From Cabot Tower at the top of Signal Hill, Fort Amherst beckons from far below near sea level on the opposite side of the Narrows.
Our curiosity has been aroused to the point where we must pursue Fort Amherst as our next discovery objective. We stop briefly in St. John’s and I find cold beverages while Mélanie pursues hidden treasure at a yard sale. The drive around St. John’s Harbour takes Water Street past Victoria Park, a left turn over the bridge and Southside Road east past a mix of residential and commercial property, then beneath the stone quarry cliffs and a plethora of seafaring vessels to a small parking area.
The walk on the road continues through an old, but established, residential area hanging from the hill above. On the harbour side our first discovery is the sparse remnant of Frederick’s Battery tucked into a picturesque cove and documented with a historical placard.
Further along the road we pass access to the East Coast Trail as we continue walking along the road with Fort Amherst drawing closer.
Fort Amherst is a National Historic Site, recognized as such on May 30, 1951. There is virtually nothing remaining of the original structures on South Head which date back to 1777.
Near the current lighthouse, a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque provides a brief description of the existence of the original Fort Amherst.
We descend stairs beside the current lighthouse, built in 1951, to investigate the decaying concrete structures which served as defence during both World Wars. The area is fenced to protect people from injury but we are able to find a way to tour the old ruins safely. A stiff, fresh, salt air breeze is blowing towards us from the Atlantic Ocean and multiple blues and greens create dynamically changing turquoise highlights in the white surf pounding against rock below us.
The concrete structures sadly have decayed into ruin. Vandals have exacerbated the disarray but looking past that, there is a sense of the power this fortification once commanded over the entrance to St. John’s Harbour. The barrels of large cannons lie silent. The following photographs will provide a summary of the views of and from the decaying concrete military structures built for the first and primarily second World Wars.
On the ocean side of South Head, the rotting remains of concrete gun turrets are visible over fenced and steep cliffs from below the lighthouse.
On the other side of the Narrows, Signal Hill soars from the edge of the narrow channel into St. John’s Harbour. Cabot Tower looks tiny from this vantage point far below near sea level.
Mélanie and I climb the stairs to the 1951 lighthouse and on the way we pass a winch, installed in 1950 and powered by a 5 HP Acadia engine. Combined with cable and pulleys, the winch hauled construction supplies for the present lighthouse which began operation a year later. Subsequently it was used to lift supplies from shoreline for the lighthouse and the Keeper’s home. This motorized system replaced an old tramway and trolley which hauled supplies up from shoreline using a manually operated winch.
On the walk back along the road to the car, Mélanie and I decide to tackle hiking a short distance on the East Coast Trail. There are virtually endless recreational opportunities.