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History with cocoa

Fortress of Louisbourg chocolate festival’s ‘experts’ reveal its local importance


LOUISBOURG — “I like history and I like chocolate,” said Gabrielle Breault.

At the Fortress of Louisbourg on Saturday, she was certainly in the right place at the right time.

As it turns out, the famous historical site has quite the history with cocoa — as celebrated in the Fortress’s Fête du Chocolat on Sept. 9. It’s the second year the site and Fortress of Louisbourg Association has held the festival.

For events such as the making of cocoa treats and drinks on-site, the Fortress brought in “chocolate experts” like Breault. She has run Petite Patrie Chocolate in Kentville for the past seven years. The shop is the only “bean-to-bar” chocolate maker in Nova Scotia.

“There’s such a history of chocolate right in Louisbourg. Before, I didn’t know,” said Breault, who is Acadian and fascinated by the French military’s use of cocoa nearly 300 years ago at the Fortress.


When France occupied the fortress between 1713 and 1740, cocoa wasn’t considered like any treat as we know today. Not only was it much more expensive and harder to obtain at the time, but it also was used medicinally in the military.

In the days leading up to battles, the military distributed a cocoa drink to soldiers. The drink invoked a “warm” feeling for the soldiers — which event volunteer Rhonda Shee said was similar to drinking alcohol without the intoxicating effects. That feeling was said to give the soldiers energy and courage.

That made cocoa — then given out in rations — more valuable than it already was. There were even potentially dire consequences for anyone accused of stealing cocoa.

That was the case with one

Louisbourg. stonecutter in 1700s

“They thought they had to make some kind of example out of him. Then the judge made the ultimate decision, deciding that he should be hung,” said Shee, noting the stonecutter escaped before being put to death.


Gisèle Beaudry and Elaine Kelly-Hart took Fortress visitors through another chocolate-making process on Saturday: the rolling of newly made chocolate into truffles and other treats.

In character as servants from an 18th-century Louisbourg home, they demonstrated the breaking of a cooled block of chocolate into smaller rolled-up candies that would satisfy today’s biggest chocolate lovers.

Inside one of the Fortress’s homes, they explained how having a dedicated cocoa crusher in the home was a sign of wealth — as cocoa was expensive and difficult to obtain.

After one demonstration, they told the Cape Breton

Post there’s few better ways to explain history when you can taste it.

“This is what we’re here for. We want people to come in and enjoy what they’re doing and learn something, we hope,” said Kelly-Hart.

“And with chocolate,” she smiled, “well, come on. Most

experience people feel it’s a good to have a bite of chocolate.”


That chocolate was made from scratch right across the trail from the house in the Fortress. At the most basic level, raw cocoa beans are roasted and then “winnowed” — having the outer shell removed.

That’s when beans are but into a processor and crushed with other ingredients if desired. That process can take up to three days but was shortened to fit the festival’s schedule.

On Saturday night, there was a dinner, featuring a ceremonial drinking of the very cocoa drink which French soldiers had before battles.

It’s a further demonstration of chocolate’s significance in Acadian history, especially in Cape Breton at Louisbourg.


“It’s certainly not talked about enough on the island,” said Nadine Neima-Drover, one of the event’s head organizers, about chocolate’s local history. “It’s really cool to talk about those traditional chocolatemaking techniques. It’s unique as compared to going to the store and buying a chocolate bar.”

chocolate There were plenty of bars for sale on Saturday though, with chocolate makers Breault and Dominique Chartrand of Miramichi, N.B., selling the treats they’ve made from scratch. They’ve also sourced their own beans and ingredients.

Breault said it was a “fullcircle” moment to beat the intersection of history and chocolate — her two passions — in Louisbourg.

“This is one of the first ports of entry where chocolate came to our shore. So I think it should be celebrated.”





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