Signal Hill National Historic Site- St. John’s most popular landmark – offers an insight into the towns historic past, communication triumphs, as well as offers breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and an incredible coastal hike. This National Historic Site of Canada was not only the location of the city’s harbour defense from the mid-seventeenth century up until the Second World War, it is also where Guglielmo Marconi received the world’s first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901.
Signal Hill National Historic Site can be seen from downtown St. John’s and getting to this landmark is not difficult. A 20 minute walk or quick drive east along any of the main roads will get you to Signal Hill Road. Once here, it is a quick climb up to the top of the hill.
As I climbed the hill, I looked behind me and the view of the city just kept getting better and better. It is a bit of a windy climb but well worth the view once you reach the top and see the iconic Cabot Tower. The Cabot Tower was built to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland and simultaneously marks the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign.
For the July afternoon it was quite cold and I had to put my jacket and hat on to keep warm from the wind coming in off the ocean. I headed inside the tower to warm up and see the exhibit on Guglielmo Marconi and the wireless station that was operated there. Make sure you take the opportunity to wander around the outside of the tower once you are done with the exhibit, and take a walk down to the Queen’s Battery and the barracks down there.
The Queen’s Barracks were built in the 1830’s to help add additional fortifications to the hill during the American Civil War. You will still find the guns pointed out towards the ocean where they have stood for almost 200 years now.
As I looked out over the coast line watching the waves slam into the weathered rocks, I saw a trail that headed down closer to the ocean that seemed to wind down the hill. After asking a local about the conditions of the trail and was assured it was perfectly safe I headed off down the North Head trail, which turned out to be Signal Hill’s most popular hiking trail.
The trail heads down a series of stairs that begins to take you on your descent down the hill and flip flops between gravel paths and series of stairs. There were a few times that I couldn’t help but stop to stare out at the ocean and take in the beauty that was around me. Being from Ontario, the scenery here was like nothing I had ever seen before. As I was mesmerized with the beauty of the view from the hiking trail, a group of humpback whales began to surface for air. It was one of those moments in life you couldn’t help but feel blessed to be in a place as special as this.
The trail twists and turns down the side of Signal Hill and will bring you to the edge of where the hill meets the Narrows. This view allows you to see Fort Amherst which is located directly across from Signal Hill with the Narrows in between.
As you get closer to St. John’s you come to an area that has a chain attached into the rock face as the trail narrows here and on a windy day can cause you to lose your footing. For safety reasons, it is always recommended to take advantage of the chain.
Once you are past the chain you are almost at the end of the trail. You next come upon The Battery, a small neighbourhood located on the slopes of Signal Hill National Historic Site. These vibrant and colourful houses really standout against the steep cliffs of Signal Hill National Historic Site.
The Battery is home to Chain Rock, a land outcropping to which a large chain and anti-submarine boom were attached connecting over to Fort Amherst to prevent the entry of German U-boats during the Second World War. Chain Rock is one of two rocks located on either side of the Narrows with a distance of 174 metres betwen. Between these rocks a defense chain would be strung between them to prevent the entry of any enemy ships – This chain was upgraded to a net for the Second World War.
Walking through the Battery with the history of each out the houses was a great experience. Each house has a different colour, which makes them really stand out and that much more interesting. The street begins to climb a hill again to take you back up to the main streets.
Along the walk back up to the main streets a lot of the walls are lined with murals that outline their heritage and history. The hike from the top of Signal Hill National Historic Site back to the main streets beyond The Battery took about an hour. This hike was incredible and I decided to do it again on another morning to capture Signal Hill in a completely different light. Click here to see photos from the sunrise hike up Signal Hill.