Building blocks of history: Lego enthusiasts recreate the Fortress of Louisbourg

LOUISBOURG, NS — An 18th century French fortress that was rebuilt by the Canadian government over 60 years ago is now being recreated using children’s building blocks.

For two years, Jean Bédard and four of his friends have been working on an incredibly detailed Lego version of the Fortress of Louisbourg.

A computer engineer and historical reenactment enthusiast, the Quebec City resident fell in love with the national historic site after attending the 250th anniversary of the second and final siege in 2008.

Louisbourg Love

Jean Bédard and four of his friends have been working for two years on a detailed Lego version of the Fortress of Louisbourg. The 360-square-foot replica built with over 180,000 Lego blocks is set to go on display at the real fortress in 2024. – Jean Bédard

“We fell in love with Louisbourg and I personally believe that it is the most attractive historical monument in Canada. It’s massive and there are no anachronisms – it’s really perfect for a re-enactor like me. It was just a dream to be there and having it in Lego too is reliving pretty much the same dream.

Spanning approximately 360 square feet, Bedard estimates their version of the fortress will include between 180,000 and 200,000 Lego blocks when they showcase the final build at Brickworld Chicago – the largest Lego exhibit in North America – l ‘next year.

Bédard said he and his team, which includes his brother Louis, Francis St-Germain, Etienne Beaudoin and Francis Bibeau, have spent hundreds of hours going through historical documents, maps, engineering plans as well as Google Street View to create what they call Louisbrick. .

“Personally, I spend between 10 and 15 hours a week on the project, and that’s pretty much the same for everyone on the team,” he said, explaining that everyone is focused on one. particular block of the walled city with the aim of restoring it to what it was before the first British siege in 1745.

“So we try to find the right buildings that were there at the time: what were the roles of each building – were they a house, or a store, or a shed? And according to the research, we build the building itself and also the courtyard behind it. If it is a house, we will make gardens and buildings for farm animals. And if it’s a store, we add things like crates and barrels and that sort of thing.

living history

Louisbourg residents work in the King's Garden in this Lego version of the 18th-century French fortress created by a team of Quebec residents.  -Jean Bedard
Louisbourg residents work in the King’s Garden in this Lego version of the 18th-century French fortress created by a team of Quebec residents. -Jean Bedard

The attention to detail goes far beyond the buildings.

The people living inside the walls are also brought to life, with patrolling soldiers wearing historically accurate uniforms and townspeople working in the gardens, peddling goods to market or unloading goods from ships in the bustling harbour. There are even two workers arguing over who gets a shared outhouse – a scene inspired by a real-life conflict they uncovered while scouring historical records.

“We do our research to find little fun facts like there was a fight over the toilets between two lots because they shared the same toilet and the same sink, so we build scenes from what we read” , said Bedard. .

A ship sits alongside the docks of Louisbourg Harbor in this Lego version of the 18th-century fortress.  -Jean Bedard
A ship sits alongside the docks of Louisbourg Harbor in this Lego version of the 18th-century fortress. -Jean Bedard

“It’s like an artist painting something. He wants to capture the space, the feeling, so we’re trying to do the same to have a living layout of what Louisbourg would have looked like at that time with Lego.

Recreating the fortress using almost exclusively Lego blocks that can be bought off the shelf took a bit of imagination. For example, the cabbages growing in the gardens were made by using wigs from a set of Batman Legos and then turning them upside down. They also printed stickers for the real Lego minifigures and painted the tricorns, pistols and swords according to the period. The only exceptions are the linen and twine they used for sails and ship rigging, and a pair of 3D-printed fleur-de-lis near the Dauphin Gate.

“It’s the only custom piece – everything else is real Lego.”

Tourism raffle

Residents go about their daily lives in this Lego version of the Fortress of Louisbourg.  -Jean Bedard
Residents go about their daily lives in this Lego version of the Fortress of Louisbourg. -Jean Bedard

Coady Slaunwhite, partnership and engagement officer at Parks Canada, said the Lego version of the fortress by Bédard and his team is “very impressive” and that they hope to host it on the actual site in the near future. .

“I think it kind of speaks to the iconic nature of the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site and how it has this strong connection with visitors and with people around the world, so I think it That’s probably what really drew him to the project,” Slaunwhite said.

Bédard said one of his goals with the Chicago exhibit is to inspire more people to come and explore Louisbourg. They plan to bring books with pictures of the actual fortress and side-by-side Lego recreations, as well as some of the maps and historical documents they used for their research.

The Soldiers' Barracks and Dauphin Demi-Bastion at the Fortress of Louisbourg are part of an incredibly detailed Lego replica built by a team of Quebec residents.  -Jean Bedard
The Soldiers’ Barracks and Dauphin Demi-Bastion at the Fortress of Louisbourg are part of an incredibly detailed Lego replica built by a team of Quebec residents. -Jean Bedard

“I’m sure this will inspire more people to come and explore the Fortress of Louisbourg. In fact, even here in Quebec, there are a lot of people who don’t know Louisbourg at all, so I can only imagine that in the United States, in Illinois, there will be a lot more people who don’t know Louisbourg and in Chicago, we’re going to bring more interactive things.

The ultimate plan is to bring the final version of their Lego Fortress to the actual site in 2024.

“The plan is to bring the development of the fortress itself during the summer of 2024. So, we will have new things for 2024 just for Louisbourg. For example, we plan to build more ships just for the fortress because we don’t think we have time to have 20 or 25 ships in the bay for Chicago, but we can have more ships for 2024.”