At 7:30 a.m. the restaurant on the ship opened for breakfast and we were waiting. The breakfast buffet was overpriced; the hot food was only warm and not good. Since we still had a couple of hours to go we went for another walk on the top deck to get some exercise. We walked eight lengths from one side of the ship to the other side guessing that it equaled one mile, not to mention a great sunrise.
At last – Newfoundland! Driving off the ship onto the road, we followed an old drunken Newfoundlander in a truck who swerved to the right nearly off the road and over the center line in front of oncoming cars, but fortunately we were able to quickly get past him, hitting neither him nor any moose, of which there were plenty of warnings.
The 90 minute drive into St. Johns, Newfoundland went without incident. As soon as we reached town, we headed back out to the east to nearby Cape Spear to be at the easternmost point in Canada and North America (no more further east landmarks on this trip!).
Because of its proximity to convoy routes during the Second World War, a gun battery was installed at Cape Spear to defend the entrance to St. John’s harbor. The bunkers and gun barrels offer a sheltered view of the ocean. Barracks and underground passages leading to the bunkers were built for the use of troops stationed there. The gun barrels and bunkers are still there which we explored a bit.
The Cape Spear Lighthouse is the oldest surviving lighthouse in Canada, operating since 1836. The structure consists of a stone light tower surrounded by the lightkeeper’s residence. In 1955 a new lighthouse tower was built on the site using the active light from the original lighthouse. The historical park gave us a glimpse into the life of the keeper. Glass chimneys were kept upstairs of the keeper’s house so that the lightkeeper could clean and replace them on a three hour regular schedule. The life of a lighthouse keeper seemed isolated and hard.
Next we drove to Quidi Vidi (pronounced by the local residents, as “Kiddy Viddy” a neighborhood in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. The neighborhood is named for both Quidi Vidi Lake and Quidi Vidi Harbor – known locally as “The Gut”. Located in Quidi Vidi is the Quidi Vidi Battery Provincial Historic Site, which had significance as a battery during the War of 1812.
Quidi Vidi was known for once being a historic fishing village dating back to the 1600’s and still maintains the look of a fishing village today. This tightly tucked in a ravine village is also home to Newfoundland’s largest microbrewery, the Quidi Vidi Brewing Company which seems to be the only business in the town.
St. Johns is listed as the oldest English settled city in North America but there is dispute in that Jamestown, VA could be the oldest English settled city also. Our next stop was at Signal Hill which overlooks the city of St. Johns, high on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and St John Harbor.
Due to its strategic placement overlooking the harbor, fortifications have been built on the hill since the mid 17th century. The final battle of the Seven Years’ War in North America was fought in 1762 at the Battle of Signal Hill, in which the French surrendered St. John’s to a British force under the command of Lt. Colonel William Amherst. Lt. Colonel Amherst renamed what was then known as “The Lookout” as “Signal Hill,” because of the signaling that took place upon its summit from its flagmast.
Historical military barracks are nestled in the hill and the tour guide explained the life of a soldier stationed at the Queen’s Battery Barracks during the 1860’s when the barracks were built. The barracks furnished fold up cots and British styled table and benches of the era and a fireplace. The guide showed us the high-waisted trousers and short jackets worn with a tunic and leather shoes that the soldiers had. The shoes had metal plates fastened with ten tacks to prolong their wear since each soldier was only issued items annually.
Large cannons set at the front of the barracks protected the harbor below. Ruins of gunpowder storage once stood within thick walls and thin roofs in case of accidental explosions. We hiked the trail back up the hill to see Cabot’s Tower.
Located at the highest point of Signal Hill, overlooking the entire city and the ocean, Cabot Tower is a Gothic Revival style of architecture. Built of red sandstone, it is a two story, 30 foot, square structure with a three story, 50 foot octagonal tower. The first transmissions received in North America by Marconi were at Signal Hill, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador in 1901 and Glace Bay, Nova Scotia in 1902. In 1933, a Marconi station was opened on the second floor of Cabot Tower, which operated until 1960. In 1920, one of the first wireless transatlantic transmissions of the human voice was made there. A few items honoring Marconi were displayed on the second floor the tower.
We walked onto the open deck of the roof of Cabot’s Tower for a look of the city. It was extremely windy, so windy in fact; it was difficult to open the door to get back into the building. As soon as we entered the building again, the staff closed off the roof for safety reasons.
Leaving Cabot’s Tower and driving into the city allowed us to see the colorful houses. Each wooden-sided home was painted a bright color different from its neighbor. The city of St. John’s is well known for its jellybean row houses that started in the 1970’s as a way to inject new life back into the declining city. Residents jumped onto the idea whole-heartily and spread the colorful palette outward so that the majority of the city is a jellybean row house street.
We found our boutique hotel, The Jag, in downtown St. Johns near the convention center. After check-in we walked the streets a bit and opted for an early dinner since we missed lunch. We went to Green Sleeves, an open bar cafe with pub grub, with a beer and burger for dinner. They servered us in a Rolling Rock glass etched with the familiar 33 words which begin “from the glass lined tanks of Old Latrobe” but because we were in the bilingual country of Canada these words were also etched in French on the glass. I explained to the waitress the significance of Latrobe to our family, I asked her if I could buy the glass as a souvenir.
After checking with the bartender she said that if the glass was not there when she returned to clean up, oh well. We got the hint and the glass seemed little compensation for the very long wait that we patiently had for our food order.
It was fifty minutes before our food arrived. The restaurant gave us a discount on the food and apologized for the delay while they catered the wedding upstairs. When we got back to our hotel, the housekeeper knocked on the door to deliver us chocolates. It was a nice gesture and a good ending to a busy day, and as example of how our trendy hotel in far off Newfoundland was the best of the trip.