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Report 1901: A Month on the Rock

By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2010

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Page 31 of 31: St Johnís - Signal Hill

photo by Michael

Cabot Tower

Signal Hill is made up of several hills overlooking St Johnís, with bare rock and patches of low vegetation. There are several walking trails over the hills and a walkway round the top with information panels.

It was a bright and clear afternoon but with a strong wind. There were good views from Signal Hill down the coast to Cape Spear as well as St Johnís. We could see Fort Amherst guarding the mouth of the harbour, a narrow entrance leading into a large and well sheltered harbour. The original wooden wharves are now replaced by a large walkway where boats tie up. The Roman Catholic church dominated the view with brightly painted wooden houses crammed in.

Signal Hill was an integral part of the defense of St Johnís from the 1640s to World War Two. It had an important role in military signaling between 1704 -1870. Flags were raised from a mast on the summit to notify the British garrison of the arrival of ships. Cannons and muskets were fired to regulate daily activities of the military or to warn mariners of fog when visual signaling was ineffective. From 1820 mercantile flags were flown to notify crews and officials of the impending arrival of mercantile vessels, so giving time to prepare for docking and the arrival of supplies. A noon day gun was fired for time keeping purposes. The church objected to this being fired on a Sunday but the population complained and the gun continued to be fired.

Cabotís Tower is short and squat and built 1898-1900 to commemorate the discovery of Newfoundland by Cabot in 1497 and also the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It was used as a flag signaling tower until 1958. Inside there are exhibits about short wave radio and Marconi.

In December 1901 Marconi assembled a receiver on Signal Hill and set up his receiving apparatus in an abandoned hospital on top of the hill that straddled the cliff facing Europe. Strong winds meant early attempts to keep an antenna aloft with balloons and kites were unsuccessful. He eventually managed to raise an antenna with a kite for a short period of time each day. Accounts vary, but Marconi's notes indicate that the transatlantic message was first received via this antenna on 12th December.

In 1920 the human voice was first transmitted across the Atlantic Ocean from the Cabot Tower. By 1931 there were eight cables at Signal Hill which connected Ireland to Newfoundland, Canada and USA. A wireless station was opened in 1933 and operated until 1960.

We went into the Visitor Centre and watched the 20 minute video which had a tricksy presentation and was thin on content. The exhibition boards were also high on visuals but low on content. We felt it was disappointing. Loos were good though.

It was then time to head for the airport on the edge of St Johnís. It is a pleasant terminal with a Tim Hortonís through security, a Ďheritageí stall and one duty free shop mainly selling magazines, sweets and a few soft toys.

The flight was running late...


A Quick Scamper Round Nova Scotia

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Newfoundland & Labrador Distances & Driving times

Newfoundland and Labrador Tourist Board website

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