Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   www.SilverHawkAuthor.com   
 
Artillery preserved in Canada, French Guns

Pre-Confederation Artillery in Canada

                      “By each gun a loaded brand, in a bold determined hand.”[1]

The history of the gun has been documented at length in many books and records.  Many French cast muzzle-loading guns werre employed in the era of New France and a number of them remain preserved and on display in Canada.  A good number of French pieces of artillery were employed by Canadians on the Western Front during the Great War, and a handful of these are also preserved here.

French Translation of the technical data presented here would be appreciated.  Corrections, amendments and suggested changes may be emailed to the author at hskaarup@rogers.com.

Une traduction au français pour l'information technique présente serait grandement apprécié. Vos corrections, changements et suggestions sont les bienvenus, et peuvent être envoyés au hskaarup@rogers.com

Data current to 31 Jan 2017.

This web page is primarily about where to find the historic guns of New France that are on display in Canada at present, specifically for the interested explorer, historian and military enthusiast.  The French guns and their history in Canada are listed in a somewhat (but not necessarily) chronological order, and/or by bore calibre/inch size.  A few of the artillery pieces found in Canada today may have been missed, and updates on where and what they are would be most welcome.  One source described how in the process of taking apart his 150-year old home in Newfoundland, he discovered one corner of the house had been reinforced with an upright cannon cemented in the foundation.  Many of the guns that were on display between the wars are known to have been cut up for scrap or placed in a landfill, which has led to a considerable reduction in the numbers of viewable historic guns.  These guns have been part of Canada’s history, and as such every effort to preserve and document the survivors should be made in order to keep their story from fading.

The considerable number of cannon, guns and field artillery in use by the French and British forces that garrisonned the forts and fortresses, citadels and redoubts, blockhouses and field defence positions throughout Canada’s early history are numerous and varied and may not all be listed here.  Much of Canada’s early military history is controversial.  Crossbows and possibly hand-held cannons equpped the earliest European visitors who explored the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, likely including those who came up the Saint John River in 1398 with Henry Sinclair’s expedition.[2]  Although Sinclair’s explorations and those of other Europeans that came before him to Canada are in dispute, his documented use of cannon during his explorations from the Orkney Islands would place him in the earliest list of artillery users in Canada’s history.

The first officially recorded use of artillery in Canada took place in 1534 when Jacaques Cartier fired two of his ship’s cannon to repel the canoes of Mi’kmaq warriors on the North side of the Baie des Chaleurs (Chaleur Bay), off the coast of New Brunswick’s North Eastern shore.[3]  A chronicler who accompanied Cartier recorded:

“We did not care to trust to their signs and warned the to go back, which they would not do, but paddled so hard that they soon surrounded our long-boat with their seven canoes.  And seeing no matter how much we signed to them, they would not go back, we shot over their heads two small cannon...”[4]

This incident took place in the summer of 1534 at what is now Port Daniel on the north shore of the Bay of Chaleur.  One year later, to satisfy the curiosity of Chief Donnaconna at Stadacona, Cartier had his ship’s Captain demonstrate an artillery broadside by firing 12 of his guns into the neaby woods, terrifying the native onlookers in 1535.  On his third visit in 1541, Cartier brought guns ashore from three of his ships to protect the log fort at Charlesbourg Royal, about nine miles above Stadacona where the Cap Rouge River provided good anchorage.[5]  It set a pattern followed by latter French colonists who set up defences at their settlements at Port Royal and Quebec by mounting small guns within their wooden stockades.

To determine the  kind of guns that were being employed by Cartier and his ship’s crew one must have a look at the development of French Artillery from the Middle Ages forward to the age of New France.  French artillery made its initial appearance in documents early in the 14th century.  The initial weapons were rudimentary and included the pot-de-fer or the portable bâton à feu which fired stone or metal pellets. 

With the outbreak of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) gun development expanded exponentially.  Small guns firing quarrels or lead pellets were mounted on ships and used to engage French enemies at the Battle of Sluys in 1340 and in the French defence of Tournai in August of 1340.  Similar weapons were used by Edward III at the Battle of Crécy between 1345 and 1346.  By the time of the collapse of the Treaty of Bretigny and the resumption of the war in 1369 guns had evolved considerably. 

Up to 1370 guns were essentially small, in the weight range of 10 to 20 kg (20 to 40 lbs), and made of bronze or copper.  After 1370 larger guns made of wrought or cast iron began to appear.  Guns weighing more than one ton and firing 50 kg stone balls were used by the French to breech the walls of the fortress at Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte in 1375.  Few such weapons existed in England before 1400.  New firearms began to appear in the form of hand guns, small mortars and rebaudequins, complimenting but not replacing heavier artillery.

Photos of a reconstruction of an arrow-firing cannon that appears in a 1326 manuscript.  (1st Photo courtesy of Louis le Grand and 2nd Photo courtesy of CC-by-sa GFDL)

Bâton à feu, or hand bombard (1380). Musée de l'Armée.  (Photo courtesy of PHGCOM)

The Bâton à feu, or Baston à feu (French for "Fire stick"), is a type of hand cannon developed in the 14th century in Western Europe.  This weapon type corresponds to the portable artillery of the second half of 14th century.  The Bâton à feu at the Musée de l'Armée in Paris has an hexagonal cross-section, and looks like a steel tube.  It weighs 1.04 kg, and has a length of 18 cm.  Its caliber is 2 cm.  In order to facilitate handling, the metal piece was placed at the end of a wooden pole.  The powder was ignited through a small hole at the top, with a red-hot steel stick.

Bâton à feu with its wooden pole, France, 1390-1400.  Musée de l'Armée.  (Photo courtesy of PHGCOM)

By the early part of the 15th century both the French and English armies had developed a wide variety of gunpowder weapons.  The largest were known as bombards, weighing up to three tons and firing stone balls of up to 150 kg (300 lbs), although the French made greater use of them up to 1420.  The bombards were often constructed by welding wrought iron bars together and binding them with circular reinforcing bracelets in a process known as “à tonoille”, much like the method for constructing wine barrels.

