The weather is alternating rapidly between sun, cloud and rain. As Mélanie and I descend Signal Hill Road, from the top of the Signal Hill parking area, to visit the Signal Hill Visitor Centre, our enthusiasm created by the morning walking tour of Cabot Tower, Queen’s Battery and Ladies’ Lookout remains high. The Parks Canada representative at the Visitor Centre convinces us to attend a movie presentation in their small but cozy theatre. What initially holds low expectation, turns out to be a fascinating and enlightening, 20 minute, historical presentation, hosted conversationally on dual screens, of historical events and life as it was centuries before in St. John’s and on Signal Hill. Well done.
Our next objective is the fabled Deadman’s Pond, further down Signal Hill. This historical location is beneath the infamous Gibbet Hill Lookout and across Signal Hill Road from the modern and impressive Johnson Geo Centre.
To avoid the drizzle of the moment, we investigate this relatively new attraction which is essentially a Newfoundland, geological science centre combined with four movie theatres. The surrounding landscape offers interpretive walking trails with spectacular views, in clear conditions, over St. John’s. The movie presentations are very tempting. Admission, combined with the cost of the movie, seems expensive. After a few minutes of discussion, we struggle with the decision, then choose to stick with the original plan and allocate our time to a walk around nearby Deadman’s Pond. There is so much to do and so little time.
We walk across Signal Hill Road for a scenic walk around Deadman’s Pond.
Deadman’s Pond hosts a notorious past. Decades of armed conflict, combined with the customary collection of criminal activity, attracted by any newly developing area of potential wealth, results in the military and fledgling judicial system issuing orders for summary and capital punishment. Executions were conducted at a gallows on Gibbet Hill. Offenders were occasionally hung in public as a deterrent to further crime. Their bodies were covered in tar for extended preservation, and suspended on poles for display. The notion bodies were deposited into the ‘bottomless pit’ of Deadman’s Pond is suggested but not universally substantiated. This innocent looking pond, and its troubled history, have been intensely investigated. The small pond is obviously not bottomless, but it has been proven to be exceptionally deep. Human bones have purportedly been discovered at the bottom. Nothing leaps out at us while we circumvent this serene water source with surrounding shrubbery, flowers and birds.
A large, nearly square, viewing platform is under construction near Deadman’s Pond. The wooden platform provides an amazing view over St. John’s Harbour. In the centre of the platform is a long, vertical pole with a cross beam near the top. At the time, I interpreted this to be a replica of a schooner’s mast or possibly a religious cross. Perhaps neither is true. Maybe this new construction is intended to interpretively address the gruesome act of gibbeting practised in the 1700′s on Gibbet Hill above Deadman’s Pond.
During this short, casual stroll initial intermittent rain turns to sunshine. Mélanie and I discover we convert, with the weather, from lethargic, indecisive persons to high-energy, happy and super-productive discovery machines. Our next mission for this day is to drive around the perimeter of St. John’s Harbour to explore Fort Amherst on the other side of the Narrows.