Tourist at Home: Signal Hill and The Battery

Alidoesit’s 100th post!
Cait and iPM’s visit started with some cheese.Okay, with a heckuvalotta cheese.  Good Ontario cheese. A week later and we’ve barely dented it.  Best house guest present ever when you live in the land that cheese forgot.

Anyway, then the visit progressed.  We tried to show our friends the best of our little island in the middle of the North Atlantic.  I think that we did a pretty good job.

We started with the obvious: Signal Hill National Historic Site.

You can see this place from all over St. John’s, which made it an ideal site for observation and communication over the last four hundred or so years.  You can even see it from our house, in the winter, when the trees are all naked.

Long before ship-to-shore radio, flags raised on signal masts on the hill would tell merchants and the military in St. John’s about the types of vessels heading into the narrow harbour.

The hill also became the strategic location for the city’s military defenses, beginning in the 18th century and continuing through the Second World War.

St. John’s, a coveted port by the French, the English, and to a lesser extent, the Portuguese, fell from British control to the French in 1696, 1705, and again in 1709.  The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 recognized British sovereignty over Newfoundland, but that only temporarily ended the conflict between the French and the English.

The last battle of the Seven Years’ War was fought in St. John’s in 1762. In June of 1762 the French succeeded in again capturing St. John’s, but lost it again in September.  Lt. Col. Amherst took strategic advantage when he captured Signal Hill first, and bombarded the city with its own guns.  The historic Fort Amherst is located across the Narrows on the other side of the harbour.

Fortification of the hill began at this point, and was enough to successfully deter the French yet again in 1796.  Military barracks were built on the hill and around it in the 1830s, and it was re-fortified during the American Civil War. 

During the First World War, a contingent of the Newfoundland Legion of Frontiersmen manned the fort for St. John’s defense.  In the Second World War, the Americans maintained anti-aircraft artillery, coastal defense guns, and a mobile battery at Signal Hill.  Fortunately St. John’s did not see any action during these two wars.  In fact, Signal Hill was a place for healing.  Three different hospitals called it home between 1870 and 1920.  It was from one of these hospitals that Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901.
Between 1898 and 1900, Cabot Tower, that landmark most visible around the city, was built in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s Voyage of Discovery. The tower was used for signaling until 1960, and now it contains a gift shop and a museum commemorating Marconi’s efforts. 

Below Signal Hill is the historic Battery, a set of ancient fishing houses, stages, and stores that are an echo of the way the city used to be, when there were no roads and everyone traveled by boat.

The streets here are too narrow to drive, and the brightly painted houses lining them are old and tiny.  It is a beautiful place for a walk.Or even just to sit and stare.

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Author: allythebell

A corgi. A small boy. A sense of adventure. Chaos ensues.

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