French Veuglaires, known as “fowlers” in England were developed with a length of up to 2 metres (6 feet) and weighing from 150 kg up to several tons.  Crapaudins were shorter 1.5 metres to 4 metres (4 to 6 feet) and lighter than the veuglaires.  Both the French and English used  guns at the Siege of Orleans in 1429 and the army with Joan of Arc used guns effectively during the Loire campaign in the same year. 

Portable hand guns began to be used on a wide scale, sometimes by soldiers mounted on horseback.  As the technology progressed, other small portable firearms were developed such as serpentines and couleuvrines.  Hand held firearms did not replace the widespread use of longbows and crossbows during the Hundred Years’ War.  Artillery, however, took on a major role in siege warfare, replacing the traditional wooden siege engines such as trebuchets, mangonels and catapults used since recorded warfare began.

From the 1430s, the artillery of France’s King Charles II was managed by Master Gunner Jean Bureau.  It was used successfully at Meaux in 1439, Pontoise in 1441, Caen and during the Norman campaign (1449-1450).  In the Battle of Castillon in 1453, grouped and entrenched French artillery decimated the English army.  Artillery also began to affect military architecture leading to the development of walls that were lower and thicker in order to better withstand the battering of cannonballs.

Small cannons and hand culverin, 15th century.  Musée de Cluny.  (Photo courtesy of PHGCOM) 

The manufacture of firearms and cannon was an expensive business.  In most cases, only kings or powerful overlords with considerable financial resources at hand could afford to have them made in numbers substantial enough to make a difference in a major siege or battle.  Once they did have them, however, the effects could be devastating.  In 1494, France’s King Charles VIII invaded Italy, bringing with him a siege train that included 40 bronze cannon with barrels eight feet long.  These guns were easily elevated or depressed because they moved on two prongs or trunions placed just forward of the barrel’s balancing point.  Except for the heaviest, these cannon were easily moved by lifting the trail of the gun mount and shifting it to one side or the other.  They fired iron balls at ranges equal to those of earlier cannon that were three times their calibre.  Charles guns were transported on carriages that increased their ease of mobility.  His cannon struck the Italian fortresses with an effect that resembled German Blitzkrieg warfare of the Second World War.  The Italian fortress of San Giovanni had once been besieged for seven years.  The French gunners destroyed it in eight hours and then slaughtered the defending garrison.  The era of the long siege was closing, but would never be completely eliminated.

Bombarde-Mortier, La Fère, wrought iron, second half of the 15th century. Length: 1 m, calibre: 35 cm, weight: 600 kg.  In this weapon, the powder chamber was cast from molten metal, while the barrel was constructed "à tonoille".  (Photo courtesy of PHGCOM)

"Perrier à boîte" in wrought iron, 1410.  Length: 72 cm, calibre: 38 mm, weight: 41.190 kg.  This is a breech-loading swivel gun.  (Photo courtesy of PHGCOM)

Small wrought iron bombard, Metz, circa 1450.  Length: 0.82 m, calibre: 175 mm, weight: 200 kg, ammunition: 6 kg stone.  (Photo courtesy of PHGCOM)

Wrought iron bombard, circa 1450, La Chapelle-aux-Naux, near Langeais.  Length: 2 m, calibre: 486 mm, weight: 1,500 kg, ammunition: 130 kg stone ball, range: 100-200 m.  (Photo courtesy of PHGCOM)

The Penetang Gun, 1630, Midland, Ontario.  (Photo courtesy of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons Midland, Ontario.  Ministry of Tourism and Culture)

The Penetang Gun is believed to have been brought to New France from the old world as can be seen by the insignia on the breech.  It is stamped 1630, LeGC with a crown.  The initials stand for”Le Grand Condé” who served under Prince Louis II as Captain General of the French Army in the mid-17th century.  The gun’s breech is made of Bronze which has been cast in a hexagonal shape.  Its iron barrel is reinforced with iron hoops.[6]  The chase and breech-ends of the cannon are of separate construction.  The wrought iron construction of the chase is associated with guns of the late 15th and early 16th centuries.  The octagonal section of the cast Bronze breech and the shape of the cascabel also indicate a date in the first half of the 16th century.  To be operational it would have been strapped with iron bands or strong ropes onto a wooden bed, which could itself be mounted on a yoke or carriage.

The gun would have been brought to Sainte-Marie by the Militia hired to protect the Jesuit Mission.  The cannon was reputed to have been found in 1919 by Mr. King of Christian Island which links it with the Jesuit missionaries who fled Sainte-Marie in 1649.  The missionaries and a large group of Huron people spent the winter of 1649-50 establishing Sainte-Marie II on Christian Island, in Georgian Bay.  This gun was referred to by Father Jerome Lalemant in the August 1648 Jesuit Relation documents:

“On the 6th, the 50 or 60 Huron Canoes started from 3 rivers, which took on board 26 Frenchmen…5 fathers, one brother, 3 Boys, 9 workmen, and 8 soldiers, -besides 4 that were to be taken at Montréal; a heifer and a small piece of Cannon.”[7]

In the summer of 1609, Samuel Champlain made alliances with a group of natives in New France known as the Wendat (called Huron by the French) and with the Algonquin, the Montagnais and the Etchemin, who lived in the area of the St. Lawrence River.  These tribes demanded that Champlain help them in their war against the Iroquois, who lived further south.  Champlain set off with 9 French soldiers and 300 natives to explore the Rivière des Iroquois (now known as the Richelieu River), and during the expedition he became the first European to map Lake Champlain.  Since they had not encountered the Iroquois up to this point, many of the men headed back, leaving Champlain with only two Frenchmen and 60 natives.

