Signal Hill rises abruptly above the Narrows that separate St. John’s Harbour from the Atlantic Ocean. First known as the Lookout, Signal Hill has been used for communication, observation and defence since 1704. The iconic hill was designated as a National Historic Site in 1958.
Mélanie and I take advantage of the complementary continental breakfast at the hotel before driving across downtown for the climb up Signal Hill Road to the parking lot near Cabot Tower which was constructed in 1897 to honour Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland in 1497.
The paved path from the parking area passes the Imperial Powder Magazine built in 1796. There are magnificent views from the top of Signal Hill, on the opposite side of the Narrows, to Fort Amherst far below near ocean level. The entrance to Cabot Tower is on the Narrows side of the building and guarded by a stubby cannon on the wooden entrance deck. The heavy wooden door leads to the interesting and unique ground floor gift shop. Stairs spiral to a variety of historical exhibits and, at the top, the flag room displays an array of colorful flags, neatly folded and tucked into wall-cabinet cubicles. The flags would be hoisted on masts above the tower to notify St. John’s merchants and the general population of changing weather and seafaring traffic. This allows the citizenry, or military defence, advance notice for preparation.
Guglielmo Marconi made history when he received the first radio signal from across the Atlantic Ocean at Signal Hill on December 12, 1901. He became a Nobel Prize Winner in 1909 for his pioneer work in radio signal transmission.
Following our self-conducted tour of the inside of Cabot Tower, our attention is immediately drawn to the cannons below at Queen’s Battery and the incredible views over St. John’s Harbour and the city of St. John’s. Weather is fickle, alternating between drizzle and sun. Sunny spots drifting across the landscape highlight ground features in their path and make for interesting photographic opportunities. Well constructed and maintained pathways alternating on pavement, boardwalk and gravel transfer us from Cabot Tower, around and down to the Queen’s Battery below.
I am not allowed to sit on the cannons. This seems unfair.
People must understand: I am not always above retaliation
Mélanie and I arrive at the Queen’s Battery to tour the protective tunnels surrounding the old stone barracks and ammunition storage structures. Numerous cannons, on turrets, point like fingers in vulnerable directions and are quite capable of defending a large area surrounding Signal Hill.
From Queen’s Battery, Mélanie and I take a trail which initially provides an excellent view of Ross’s Valley above the Narrows where ocean surf crashes turquoise and white against the 500 million year old coastal shoreline below Cabot Tower.
We walk on trail below Cabot Tower and a short distance up Signal Hill Road before crossing to Ladies’ Lookout for another set of spectacular views towards Cuckold’s Cove and Quidi Vidi Village. The horizon is consumed by the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and a slight ocean breeze is accompanied by the endless and relaxing rhythm of surf pounding on rock below us. Ladies’ Lookout is of specific historical significance.
The ocean air and views, augmented by ‘The Rock’ and combined with 500 years of often dramatic history, are a humbling experience. The excitement of discovery is tempered by the ordeals and perseverance of the people who made this special place great under extremely challenging conditions. This day, my life is further enriched on Signal Hill.