Time travelFortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, Nova Scotia, Canada

Louisbourg sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Okay, I just have to say it: I usually have mixed feelings about historical reenactments—even the best ones. While I love the idea of immersing myself in a time and place, costumed interpreters (for all their talents and lovely enthusiasm) tend to bug the heck out of me. I don’t know what it is, but all my little tricks and skills for remaining inconspicuous while sketching just fly right out the window at these places. Without fail, the reenacters find me, notice me, and interact with me, when all I wanted to do was disappear and sketch. “Ah! Good lady! I see you are preparing an engraving—” Yeah, yeah. Whatever, that’s nice. If you need me, I’ll be hiding behind this here cannon.

Louisbourg sketch by Chandler O'Leary

For all my grumpiness (and, in this case, reluctance to reveal my paltry, rusty French), it’s awfully good fun to sketch in a place like that. And I think I may have found the solution to my interpreter-phobia: visit on a bitterly cold weekday, in the off-season, just after a big tour bus of cruise ship passengers leaves for the day.

And that’s how I got to have the entire, enormous village of Louisbourg to myself for a whole afternoon.

Louisbourg sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I was first drawn to Louisbourg (no pun intended) because I found out that this year marked the settlement’s 300th anniversary. As there aren’t too many places in our little New World that can boast that kind of longevity, it felt somehow important to take part in that, even in my small way.

But also, Louisbourg was incredibly out of the way for me on this trip—it required almost a full day’s diversion to get there and back. Its location on the remote Atlantic shore of Cape Breton made it truly feel like an outpost of civilization (which, of course, it was)—and that’s saying something, as I’d just come from the Cabot Trail. So getting there felt like an accomplishment, like I’d somehow earned a merit badge for my journey.

Either way, all my shyness aside, it felt like I’d had my own private, self-guided tour of the past—and that’s well worth a detour.

Louisbourg sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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Comments (5)

  1. Marialena

    I promise to never wear a tricorne and to only approach when you are done sketching. 🙂 I feel very inhibited about drawing in public because people tend to come over to look. Arg. Love the geese!

    1. Chandler O'Leary Post author

      Ha! Yeah, it’s weird—a lot of times, when people approach me, it’s fine. But maybe it’s because when folks in costume come up, they tend to bring a whole audience with them—it just weirds me out. I want to yell, “Watch him, not me!”

  2. Mary-Alice

    Torn on a recent trip to Williamsburg between admiring the inventiveness of the hostess at our tavern, facing a table of folks from places that didn’t yet exist, and wanting to strangle myself with a Colonial-sized napkin (very, very doable — as she said, you only have the one outfit, so you COVER that sucker with, essentially a tablecloth). Also, is it fair to approach people trapped at a table?

  3. Beverley

    Hi there, I was looking for a way to write to you and then stumbled upon these images from Cape Breton, where I grew up. Great sketches of classic views! I am going back in August and will make my own attempts. How long did it take you to do all these sketches on site? Can you please share your favourite materials (watercolour palette colours, pens, etc.)?

    Thanks! I am looking forward to clicking on the Cabot Trail link next,

    1. Chandler O'Leary Post author

      Thanks, Beverley! My sketches take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, depending on how much time I have and how complex the scene is. I do as much as I can on site, but sometimes I have to finish the sketches after the fact, especially if I’m rushed or the weather turns bad, or whatever. You can read more about my process and see the materials I use on my About page. Have a great time in Cape Breton! What a beautiful place.

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