Somewhere in the area near Ticonderoga and Crown Point, New York, Champlain and his party encountered a group of Iroquois.  A battle began the next day.  On 29 July 1609 two hundred Iroquois advanced on Champlain’s position, and one of his guides pointed out the 3 Iroquois chiefs.  Champlain fired his harquebus killing two of them with a single shot, and one of his men killed the third.  The Iroquois turned and fled.  This action set the-tone for French-Iroquois relations for rest of the century.[8]

On 16 October 1690 several New England ships under the command of Sir William Phips, governor of Massachusetts, appeared near Québec City off the Island of Orleans, and an officer was sent ashore to demand the surrender of the fort.  Governor Louis de Baude de Frontenac, responded with the famous words:

“Non, je n’ai point de réponse à faire à votre général que par la bouche de mes canons et de mes fusils.” - “I have no reply to make to your general other than from the mouths of my cannons and muskets.”

Part of Québec‘s defences were formidable for the time and when Frontenac had his gunners fire on the invaders’ ships, the upper town was protected by a good wall with intermittent batteries and more defensive works up near the Chateau Saint-Louis near Cape Diamond.  In the lower town, there were two strong French shore batteries armed with heavy 18 and 24-pounder Naval cannons along the city’s harbour.[9]  On the landward side, a line of earthworks punctuated with 11 redoubts enclosed the city from the western side.  Frontenac had about 3,000 soldiers including three battalions of Colonial Regulars.  As well, his gun batteries effectively covered the water approaches to Québec City, and as a result of their vigorous defence they successfully fought off Phips forces.[10]

Phips had brought 2,300 Massachusetts Militiamen and 32 ships although only four were of significant size.  The British plan had been to land their main force on the Beauport shore, but a 1,200-strong English landing force under Major John Walley, Phips’ second-in-command, never got across the Saint Charles River.  Frontenac had sent strong detachments of Canadian militiamen under Jacques Le Moyne de Sainte-Hélène, along with some Indians, into the wooded areas east of the river.  When the English landed on 18 October, they were immediately harassed by Canadian militia, while the ships’ boats mistakenly landed the field guns on the wrong side of the Saint Charles.  Meanwhile, Phips’s four large ships, quite contrary to the plan, anchored before Quebec and began bombarding the city until 19 October, at which point the English had shot away most of their ammunition.  The French shore batteries had also proved to be much more than a match, and the ships were pounded until the rigging and hulls were badly damaged; the ensign of Phips’ flagship the Six Friends was cut down and fell into the river, and under a hail of musket shots, a daring group of Canadians paddled a canoe up to the ship to capture it.  They triumphantly brought the ensign back to the Governor unscathed.

During the bombardment, the land force under Walley remained inactive, suffering from cold and complaining of shortage of rum.  After a couple of miserable days, they decided to carry the shore positions and try to overcome the French earthworks.  They set out on 20 October “in the best European tradition, with drums beating and colors unfurled,” but there was a skirmish at the edge of the woods.  The New Englanders could not cope with the maintained heavy Canadian fire, and the Bronze field guns fired into the woods had no effect.  Although Sainte-Hélène was mortally wounded, 150 of the attackers had been killed in action, and were utterly discouraged. They made a retreat in a state of near panic on 22 October, even abandoning five field guns on the shore.  Frontenac learned from the lessons of the battle and as a result had a complete shore battery, known as the “Royal battery”, built immediately after the siege.  It was shaped like a small bastion, and featured 14 gun embrasures to cover both sides of the Saint Laurence and the river itself.[11]

In 1696, the capital of Acadia was Fort Nashwaak (Fort St. Joseph), on the East side of the St. John River now part of the city of Fredericton, New Brunswick.  Robineau de Vellebon was the Commandant in charge of a fort 200 feet square with four bastions and surrounded by a palisade and ditch.  A New England force led by Colonel John Hawthorne prepared to attack the fort on 18 October, but in preparation for the assault, de Villebon had built a second palisade around the fort and mounted ten cannon and eight swivel guns on its walls.  The British set up camp and a battery across the Nashwaak River but after two days of ineffective bombardment and suffering the harassment of French and native skirmishers in the woods, the British withdrew on 20 Oct.[12]

Twelve bronze guns from the era of France’s King Louis XV.  These guns are located in the Courtyard of Honour, Les Invalides, in Paris.  The first gun is named Le Tonnerre, and weighs 1,591 kg, (greater than 3,000 lbs).  It was cast by Jean Maritz in Lyon in 1736.  (Photo courtesy of Jebulon)

Smooth-bore Muzzle-loading Bronze Gun, France, with the coat of arms of Prince Louis-Charles de Bourbon (1701-1775), Count of Eu, Duke of Aumale, last Grand Master of the Artillery of France, General-colonel of the Suisses & the Grisons.  This gun is located in the Courtyard of Honour, Les Invalides, Paris.  (Photo courtesy of Jebulon)

Bronze gun, France, showing the highly ornamented cascabel.  Dated to ca 1730 this gun is located in the Courtyard of Honour, Les Invalides, Paris.  (Photo courtesy of Jebulon)

Medieval gunners appear to have been organized in groups.  320 Burgundian gunners reportedly took part in the Battle of Ravenspur in 1471, John of Burgundy allegedly had 4000 handgonnes in his armoury, and at the battle of Stoke, the earl of Lincoln is said to have fielded 2000 handgonnes.  Scandinavia Karl Knutsson reportedly had enough gunners on his campaign against Skåne to organize them into one separate unit, marching under the flag of Saint Erik, the national saint of Sweden.  Karl Knutsson is also reported to have brought “Wagon guns” (kärrebössor) on the same campaign.

Guns were given names on the recommendation of Christine de Pisan who wrote on methods of waging war in the early 15th century.  She noted that a commander had to field a variety of different calibre guns and it would be difficult to trust the common soldier to remember which gun should be supplied with which ammunition.  To resolve this she believed the guns should be referred to by name, stating for example, “I would like Katrina placed over here, and Anna placed over there!”  The soldier would then know what gun was which, and what kind of ammunition would go with it.

