New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Where Stood Fort LaTour?

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From the blog at

This is W.F. Ganong’s study as to the location of Fort LaTour in Saint John. Ganong was scrupulous in relying on facts, and there was no room for speculation. In this essay, he argues with James Hannay, with whom he was aggravated. These personal differences seem less important after all of these years, but, if I had to choose, I would always go with Ganong. The story is presented here from the New Brunswick Magazine, Volume 1, 1898.

Mme. de la Tour

A depiction of Madame La Tour defending the fort against d’Aulnay.

From The Canadian Encyclopedia, with a credit to the National Archives of Canada

Where Stood Fort LaTour?

It is not always the events greatest in historic consequences that are enshrined the deepest in the hearts of a people, but rather those that most exhibit the primal human virtues of valor, patience and self-sacrifice. Into such events every man can project himself, and not only understand but feel them. In our own early history there were many occurrences of more importance than the gallant defence by Madame de La Tour of her husband’s fort against his arch-enemy, Charnisay, but there are none better known or oftener related. The historians of St. John have done the story full justice, and Mr. Hannay in particular has left little for any other to say about it. But if anyone, thoughtful of his country’s past, wishes to stand on the spot where these things happened, and to call up in fancy the scenes of that April morning of long ago, whither shall he turn? For no man can this day point with certainty to the site of Fort LaTour.

Ample records exist to prove that the fort stood at the mouth of the St. John, but they allow room for difference of opinion as to whether it stood on the east or west side. It is placed on the east side on the map in Volume I of the superb new Jesuit Relations (under the name Fort St. Jean), and on the map in Greswell’s History of Canada. Mr. Hannay thinks it was on the west side of the “old fort,” and other local historians, including, I believe, the late Mr. Lawrence, have thought that it stood on the site of Fort Dufferin. Some years ago in examining ancient maps of New Brunswick I was struck by the fact that most of the earlier ones placed it on the east side; and, led thereby to investigate the entire subject from the beginning, I was forced to the conclusion that the fort stood upon the east side, and probably on the knoll at the head of Rankin’s wharf at Portland Point. The full evidence for this belief was given, along with the reproductions of the old maps, in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada for 1891, but as that work is not readily accessible, and as the subject is of some popular interest, I shall give here a synopsis of two of, its most important lines of evidence, along with one or two points which have come to light since then.

The only direct reference to the site of Fort LaTour in any original document known to any of our historians is contained in Nicolas Denys’ “Description geographique de I’Amerique septentrionale,” published at Paris in 1672. All writers agree on Denys’ truthfulness. He knew intimately both LaTour and Charnisay, had visited the St. John River, and after LaTour’s ruin had employed some of his men. His authority on this question must be of the highest. And here is a literal translation of what he writes of St. John Harbor:

The entrance is narrow, because of a little island which is to larboard or on the left side, which being passed the river is much larger. On the same side as the island there are large marshes or flats which are covered at high tide; the beach is of muddy sand which makes a point which passed, there is a cove (or creek) which makes into the said marshes, of which the entrance is narrow, and there the late Sieur Monsieur de la Tour has caused to be made a weir, in which were caught a great number of those Gaspereau which were salted for winter, [here follows an account of the fish caught]. A little farther on, beyond the said weir, there is a little knoll where d’Aunay built his fort, which I have not found well placed according to my idea, for it is commanded by an island which is very near and higher ground, and behind which all ships can place themselves under cover from the fort, in which there is only water from pits, which is not very good, no better than that outside the fort. It would have been in my opinion better placed behind the island where vessels anchor, and where it would have been higher, and in consequence not commanded by other neighboring places, and would have had good water, as in that which was built by the said late Sieur de la Tour, which was destroyed by d’Aunay after he had wrongfully taken possession of it, etc.

