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Fort Amherst Lighthouse, St. John's

When It All Began

My love affair with both Newfoundland and its many lighthouses started on Signal Hill in St. John’s. It was June 8, 2006. Po and I had just arrived on a morning flight from Toronto, the start of our 10-day trip to Newfoundland.

Before this trip we had known little about Newfoundland other than that it had spectacular scenery with a population of friendly and welcoming people.

We were living in Toronto, Ontario. Our Saturday morning routine was to walk down to Bloor Street from our Toronto Bloor West Village home to buy the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper (Saturday was the big paper of the week) along with some pastries from our favourite bakery café and bring them back home to enjoy with our coffees.

One fateful Saturday the paper contained a full-page Newfoundland Tourism advertisement. Little did we know that our lives would begin to change dramatically, all thanks to that one ad.

We read that WestJet had cheap flights to St. John’s. Having no plans for a summer holiday, we decided to check out this Newfoundland place. In the next few weeks, I booked our return flights and with the help of Newfoundland tourism, put together a nice little self-drive tour. Our knowledge was so limited that I chose June 8 for the start, a time when you are more likely to experience Newfoundland’s “rdf” weather-rain, drizzle and fog, than enjoy the beautiful scenery of Newfoundland.

After arriving on our 3-hour flight into St. John’s, we picked up our rental car and drove to the Cantwell House, our B&B on Queen’s Road. We dropped off our bags and headed out on the streets of St. John’s. Looking up we saw the very prominent Signal Hill. It seemed very natural to walk in that direction.

We passed some of the “jellybean” houses that the city is known for, row houses all painted in different colours.


This was the view from the Cantwell House of the houses, The Narrows and Signal Hill.

The weather was cool but quite pleasant and sunny. The city was quiet. We were the only ones walking up the hill. It did not take us long to reach the top where we had a fabulous view of St. John’s and The Narrows, the amazingly small passage for ships into the protected St. John’s Harbour.

In addition to offering a spectacular view Signal Hill has a lot of history. It was the site of the final battle of the Seven Years’ War in North America in 1762. The hill was named Signal Hill based on its use for signalling to ships at sea. This was a bit confusing to me at first since the site was also the location of the first wireless transatlantic communication by Guglielmo Marconi in 1901 when he communicated with a station in Cornwall, England. But it has been Signal Hill for a couple of hundred years.

The landmark Cabot Tower was begun in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s landfall in Newfoundland.


Once at the top we could easily see across to Fort Amherst with its ancient armaments and the lighthouse, my very first Newfoundland lighthouse. It is also the location of Newfoundland’s first lighthouse, a stone tower that was erected there in 1813 by the merchants of St. John’s. The current structure was built in 1951 by the Canadian government, shortly after Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949 (a lot of history in that, not part of this short blog).

I did not realize it at the time, but I could also see two more lighthouses in the distance at Cape Spear. I also did not know that I was going to search out many more lighthouses over the next several years.

St. John’s is a charming little city. There are a number of fine restaurants and bars. Many have live music.

On our first trip we took in a dinner theatre performance by the Spirit of Newfoundland called “Every Joan, Dick & Harry”. It told the stories and featured the music of three well known Newfoundland musicians from the 60’s and 70’s, Joan Morrissey, Dick Nolan and Harry Hibbs. It was also my debut performance on a Newfoundland stage (or any stage for that matter). During the show “Joan” came into the audience and ended up the lap of the only other male audience member sitting at the end of a table. So, at the end, when she came back down looking for a “volunteer”, I knew that I was caught. Sure enough, she grabbed my hand and led me up to the stage. There I was passed some musical spoons and put to work on their last song, which seemed to go on forever. When I stopped for a moment, a hand reached over and got me back into action. After that, it was inevitable that Po and I would end up living in Newfoundland.

We have been back to Signal Hill or Fort Amherst many times over the past 14 years, so I have photographs of the lighthouse in all seasons.


These photos were taken from inside The Rooms, the provincial museum, art gallery and archives.

The Rooms


Here are a couple of St. John's skyline shots, showing the city's iconic buildings, the Basilica and The Rooms.

Posted by Bob Brink 13:48 Archived in Canada Tagged lighthouses canada newfoundland st.john's Comments (4)

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