Battle of the Restigouche

Guns from the 1760 wreck of the French Frigate Machault in the Restigouche River.  In the autumn of 1759 New France was on the verge of capitulation to the British.  Montreal, its morale at a low ebb owing to the recent surrender of Quebec City and Louisbourg, was rapidly running out of military supplies and funds and in desperate need of French assistance.  After prolonged haggling between civilian businessmen and the state, a six-ship fleet was hastily assembled at Bordeaux and outfitted to sail for Canada.  The flagship of the fleet was the Machault.  It had been built in Bayonne, France, in 1757 as a 550-tonneaux merchant frigate and later converted to a 500-tonneaux frigate-at-war (Beattie 1968: 53).  Initally pierced for 26 guns, it could have carried as many as 32 on its last voyage.  The original 1758 outfitting list (Compte de construction: 1758) includes, among other supplies, various weaponry items purchased for use by the ship and its company: 24 12-livre cannons for the deck, 2 six-livre cannons for the forecastle, 24 wooden gun carriages, 6 swivel guns, 800 12-livre cannonballs, and 120 hand grenades, as well as an unspecified number of muskets, pistols, sabres, boarding axes, and mitraille (the literal English translation of which is "shower"), which was small iron or lead balls for use in multiple-shot anti-personnel projectiles such as grape and cannister shot.  It is not known what, if any, guns were added at the time of re-outfitting, nor the exact nature of the munition supplies for Canada.

On 11 April 1760, one day after leaving port, the fleet was scattered by two British ships, and only three ships, the Machault, Marquis de Malauze and Bienfaisant, were able to make contact and continue their journey.  By mid-May the French had reached the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where they captured a British ship and learned that the British. had preceded them downriver.  The decision was made to head for the safety of the Bay of Chaleur, where they arrived with a number of British ships they had captured en route.  The French set up camp on the bank of the Restigouche River and dispatched a messenger to Montreal for instructions . The British response to news of their presence was decisive.  A fleet commanded by Captain Byron, that included the Fame, 74 guns, the Dorsetshire, 70 guns, the Achilles, 60 guns, and the frigates Repulse, 32 guns, and Scarborough, 20 guns, quickly set sail with orders to find and destroy the French ships.  On 22 June the British contacted the enemy fleet.  The French, retreating upriver, attempted to prevent the British ships from following by sinking small boats across the channel, and at strategic points set up shore batteries with weapons removed from their ships.

After approximately two weeks of manoeuvring and sporadic fighting, the final engagement occurred on 8 July 1760.  When surrender became inevitable, Captain Giraudais of the Machault ordered all hands to remove as much cargo from the ships as possible.  With a dwindling powder supply and with water in its hold, the Machault was defenceless and the order was given to abandon and scuttle it. The Bienfaisant suffered the same fate and later in the day the British boarded and burned the abandoned Marquis de Malauze.  The Battle of Restigouche was a turning point in Canadian history.  Montreal, denied its much-needed supplies and morale booster, now had neither the means nor the will to attempt to re-take Quebec City or properly defend itself.  In short, the loss of the fleet contributed to the British conquest of New France (Beattie and Pothier 1977: 6). During the summer of 1967 a brief survey of the Machault was carried out by the Archaeological Research Division of Parks Canada.  In the winter of 1968-69 a comprehensive magnetometer survey preceded an extensive three-year underwater project lasting from the 1969 through the 1971 field seasons, which yielded the vast majority of recovered artifacts.  The cutting and raising of some of the ship's timber occurred in 1972, along with minor artifact recovery (see Zacharchuk and Waddell 1984).   ("Artillery from the Machault, an 18th Century French Frigate", by Douglas Bryce, Studies in Archaeology, Architecture and History, National Historic Parks and Sites Branch, Parks Canada, Environment Canada, 1984, Ottawa)

French Cast Iron 12-livre Smoothbore Muzzleloading Gun, salvaged from the Machault with  fleur-de-lys on the barrel and a large letter P on the cascable, mounted on a British 24-pounder iron garrison carriage, in the No. 1 position.  5-inch bore (12.6-cm).

French Cast Iron 12-livre Smoothbore Muzzleloading Gun, with anchors on the barrel, F on both trunnions, mounted on a British 24-pounder iron carriage, in the No. 3 position.  5-1/2-inch bore (14-cm).

French Cast Iron 2-pounder Smoothbore Muzzleloading Gun, weight and trunnions corroded, Fort Gaspéreau, ca. 1751-1756, mounted on a wheeled wood carriage.  Gift of Honourable Frank B.  Black, Sackville, NB in 1936.  

On display inside the Fort Beausejour Visitor Centre:

French Cast Iron 6-pounder Smoothbore Muzzleloading Gun, weight TBC, ca. 1732-1770, the only remaining gun of those used in the defence of Fort Beauséjour in 1755.  Gift from Dr J.C.  Webster in 1937.

French Cast Iron ½-pounder Smoothbore Muzzleloading Gun, used for the defence of blockhouses and other likely fortifications.  Gift of W.L.  Bidden, Moncton, NB.

Cast Iron 13-pouce Smoothbore Muzzleloading Mortar, 30.48-cm bore, ca. 1758, from Louisbourg, stamped C, 4338, 22, 1.  This mortar is on display in the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  (Author Photos)

Guns preserved in Fortress Louisbourg, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

Louisbourg, Fortress Louisbourg

Cast Iron 9-pounder Smoothbore Muzzleloading Guns, 9-feet long, 4-inch calibre (three).

Cast Iron Smoothbore Muzzleloading Guns, 5-inch calibre, 9-foot, 8-inch (two).

Cast Iron Smoothbore Muzzleloading Gun, 5.25-inch calibre, 9-foot, 8-inch.

Cast Iron Smoothbore Muzzleloading Guns, 5-inch calibre (three), 9-foot, 10-inch long guns

Cast Iron Smoothbore Muzzleloading Guns, 5.5-inch (two), 9-foot, 11-inch, 5,416 lb.

Cast Iron Smoothbore Muzzleloading Gun, 5.5-inch, 10-foot, 2-inch long.

