Classified Federal Heritage Building
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
View of Cabot Tower
© Parks Canada / Parcs Canada, 2008 HRS #
Signal Hill Road, Signal Hill National Historic Site of Canada, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
1900 to 1900
Event, Person, Organization:
William Howe Greene
FHBRO Report Reference:
Description of Historic Place
Located at the highest point of Signal Hill National Historic Site of Canada, overlooking the city and the ocean, the Cabot Tower built of irregularly coursed red sandstone is composed of a two storey, 9.4-metre (30-foot), square structure with a three storey, 15.24-metre (50-foot) octagonal tower that stands on the southeast corner of the building. The corners are buttressed at the first floor level and further emphasized through the use of heavier blocks of stone. On the main body of the building, at the top of the second storey level, is a line of repeating pattern like an exaggerated dentil row or inverted crenulations. The attached tower which houses the main entrance, is very plain with a double stringcourse marking the divisions between second and third storeys and heavy corbel tables marking the eight corners of the turret at the flared upper level. The windows on both the corner turret and the body of the tower proper are rectangular and set under heavy stone lintels. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
The Cabot Tower is a Classified Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental values.
The Cabot Tower is one of the best examples illustrating the evolution of communications in Canada from the earliest aural and visual systems, through to the long-distance, wireless transmission of the human voice. The tower housed signalling functions until 1958, and is associated with Guglielmo Marconi who received the Nobel Prize in 1909 for physics and communication and who received the first trans-Atlantic transmission of the human voice at Signal Hill in 1920. It was built as a monument to John Cabot’s 1497 voyage to North America and to the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign.
Cabot Tower is a very good example of the late-Gothic revival style. Its highly integrated design, its form, secondary elements, materials and the manner in which they are worked and assembled contribute to its solid enduring appearance. Reinforced by the use of large blocks of stone, irregularly coursed sandstone, buttresses at the corners, crenulations and other Scottish-Baronial details, its solid and monumental appearance characterize the structure. Its architect, William Howe Greene was a prominent St. John’s architect and an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Having completed many commissions in St. John’s, Cabot Tower had a very high profile and is a very good example of his work.
Cabot Tower, situated at the highest point at Signal Hill National Historic Site of Canada establishes the present character of the area within its dramatic natural setting. More than a local landmark, many Canadians perceive it as a symbol of Newfoundland. The tower’s physical prominence, overlooking the city and ocean makes it visually conspicuous and easily identifiable. The symbol of the tower has become public domain used locally in commercials, calendars, post cards, pins, books and tourism materials.
Kate MacFarlane, Cabot Tower, Signal Hill National Historic Site, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office Building Report 88-043; Cabot Tower, Signal Hill National Historic Site, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Heritage Character Statement 88-043.
The character defining elements of the Cabot Tower should be respected.
Its very good example of late-Gothic revival style with its highly integrated design, form, fine materials and craftsmanship as manifested in: its two-storey 9.4-metre (30-foot) square structure and three-storey 15.24-metre (50-foot) octagonal tower; the entirety of the exterior elevations with its solid and monumental appearance reinforced by the use of large blocks of stone, irregularly coursed sandstone, buttresses at the corners, crenellations and Scottish-Baronial details; the attached tower housing the main entrance with a double stringcourse marking the divisions between second and third storeys and heavy stone corbel tables marking the eight corners of the turret at the flared upper level; the rectangular window openings set under heavy stone lintels on both the corner turret and the body of the tower; its interior layout and fabric that relate to its function as a signal and communications tower.
The manner in which Cabot Tower establishes the present character of Signal Hill National Historic Site of Canada within its dramatic natural setting and is perceived as the symbol of Newfoundland.
Heritage Character Statement
The heritage character statement was developed by FHBRO to explain the reasons for the designation of a federal heritage building and what it is about the building that makes it significant (the heritage character). It is a key reference document for anyone involved in planning interventions to federal heritage buildings and is used by FHBRO in their review of interventions.
Cabot Tower was constructed in 1900 to the designs of William Howe Greene. It was built as a monument to John Cabot's 1497 voyage to North America and to the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria's reign. The tower housed signaling functions until 1958, and gained additional prestige in the communications field by receiving Marconi's first Transatlantic transmission of the human voice in 1920. Due to fire and explosion in 1918, interiors were extensively replaced in 1919. Interiors again were extensively replaced in 1977 and 1984 to control moisture penetration. See FHBRO Building Report 88-43.
Reason for Designation
The Cabot Tower was designated Classified because of its important historical associations with the development of communications and its environmental context. The tower is a handsome architectural design, particularly the exterior, which exhibits fine materials and craftsmanship. It continues to be an important landmark in the region.
Character Defining Elements
The heritage character of the building resides in the entirety of its exterior elevations and those aspects of its interior layout and fabric that relate to its function as a signal and communications tower. The siting and high visibility of the building and its relationship with its site is also significant.
The Cabot Tower is built in the late-Gothic revival style. It is a highly integrated design - its form, secondary elements, materials, and the manner in which they are worked and assembled contribute to its solid, enduring appearance. Its solid and monumental appearance is reinforced by the use of large blocks of stone, irregularly coursed sandstone, buttresses at the corners, crenellations and other Scotish-Baronial details. The design is highly appropriate to its function and site.
The façades have survived relatively intact, except for dismantling and rebuilding some 200 square feet of the tower walls and two feet of the top of the turret in 1961. It is important that all exterior components be carefully preserved.
Repairs or restoration, if needed, should be carried out after meticulous analysis of present conditions, and should be historically accurate in terms of materials, detailing, and design. The three masts - now removed - were an integral part of the structure and its function. Considering the association of the building with signaling and communications, they could be installed to their original locations on top of the tower with the original method, avoiding any destruction or future threat of destruction to the original fabric.
Almost all of the interior details and finishes have been replaced several times and as recently as 1984. Providing as-found drawings and other documentation of the 1919 finishes are sufficiently detailed, reconstruction of the missing elements and restoration would be an appropriate approach to refurbishing the interior. Otherwise, an alternate approach, compatible with the heritage character of the building would be appropriate. Reversible interventions with minimal impact on original fabric are recommended in all cases. Changes to accommodate new functional requirements should be designed so they are distinct but sympathetic to the original design, so as to preserve and enhance the historical and architectural integrity of the structure. Future interventions should not alter the inter-relationship between the tower and its setting.