If the impartial reader who knows the harbor well, will follow carefully this account, or better if he will read it in comparison with Bruce’s fine old map of 1761 which shows the harbor untouched by modern improvements, I think he will agree that Denys has given a good description of the harbor, that the island on the left of the entrance is Partridge Island, that the flats were those at Carleton now partly included in the Millpond, that the beach of muddy sand making a point was Sand Point, that the cove or creek making into the sand marshes was the creek, clearly shown on Bruce’s map, at the present outlet of the Millpond, that the knoll a little farther on was the slight elevation on which stands the “old fort” in Carleton. On this knoll, says Denys, d’Aunay (Charnisay) built his fort, and further evidence of the identity of this knoll is given in his statement that the fort was commanded by an island [i.e. Navy Island] very near, behind which [i.e. in the channel] vessels could lie under cover from the fort, and that it had bad water. It may seem an objection that he makes the island higher than the fort site, but the island has washed away much in recent times, and the successive forts afterwards built at the “old fort” point must have raised that site somewhat. But aside from this we have important independent testimony that the fort site was really commanded by the island, in the following statement made in 1701 by the Sieur de Brouillan in describing the French fort which then stood on this point in Carleton,—“it is commanded on one side by an island at the distance of a pistol shot”, and he also speaks of its bad water—(Murdoch’s History of Nova Scotia, Vol. I, page 249). Moreover, while Denys description of the location of d’Aunay’s fort applies thus perfectly to the Carleton site, it fits no other about the harbor. Charnisay’s fort then stood in Carleton, but where was LaTour’s? Here Denys is not so clear, and all that we can gather with certainty from his account is that it was not on the “old fort” site in Carleton.

The testimony of the maps is in brief as follows: Many maps showing Acadia were published before 1700. Of these some are but copies of others and hence of no value as authorities, but I know of at least four made entirely independently of one another, which place Fort LaTour on the east side of the harbor. In fact, all the maps known to me belonging before 1700 which mark Fort LaTour at all, place it on the east side, with but one exception. This is the fine Duval map which in the editions of 1653 and 1664, as I have been told (I have not seen them) places it on the west side. But the third and improved edition of 1677 removes it from the west to the east side. Now second or later editions of maps, like later editions of books, are likely to be more accurate than the first, and Duval must have had good, reason for making this change. Another map of much importance has recently been published (in a fine French Atlas by Marcel), drawn by Franquelin, dated 1708, but really made earlier. Franquelin was in Acadia in 1686 and made by far the best map of the St. John River which had up to that time been drawn (a copy of. which is contained in the latest volume of the Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada), and he therefore knew well the geography of this region. On his 1708 map he marks Fort Martinnon on the west side of the harbor and Fort LaTour on the east. The former was of course that of the Sieur Martignon, who was granted the west side of the harbor in seigniory in 1676, but that Franquelin placed Fort LaTour on the east side is significant. After 1700 several maps appeared which placed this fort on the west side of the harbor, no doubt through confusion of it with that built at Carleton by Villebon, and this is the case in the fine maps of Bellin made before 1755. In 1757, however, Bellin, the greatest French mapmaker of the last century, issued a much corrected map of Acadia, and in that he not only removes Fort LaTour from the west to the east side but places before the name the significant word “Ancien,” so that it reads “Ancien F. LaTour.” Bellin had access to the remarkably rich collections of ancient maps in the French “’Depot des Cartes” and that he should have changed his earlier maps and especially have added the significant word “ancient” must be given weight in this argument. This is but the barest outline, but I may summarize the whole matter by saying that I know of no piece of evidence drawn from maps tending to show that the fort was on the west side; it all points to the east side.

If now we seek for a possible site for the fort upon the east side, we find that but a single site of an old fort has been recorded, that at Portland Point. Had any other existed it could hardly have completely escaped notice. Thus Mr. Lawrence (Footprints, page 4) states “’Mr. Simonds erected his dwelling on the ruins of an old French Fort, Portland Point”, and there is other evidence to show that a fort of considerable importance stood there. Moreover, and this is important, if this fort at Portland Point was not Fort LaTour, our historians have no idea what fort it was.

Denys, then, tells us that Fort LaTour was not at the “old fort” in Carleton; the early maps place it upon the east side; but a single fort site is known on the east side,—that at Portland Point. This is why I think the fort stood on the east side, and probably at Portland Point. It is true that these facts do not prove that conclusion; but they seem to me to give it a higher degree of probability than any other theory at present possesses. In any case, these facts are too important to be ignored, and if anyone wishes to establish another view, it will not be enough to give simply the reasons for his own belief, but he must meet and answer this testimony of Denys and the mapmakers, and show either that they were mistaken or else that they have been misinterpreted. But whatever we may think of the evidence, this much is sure, that future students will impartially examine it and give a decision according to its merits.

W.F. Ganong


Written by johnwood1946

April 1, 2015 at 9:24 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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