Cast Iron 18-pounder Smoothbore Muzzleloading Guns, 10-foot, 6-inch long, 5,416 lb, 5-inch calibre, (four), one is broken at the muzzle, and one has a stainless steel sleeve.

Cast Iron 18-pounder Smoothbore Muzzleloading Guns, 10-foot, 6-inch long, 5.5-inch (five).

Cast Iron 18-pounder Smoothbore Muzzleloading Guns, 10-foot, 8-inch long, (two).

Cast Iron 18-pounder Smoothbore Muzzleloading Guns, 11-feet, 2-inch long, 6-inch calibre, (four), 5,417 lbs, 5,473 lbs, 5,527 lbs, 5,621 lbs, 5,675 lbs, 5,682 lbs, and 5,772 lbs.

In January of 1719, the number and type of cannon which were present in Louisbourg were listed as: nine 36 livre guns, ten 24 livre guns, twelve 18 livre guns, seven 12 livre guns, eight 8 livre guns, four 6 livre guns, nineteen unserviceable guns, and one 9-inch mortar.  (Due to discrepancies in measurement between the English “pound” and the French “livre”, the two terms are not equivalent).

In the summer of 1744 there were 110 guns within the town itself, including six 18 livres on the King’s Bastion, ten 24 livres on the Dauphin Bastion, six 6 or 12 livre guns on the barbette facing Fauxbourg as well as three British bronze 6 livre guns facing the harbour.  There were twenty-eight 36 livre guns on the Royal battery, thirty-two 24 livre guns on the Island Battery as well as two 9-inch bronze mortars.  Twelve 36 livre guns and six 24 livre guns were mounted at Pièce de la Grave, and two 12-inch bronze mortars were placed at the Maurepas Bastion.  The Queen’s Bastion was protected with 18 and 24 livre guns while the Princess Demi-Bastion relied on smaller 6 and 8 livre guns.  Additional cannons were brought to the fortress from outlying settlements in 1758 and strategically spread throughout the town. 

An unspecified number of cannon were also located along the north-east and south-west coast at places such as Flat Point, White Point, Kennington Cove, Lorraine and Black Rock.  These pieces gave an approximate total of 168 cannons, plus an unspecified number of mortars.  The cannon in use in Louisbourg were, for the most part, mounted on marine carriages.  The mortar platforms were made from wood with iron fittings.  All artillery pieces were applied with tar and red ochre paint for preservation.

The Fortress of Louisbourg has a number of reproduction cannons on display which were reproduced to French measure.  These are distributed as close as possible to the artillery lists for 1744 for the area of the fortified town that has been reconstructed.  As a result, there are six 18-livre guns in the King’s bastion, ten 24-livre guns in the Circular Battery enclosing the Dauphin demi-bastion, five 12-livre guns on the Dauphin demi-bastion and three 8-livre guns on the Quai walls.  There are also several cannon barrels depicted as being “in store” outside the hangar d’artillerie in Block One.  There are several breech-loading reproduction pedararos (swivel guns) on display in one of the warehouses. 

The Parks Canada staff has an unidentified Bronze Coehorn smoothbore muzzleloading mortar included in an exhibit on the operation of a fortress and a reproduction Cast Iron Coehorn smoothbore muzzleloading mortar for use in their artillery animation program.  There is also a small period gun on display in this exhibit.  In the visitor reception centre there is a period French 18-livre gun and a large (probably 13 pouce) Cast Iron smoothbore muzzleloading mortar.  This mortar is a twin to one on display in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.  B.A. (Sandy) Balcom, Cultural Management Co-ordinator, Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site.

(Photo courtesy of Doug Knight)

Bronze possible 3-pounder Smoothbore Muzzleloading Gun, 42-mm bore, (Serial No. 738 on trunnions), unmounted, marked “Des Indes Compagne de France”, “Fait par GOR a Paris 1732”.  An old CWM Ledger from 1910 noted that this gun was used in the war between the English and French East India Companies 1746-1766.  Unfortunately, there is no record of how it came to the Archives before it came to the CWM.  Doug Knight.

 (Author Photos)

Bronze 3-pounder Smoothbore Muzzleloading Guns (two), mounted on wooden carriages and placed on the green sward in front of the Court House at Perth, Ontario. The gun on the left is dated 1776, and is stamped 1-3-17 (213 lbs); the gun on the right is dated 1775, and is stamped 1-2-20 (188 lbs).  This gun is reported to be “the only remaining Pattison” Gun.  Stephen G. Strach, History of Three Pound Verbruggen Gun and Its Use in North America 1775-1783, Eastern National Park and Monument Association, 1986, unpublished, p. 1.

These guns were originally taken from the French by the Duke of York in Flanders, and later served the British in the American war.  They were taken by the Americans from General Burgoyne at the battle of Saratoga.  They were retaken from the Americans by the British at the Battle of Crysler’s Farm, on 11 November 1813.  The two guns are mounted on their trails and axles, and they bear the inscription on the breech, “J. & R.  Verbruggen, fecerunt 1775 and 1776”, indicating they were either Flemish or Belgian in manufacture.  The two guns were brought to Perth when peace was declared, and presented to the town.  They are now used for saluting purposes on high days and holidays.  Brian Wolfe, Internet, http://gmic.co.uk/index.php/topic/22643.

(Photo courtesy of Skeezix1000)

French SBML 12-pounder Guns (two), broken parts, trunnions missing.  Two guns flank the West Entrance to the Whitney Block on Queen's Park Circle in Toronto, Ontario.  The guns were on the French naval ship Prudent, captured and burned by the British in June 1758 during the siege of Louisbourg.  Twenty guns, from Prudent and other French ships sunk during the siege, were raised in 1899, two of which were acquired by the Government of Ontario.

 (Author Photo)

SBML Gun, heavily corroded, mounted near the Plains of Abraham in Quebec.  This gun is mounted on a 24-pounder iron carriage and has a cannon ball embedded in its muzzle.  This gun was also recovered from the wreck of the French warship Prudent, which was captured and burned by the British in June 1758 during the siege of Louisbourg.  It is one of the 20 guns raised in 1899 from the Prudent and other French ships sunk during the siege.

