After a good night’s sleep and a brain less sun-washed than yesterday, I’m hoping I can tell a decent story about yesterday’s adventures.
The day was warmer than is usual for Newfoundland, apparently, with a high of 27 expected. A high level haze persists across Newfoundland, which, apparently, is due to smoke from the British Columbia fires making its way into the jetstream! So, even on the east coast – over 6000 kms away, the BC fires are making themselves known.
Having slept in and had a leisurely breakfast, we headed out to make Signal Hill the first stop of the day. Arriving there, a young woman named Jeehea offered to take a picture with the Cabot Tower of Signal Hill. This task completed, we chatted for a minute and found out she was from Vancouver! So, we chatted some more. Being curious about my trip, I dug up a blog card for her. By this time, her husband Ian had come up with their children and we had a great talk about travels.
Signal Hill was originally constructed as a defensive position for St. John’s. The huge stone structure is the Cabot Tower and was constructed to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Cabot’s landing in North America and the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign. So the original story of Signal Hill is interesting, but not particularly unique, there being many similar locations throughout Canada. Still, it was cool to see the barracks and cannon. There are a number of trails over the site that are good for a bit of a workout and wake-me-up. If you visit Signal Hill, be sure to go inside the tower and climb to the top. The panoramic view of St. John’s is amazing!
Signal Hill, however, has one outstanding claim to fame. I love the story as it demonstrates the persistence and ingenuity of humanity in the face of stubborn opposition.
In 1897, Guglielmo Marconi began the Marconi Wireless Company. While wireless communications had been established as a viable form of communication, everyone believed it had a very limited range. The belief was that because the earth was round, the sound waves would get to the curve in the earth and just project outwards to space.
Marconi determined to prove that it could be used long distance. After making successful attempts for longer distances across Europe, he decided to attempt sending a signal across the Atlantic Ocean. He called it “The Big Thing”. The sites he originally selected for the transmission were Poldhu in Cornwall, England, and South Wellfleet in Cape Cod, USA. In the first year he was to attempt the transmission, the antenna stations were both destroyed by crazy storms. Marconi simplified his antenna design and then chose a location in North America that was a bit closer – St. John’s Newfoundland.
On December 6, 1901, Marconi arrived in St. John’s with his assistants and his equipment and chose the location of Signal Hill as the place to receive his message. The Morse code letter “S” was decided as the test message that would be sent as it was more easily distinguished from other messages amid the static of transmissions. He used a phone receiver to listen for the message. Despite some setbacks of lost balloons and kites that were carrying the antenna wires, shortly after noon, on December 12, 1901, the message from Poldhu came through – a distance of 3468 kilometers!
Marconi’s discovery not only transformed communications, but rocked the scientific world, forcing them to acknowledge that the commonly held belief was wrong. Eventually, science would discover that the earth’s atmosphere has a layer that is electrically charged by the sun. This ionosphere bends electromagnetic waves and refracts them back to the earth, resulting in Marconi’s success.
Marconi’s attempts to set up shop in Newfoundland were thwarted by the Anglo American cable company, who worked hard to discount his discovery and viewed it as a threat to their cable communications system. Instead of trying to fight “the big boys”, Marconi headed to Cape Breton as the behest of politicians in Nova Scotia and Canada who believed in his discover and chose to support a Canadian site for transatlantic communications. The Dominion Coal Company at Table Head in Glace Bay gave Marconi land to establish a station and the Canadian government committed funds to build it. Marconi, in return, committed to charge $0.10 per word for transatlantic messages, which was 60% lower than rates from the cable company. Needless to say, this enterprise was a resounding success and Canada has a proud role in the birth of wireless communications.
You would think from the length of that story, that it was the end of the day, but no such luck for you! On the way back down from Signal Hill, we stopped at the Johnson Geo Centre. There were some gorgeous rock samples displayed outside the Centre and labelled. Newfoundland, like Nova Scotia, has all of the possible rock types that are known, so it was interesting to see these samples. In particular, the peridotite, which is a rare igneous rock – a piece of the earth’s mantle shoved into the continental crust by some cataclysmic force of nature. Always astounds me to think of it. Getting a bit hungry and sun-worn by now, it didn’t feel like we had the attention span to fully appreciate the information on offer at the Centre. Regretfully, gave it a miss and carried on.
The next destination was Cape Spear, which turned out to be a very busy place. Cape Spear is the easternmost spot in North America. The square lighthouse for which it is known, was under construction, but I got pictures of the other lighthouse on the site and we wandered the trail around the property, which roams by the ocean. The whale-watching boats were cruising around as there are humpbacks, fin and minke whales in the area. If you are there in the spring, you can also see icebergs that are brought south by the Labrador currents.
Cape Spear also has a military history. Like the site at Gaspe, there was reason to build a defense site at Cape Spear when German u-boats began hunting and destroying supply ships in the Atlantic. The gun locations and ammunition storage bunkers can still be toured at Cape Spear. It is well worth the stop for the history and the beautiful views of the coast (even with the smoke haze).
Quidi Vidi was the next stop as there was food there! This area of St. John’s is a fishing village area. If you visit Quidi Vidi in the summer, take a small car, lots of patience, and turn left to find parking instead of continuing down the hill into the village area. It is worth the visit, but cramped and challenging to navigate. The Quidi Vidi Brewery is down there and it is one of the local breweries (along with Yellow Belly). Right in front of it is Quidi Vidi Fish and Chips (QVFC), which is a little red food trailer that makes really great fish and chips. Taking longer than expected with sight-seeing, it was getting into mid-afternoon, so we controlled consumption in anticipation of supper later. Still, it was delicious. Seeing Birch Beer as an option for a drink, I tried one – pretty sure it’s cream soda called birch beer…..
Headed back to the hotel and spent some time on a reconnaissance of the inside of my eyelids. Feeling refreshed, it was time to head over the St. John’s Fish Exchange for supper. Lobster was on the menu and Peter had his fix before leaving Newfoundland today. Having eaten so much rich and fatty stuff over the last few days, I opted for the shrimp appy and the French country salad which was all very delicious. And so ended another successful St. John’s Day!