Saturday, 7 June 2014

Signal Hill

2013_NL_F8_079The history of Signal Hill and the development of St. John's go hand in hand. The hill has a dominant position at the entrance to the harbour, and was used as a lookout by the early settlers. Often the site of military conflicts, mostly between the English and the French, the hill played an important role in all of the battles for St. John's.

In the late 1760's, Lt. Colonel Amherst renamed it "Signal Hill" from its previous name ("The Lookout"). The name came about because a flag mast was used to send signals to the settlement of St. John's, and to ships coming into port. This sort of flag-based communication between land and sea would take place there from the 17th century until the 1960's.

There have been many significant events on Signal Hill, but for me, Marconi's controversial activity here in 1901 is the most important.

For the citizens of St. John's, Signal Hill is known for being visible from most parts of the city and for its incredible views. It is regularly visited by Townies and tourists alike. Here are a few photographs of the hill, and from the hill. As with all of my photos, click on them to see a higher-quality version in Flickr.

Cabot Tower, the building atop Signal Hill, can be seen from almost any angle within the city. One of the benefits of the Tower's position is that you can use it to provide a good frame of reference to judge how quickly the fog is rolling in.

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On the way up to the top of Signal Hill, you pass O'Flaherty Field where the Royal Newfoundland Regiment of Foot put off the Signal Hill Tattoo.

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You can see and read more about the Tattoo in this older post.

From the top of Signal Hill, you can clearly see all of the harbour and much of the city beyond it. In the pre-radio era, flags could easily signal merchantmen and soldiers alike in the harbour below. While there are no fishing schooners or men o'war at dock these days, St. John's Harbour is still a very busy port.

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You can also see down into the narrow entrance to the harbour, aptly named The Narrows. Here a small fishing boat passes Fort Amherst, one of the old fortifications that was used to guard the entrance to the port.

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Visible in the distance is Cape Spear, North America's most easterly point and a favourite sunrise shooting spot of mine (when there is no fog!).

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Surrounding the hill are a number of hiking trails that see heavy use by walkers and runners. The challenging ups and downs of the trail system make for a great work-out!

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While Signal Hill is a heavily visited tourist spot, many locals go there as well to look out and to feel the wind on their face.

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Some of those locals are one of the two dog breeds from the area, the Newfoundland dog..

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While these guys are huge, they are very friendly. Still, some people (and small dogs) find them intimidating.

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One of the tourist attractions on the Hill is the Noonday Gun. There is an "off again / on again" revival of the old tradition of firing a cannon as a timing reference. Currently, the tradition is "on", and as you can see, the cannon is locked down.


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The issue that the Noonday Gun was solving was one relating to accurate navigation. For ships to maintain an accurate course, they needed an accurate chronograph from which to take measurements of the sun's position. So the ship's navigator needed to see the sun at noon in order to ensure his chronometer was adjusted properly. But what happened if he couldn't see the sun because of smoke or fog?

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That is where the Noonday gun came into play. The local harbour chronograph was used as the reference, and a cannon was fired at precisely noon, for the ships in the harbour to set their chronographs by.

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Speaking of fog, if you are up on Signal Hill as the fog rolls in, leave the crowds gathered near Cabot Tower and head out on the Cuckold's Cove Trail. From a viewpoint along the trail, you can see the fog flow past the knob, just as if it were a stone in a river.

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All of the above images can be seen in a higher resolution on my Flickr site simply by clicking on them. This last photo, however, is a panoramic, and to see it in a high resolution size, you need to click here. Trust me, it's worth it!


Here is a list of links to all of the blog posts from my 2013 tour around Newfoundland:
Trout River and Gros Morne National Park
Cuckolds Cove to Carbonear
Signal Hill
Boat Tour!
Bird Watching!
Whale Watching!
Fogo Part 1: Getting There
Fogo Part 2: Walking Around
Fogo Part 3: The Fishery
Fogo Part 4: The Fogo Island Inn
Twillingate Part 1: Getting There
Twillingate Part 2: Wine, Music, and Whine
Twillingate Part 3: An Iceberg and a Lighthouse
Twillingate Part 4: Down to the Sea in Boats




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I recently selected my best photographs of Newfoundland and Labrador and hand-made them as fine art prints, which I sell from my website here.

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