quietly hidden. Fort Louis is the name of the fort dating from the period when the French controlled Placentia (1662-1713) or Plaisance as it was then named. New Fort is the term used by the British at the time when they had possession of all of Newfoundland (1713-1907). The year 1907 marks the year when Newfoundland became a Dominion.

Located in Jerseyside, on the north side of the Gut, (the narrow entrance that connects the waters of Placentia Bay and Placentia Harbour), Fort Louis/New Fort was the site of sporadic archaeological excavations from 1972 to 2012. Today, archaeologists continue to analyse many of the artefacts, engaged in unravelling their many mysteries.

During this period, by way of excavation, archaeologists and archaeological technicians have uncovered 41,650 artefacts. To enhance interpretation by the public, the workers have covered portions of the structures with rocks that show the locations of different parts of the forts.

Image of rocks depicting the shape and size of a storehouse from New Fort (Photograph: Lee Everts).

By doing so, archaeologists are seeking to shed additional light on the history of this part of the Placentia area. Beginning in 1691, Fort Louis became the second fort constructed by the French. Withstanding attacks by the English in 1692, it had to be re-built. The French were no longer taking any chances and fortified Fort Louis with 39 pieces of artillery. And owing to the violent and tempestuous history that gripped Placentia at the time, the fortification of Fort Royal (Castle Hill National Historic Site of Canada) began in 1693. This reflected yet a further attempt by the French to maintain control over the area.

Despite these efforts, Plaisance was surrendered to the British with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. At this point, Fort Louis was briefly used by the English. However, by the 1720s, Fort Frederick located in close proximity to Fort Louis or New Fort, as it was referred to by the British, was largely abandoned. Although in the 1740s, the English revisited the fortification, building upon the earlier Fort Louis. The English used the buildings and features of the pre-existing fort until the latter part of the 18th century when the New Fort also fell into disrepair. At this time, Britain had already begun to favour St. John’s as a focus for their military defence and overall administration of Newfoundland.

More than a century later, archaeologists, armed with eighteenth-century plans of New Fort along with their know-how began to dig into the fortification on Jerseyside. One of the noteworthy discoveries was a storehouse and store-keeper’s house.

Aerial view of Storehouse during excavation (Provincial Archaeology Office 2006 Archaeology Review).

The archaeologists also revealed a section of the New Fort ramparts which, when first built, stood an impressive 11 feet high and 45 feet wide. When the workers dug a test trench on the interior of the western rampart, they soon learned that some of the masonry façade actually remained intact where it continued to hold back the mortared masonry.

Image of rampart (Provincial Archaeology Office 2006 Archaeology Review).

Beneath the rampart, the archaeologists also found a row of bark rings. Initially theorised to be part of another structure, upon further investigation, the archaeologist believed that it most likely was a part of the interior side of the southwest bastion of Fort Louis. This finding was of particular note as, if it was indeed a portion of Fort Louis, it would provide the first solid evidence of the French fort.

These provide only a hint of what lies below the surface. Far more remains yet to be discovered about these forts. And today, the sites remain a focus for ongoing archaeological analysis, ones that continue to prove that Fort Louis/New Fort was an important element of the history of the Placentia area.

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