Large guns and mortars were put to good use in the two major sieges of the French fortress of Louisbourg at Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in 1745 and 1758.  During the first siege, forces from New England landed 8 km southwest of Louisbourg at Gabarus Bay in a flanking manoeuvre and proceeded overland with their cannon on sleds.  The French defenders of the strategically important Island Battery successfully stopped several assaults, inflicting heavy losses on the New England troops.  However, the New Englanders eventually established gun batteries at Lighthouse Point that commanded the island, leading to its abandonment by its defenders.  The New Englanders’ landward siege was supported by a fleet led by Commodore Warren and, following 47 days of siege and bombardment, the French surrendered Louisbourg on 28 June 1745. 

When the war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, Louisbourg was returned to France in exchange for the return of Madras (capital of the Indian state of Tamil), to Britain, and the withdrawal of French troops from the Low Countries.[13]

French Land Service Mortar, ca. 1750, Fort Beauséjour, New Brunswick.

Fort Beauséjour sited on the present day New Brunswick border with Nova Scotia, was built by order of the Marquis de Jonquière, Governor of Canada, between 1750 and 1751.  On 22 May 1755 a fleet of three warships and thirty-three transports carrying 2100 soldiers sailed from Boston, Massachusetts, landing at Fort Lawrence on 3 June 1755.  The following day the British forces attacked Fort Beauséjour and on 16 June 1755 the French forces evacuated to Fort Gaspéreau, arriving on 24 June 1755 and onward to Fortress Louisbourg where they were re-garrisoned on 6 July 1755. 

A number of guns and mortars may be viewed on the grounds of the present day fortress, located near Aulac, Westmorland, County, New Brunswick, formerly Sunbury County, Nova Scotia.  A plaque on the site commemorates the fort’s history:

“Fort Beauséjour was taken by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Monckton with volunteers from New England known as Shirley’s Regiment, raised by Lieutenant-Colonel John Winslow, aided by men of the Royal Artillery and other British troops after a siege lasting from 3 to 16 June 1755.  Renamed Fort Cumberland, it was besieged again by rebels under Jonathan Eddy from 4 to 17 November 1775; defended by the Royal American Fencible Regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Gorham and relieved by Major Thomas Batt with a body of Royal Marines and Royal Highland Emigrants, who routed the besiegers.”[14]

Fort Cumberland was abandoned in the late 1780s.  With the British resumption of hostilities with the United States in 1812, British forces reoccupied and refurbished the fort.  Although it did not see any action during this conflict, the presence of a British garrison served as a deterrent to attack.  In 1835 the British military declared the fort surplus property and it was abandoned until 1926 when the property was declared a National Historic Site by Canada.[15]

The British government realized that with the Fortress of Louisbourg under French control, it would be difficult for the Royal Navy to sail down the St. Lawrence River for an attack on Québec unmolested.  Therefore, in 1758 the fortress of Louisbourg was assaulted and captured again by the British in a pivotal battle of the Seven Years’ War (also known as the French and Indian War).  The British were fired upon by French gunners during their initial seaborne landings, as observed by General Jeffrey Amherst who who noted, “...the enemy...acted very wisely, did not throw away a shot until the boats were close in shore and then directed the whole of their fire of cannon and musquetry upon them.”[16]

General James Wolfe eventually got ashore and moved his British artillery batteries over land.  On 19 June 1758, they were in position and the orders were given to open fire on the French.  The British battery consisted of seventy cannon and mortars of all sizes.  Within hours, the guns had destroyed walls and damaged several buildings.  The French used twelve large Cast Iron or Bronze mortars with a 10-inch bore or larger and five smaller mortars in the town's defence.[17]

On 21 July a mortar round from a British gun on Lighthouse Point struck a 74 gun French ship of the line, L’Entreprenant, and set it ablaze.  A stiff breeze fanned the fire, and shortly after the L’Entreprenant caught fire, two other French ships had caught fire.  L’Entreprenant exploded later in the day, depriving the French of the largest ship in the Louisbourg fleet.  On the evening of 23 July a British “hot shot” set the King’s Bastion on fire.  The King’s Bastion was the fortress headquarters and the largest building in North America in 1758.  Its destruction eroded confidence and reduced morale in the French troops and their hopes to lift the British siege.  Louisbourg held out long enough to prevent an attack on Québec in 1758, but in 1759, it too would fall.  The capture of Louisbourg ended the French colonial era in Atlantic Canada and led directly to the loss of Québec in 1759 and the remainder of French North America the following year.[18]

When General Wolfe moved on from Louisbourg to Québec, he took some powerful artillery units with him, although they played only a small part in the final attack which was essentially an infantry battle.  Montcalm’s forces were short of both powder and gunners but did manage to deploy at least four field guns.  The British for their part had just two 6-pounder Guns in action on the Plains of Abraham on 13 September 1759.  Siege guns were later brought up to the site of the battle and arrayed against the City just before it was surrendered.[19] 

Following the surrender of Québec, an inventory of the gun batteries defending the city counted “180 pieces of Cannon” ranging in size from 2-pounder Guns to 36-pounder Guns, as well as 15 mortars ranging in size from 7-inches to 13-inches.  Another 50 iron guns were found between the St. Charles and Montmorency Rivers.[20]  When the Seven Years War ended, Île-Royale and much of New France was ceded to Britain under the terms of the 1763 Treaty of Paris.

The progressive development of guns in France continued with advances in technology being incorporated in new designs and often retrofitted in old guns.  These improvements were necessary to counter those of other nations as the ability to rapidly strike one’s enemy out of his range or from an unexpected close range quarter became more important in determining the outcome of a battle. 

