Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – Bill O’Shea (Fortress of Louisbourg)

W.A. (Bill) O’Shea 1946 – 2019

Someone once remarked that we see further when we stand on the shoulders of giants. Bill O’Shea was such a giant for the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. 

Bill’s career with Parks Canada spanned over 40 years beginning in Placentia and ending at Cornwall, but he is best remembered for his many years at the Fortress, first as Head of Operations and then as Head of Historical Resources / Cultural Resources. 

After serving as the first superintendent of Castle Hill NHS (Placentia), Bill arrived at Louisbourg as Head of Operations in the early 1970’s. Bill quickly became a firm advocate for both his new site and community. 

Bill embraced and promoted the values that made the Fortress such a magnificent site – the identification and protection of its numerous cultural resources; the attention to detail and historical accuracy in its reconstruction and reproductions; and its meaningful interpretation to the public through a varied program using a variety of media, not least of all, knowledgable and well-trained staff. He valued the opportunities presented for informed discussion and decision making in the site’s committee system and for many years chaired the Period Presentation Committee. 

The diversity if 18th century Louisbourg appealed to Bill and he encouraged research in its minority populations and specialized groups. He encouraged reaching out to peoples and groups beyond the Fortress walls. He was instrumental in the formation of the Unama’ki Committee, which consulted with Cape Breton’s Mi’kmaq on cultural concerns and in co-operating with the island’s African-Canadian community in interpreting their history at the Fortress. Bill also led efforts for the site in establishing an exhibit interpreting the work of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame in the historic town. He supported the idea of the Grand Encampment in 1995 and worked hard to ensure its success. 

Bill was very much a hand’s-on manager and could be found on the site, and indeed throughout the park, in all seasons, at any time and in any weather. He knew every street, every building, and every room of the reconstruction, as well as the names and relationships of most of the town’s inhabitants both past and present. 

His interest in all thing’s Louisbourg also encompassed the modern town. He worked on and promoted local history, including the Lighthouse and the Railway Museum. He also worked for the betterment of the modern town serving as a town councillor and Deputy Mayor. Bill was also a strong family man and he and his wife Helen, raised their two sons, Patrick and Kevin in the community. His family shared his interest in the site, with Helen working as a guide, Patrick as a drummer and baker and Kevin as a drummer. Late in his career, Bill felt the call of family and returned to Cornwall but his legacy lives on at Louisbourg.

Written by Sandy Balcom (retired Parks Canada employee and friend of Bill O’Shea)

Special thanks to Chad Magee for sharing this with Bill’s family. 


One thought on “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – Bill O’Shea (Fortress of Louisbourg)

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  1. Kevin.

    Like all of his friends, I was shocked and saddened to hear of your father’s sudden passing last fall. He was truly taken too soon. I want to commend you on this site, and encourage you to keep building it in a way which reflects his great love of history and community. Hello to your Mom Helen and to Patrick as well. All the best.

    Michael ( Michaeljake)

    Liked by 1 person

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