Siege operations involved heavy use of mortars, among other weapons of destruction.  The Mortier de 12 pouces Gribeauval (Gribeauval 12-inch mortar) was a French mortar used as siege artillery and part of the Gribeauval system developed by Jean Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval.   (Photo courtesy of PHGCOM)

The measurement of the mortar is expressed by the diameter of the ball, using the French ancient system of measurement, in which 1 pouce (1 inch) is worth 2.707 cm.  The Mortier de 12 pouces Gribeauval was used extensively during the wars following the French Revolution, as well as the Napoleonic wars.  However, its first major operational use was even earlier, during the American Revolutionary War, in General Rochambeau's French expeditionary corps, from 1780 to late 1782, and especially at Yorktown in 1781.  The Mortier de 12 pouces used a cylindrical chamber, which, although quite efficient, used to wear easily.  It was superseded by the Gomer system using a conical chamber, which was incorporated in Gribeauval's system in 1789.  Some of the Mortier de 12 pouces were used in coastal defenses, in which case they were fixed on solid metal platforms.

 (US Army Photo)

French mortars were in service during the First World War where they were encountered by soldiers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  One of these was the 240 mm Trench Mortar, or Mortier de 240 mm.  An original French design, it was developed by Batignolles Company of Paris and introduced in 1915.  This photo shows the mortar in service with US forces. 

French artillery preserved in Canada include the following:

(Photo courtesy of JustSomePics)

French Canon de 75-mm modèle 1897, mounted on a concrete stand beside the cenotaph at Harriston, Ontario.  Another gun like this one is preserved in the Royal Canadian Artillery Museum, CFB Shilo, Manitoba.

 (Author Photos)

French Canon de 75-mm modèle 1897, (Serial No. 14391), mfr ABS 1917, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa. 

French First World War Canon de 75-mm modèle 1897

The Canon de 75 modèle 1897 is perhaps the most famous piece of French artillery in service during the First World War.  This French 75 mm field gun was a quick-firing field artillery piece adopted in March 1898.  Its official French designation was: Matériel de 75mm Mle 1897.  It was commonly known as the French 75, simply the 75 and Soixante-Quinze (French for 75, literally Sixty-Fifteen).  Initially, the French 75 had been designed as an anti-personnel weapon system for delivering large volumes of time-fused shrapnel shells on enemy troops advancing in the open.  After 1915 and the onset of trench warfare, other types of battlefield missions demanding impact detonated high-explosive shells prevailed.  By 1918 the 75s became the main agents of delivery for toxic gas shells.  The 75s also became widely used as truck mounted anti-aircraft artillery. They were also the main armament of the Saint-Chamond tank in 1918.

The French 75 is widely regarded as the first modern artillery piece.  It was the first field gun to include a hydro-pneumatic recoil mechanism, which kept the gun's trail and wheels perfectly still during the firing sequence.  Since it did not need to be re-aimed after each shot, the crew could reload and fire as soon as the barrel returned to its resting position.  In typical use, the French 75 could deliver fifteen rounds per minute on its target, either shrapnel or melinite high-explosive, up to about 8,500 m (5 miles) away.  Its firing rate could reach close to 30 rounds per minute, albeit only for a very short time and with a highly experienced crew.  At the opening of the First World War in 1914, the French Army had about 4,000 of these field guns in service.  By the end of the war about 12,000 had been produced.

Canadian gunners trained on French 75-mm Field Guns in England in October 1940.  The guns were mounted on wooden-wheeled carriages and the troops were initially allotted only seven rounds per gun (rpg).  “The sighting arrangement consisted of a straight piece of half-inch pipe with a black glass aperture on which a white cross is superimposed.”[21]  One is on display in the Canadian War Museum.

 (Author Photo)

French Canon de 80-mm de montagne, mle 1878, Canadian War Museum.

French 80-mm de Bange mle 1878 Mountain Gun

The French Canon de 80-mm de montagne, mle 1878, was a small light gun used by mountain troops and in French colonies and throughout Africa by the Colonial Artillery, and also in Morocco and Europe by the mountain batteries of the French Alpine troops.  It made use of the first effective obdurator system for breech-loading artillery.[22]  The example in the CWM was donated to Canada by France during the First World War.

 (Author Photos)

French 25-mm Hotchkiss Anti-Tank Gun, (Serial No. 2206), stamped APC 1940, SAL 1937, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  (Author Photo)

French Second World War Hotchkiss 25-mm Anti-Tank Gun

The 25-mm Hotchkiss Anti-Tank Gun was a French Anti-Tank Gun that saw service in the first years of the Second World War.  In 1926 Hotchkiss proposed a 25-mm design that was eventually accepted for service in 1934, under the designation canon de 25-mm semi-automatique modèle 1934 (generally shortened to canon de 25).  At the outbreak of the Second World War, it was the main anti-tank weapon of the French infantry.[23]  One is on display at the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery School, CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick.

 (Author Photo)

French 47-mm G47 Mle 1937 APX Anti-Tank Gun, CFB Borden, Ontario.

French Second World War 47-mm APX Anti-Tank Gun

The French 47-mm APX anti-tank gun served in the early years of the Second World War.  It was designed by the state-owned arsenal Atelier de Puteaux (Puteaux workshop), abbreviated to APX, and was designated as canon de 47-mm semi-automatique mle 1937.  It was a very efficient weapon against the thin armour of German tanks of the time.  Unfortunately the 47 SA 37 still was relatively rare at the time of the Battle of France.  Examples captured by the German forces were operationally used under the designation 4.7cm PaK 181(f).[24]  One is on display at CFB Borden, Ontario.

 (Photo courtesy of Clive Prothero-Brooks)

French Canon de 105 mle 1913 Schneider, RCA Museum, CFB Shilo, Manitoba.  (Photo courtesy of Clive Prothero-Brooks)

French First World War Canon de 105 mle 1913 Schneider

The Canon de 105 mle 1913 Schneider was a French artillery piece used in both World Wars by many European countries.  In the early 1900s, the French company Schneider et Cie collaborated with the Russian company Putilov to develop a gun using the Russian 107-mm round.  The gun was ordered by the Russian Army to be produced in Russia (though the initial batch of guns was made in France).  Schneider then modified the design to fire the French 105-mm round and offered it to France.  Initially the French Army were not interested, as they already had many 75-mm Field Guns.  The French Army purchased a few in 1913 which were designated Canon de 105 mle 1913 Schneider; it was also known by the service designation L 13 S.[25]  One is on display in the Royal Canadian Artillery Museum, CFB Shilo, Manitoba.

(Photo courtesy of Clive Prothero-Brooks)

French Canon de 105 mle 1936 Schneider Field Gun, RCA Museum, CFB Shilo, Manitoba.  (Photo courtesy of Clive Prothero-Brooks Photos) 

French Second World War Canon de 105 L modèle 1936 Schneider

The Canon de 105 L modèle 1936 Schneider was a Field Gun used by France in the Second World War.  159 were in service in 1939.  Captured examples in the Second World War were placed into German service as the 10.5-cm schwere Kanone 332(f) where they mainly served on coast defence duties.  It was built in two versions, one with steel wheels and pneumatic tires for tractor towing and the other with wooden spoked wheels for horse towing.  A total of 159 were in service by 1939.[26]  One is on display in the Royal Canadian Artillery Museum, CFB Shilo, Manitoba.

Canadians became quite familiar with large French guns in use during the Great War, as evidenced in these photos found in the Library and Archives Canada files:

Canadian Officers examine a large French railroad gun, 1893-1896 model 305-mm gun on an 1889 model center-pintle chassis mount, Oct 1917.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3397386)

Canadian Officers examine a large French railroad gun, 1893-1896 model 305-mm gun on an 1889 model center-pintle chassis mount, Oct 1917.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3397388)

Canadian Officers examine a large French railroad gun, 1893-1896 model 305-mm gun on an 1889 model center-pintle chassis mount, Oct 1917.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3397387)

Canadian Officers examine a large French railroad gun, 1893-1896 model 305-mm gun on an 1889 model center-pintle chassis mount, Oct 1917.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3397389)


[1] Lines from a poem by T. Campbell, Battle of the Baltic, Francis T.  Palgrave, ed. (1824–1897).  The Golden Treasury. 1875.

[2] Henry I. Sinclair, Earl of Orkney and feudal baron of Roslin (c. 1345 – c. 1400) was a Scottish nobleman.  He is best known today because of a modern legend that he took part in explorations of Greenland and North America almost 100 years before Christopher Columbus.  Internet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_I_Sinclair,_Earl_of_Orkney.

[3] Jacques Cartier (1491 – 1 Sep 1557) was a French explorer of Breton origin who claimed what is now Canada for France.

[4] Col G.W.L. Nicholson, CD, The Gunners of Canada; the History of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery, (McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1967-72), p. 1.

[5] Leslie W.C.S. Barnes, Canada’s Guns, An Illustrated History of Artillery, Canadian War Museum Historical Publication No. 15, (National Museums of Canada, Ottawa, 1979), p. 13.

[6] Col G.W.L. Nicholson, CD, The Gunners of Canada; the History of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery, (McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1967-72), p. 13, photo p. 178.

[7] Information courtesy of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons Midland, Ontario.  Ministry of Tourism and Culture, 7 October 2011.

[8] Internet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_de_Champlain.

[9] The term “pounder” referred to a gun’s pound rating: theoretically, the weight of a single solid iron shot fired by that bore of cannon.  Common British sizes were 42-pounders, 32-pounders, 24-pounders, 18-pounders, 12-pounders, 9-pounders, 8-pounders, 6-pounders, and various smaller-inches.  French ships used standardized guns (measured in livres) roughly corresponding to 36-pounder, 24-pounder and 12-pounder guns, augmented by Carronades and smaller pieces of artillery.  Internet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_British_ordnance_terms.

[10] Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac et de Palluau (May 22, 1622 – November 28, 1698) was a French soldier, courtier, and Governor General of New France from 1672 to 1682 and from 1689 to his death in 1698.  He established a number of forts on the Great Lakes and engaged in a series of battles against. The English and the Iroquois.  Internet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_de_Buade_de_Frontenac..

[11] René Chartrand, French Fortresses in North America 1535–1763: Quebec, Montreal, Louisbourg and New Orleans (Fortress 27); Osprey Publishing, 20 March 2005.

[12] W.E. (Garry) Campbell, The Road to Canada, The Grand Communications Route from Saint John to Québec, (Goose Lane Editions and the New Brunswick Military Heritage Project, Fredericton, New Brunswick, 2005), pp. 21-23.

[13]The “Low countries” are the historical lands around the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany.

[14] The fort was built on the neck of the Acadian peninsula, on the north bank of the Missaguash River.  After its capture by the British under Monckton in 1755 the name was changed to Fort Cumberland, since the fort is situated at the head of Cumberland Bay.  The Fort was strengthened in 1812, but was abandoned after the close of the War of 1812-15.  National Parks Canada plaque on site at Fort Beauséjour, New Brunswick; and W.  Stewart Wallace, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol.  II, (Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948), p. 366.

[15] Internet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Cumberland_(Canada).

[16] Larry Ostola, The Siege of Louisbourg, 1758.  Internet, www.militaryheritage.com/louisbg.htm.

[17] Sandy Balcom, Historian, Mortars in Louisbourg, The Huissier, 9 July 2009.  Internet: http://fortress.uccb.ns.ca/search/MortarsInLouisbourg.html.

[18] Internet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortress_of_Louisbourg.

[19] Leslie W.C.S. Barnes, Canada’s Guns, p. 32.

[20] Pennsylvania Gazette, 22 November 1759.

[21] George G. Blackburn, Where the Hell are the Guns?, p. 104.

[22] Internet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Ragon_de_Bange.

[23] Internet, Hotchkiss 25-mm Anti-Tank Gun.

[24] Internet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/47_mm_APX_anti-tank_gun.

[25] Internet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canon_de_105_mle_1913_Schneider.

[26] Internet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canon_de_105_L_mle_1936_Schneider.