St. John's WWII Coastal Defences National Historic Site of Canada
St. Johns, Newfoundland and Labrador
(© Place Holder)
St. Johns, Newfoundland and Labrador
Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
1777 to 1777
1941 to 1942
Event, Person, Organization:
Second World War
Royal Canadian Navy
Royal Canadian Air Force
St. John's WWII Coastal Defences
Research Report Number:
Existing plaque: St. Johns, Newfoundland and Labrador
During the Second World War the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force protected shipping on vital North Atlantic routes which were the lifeline of the Allies. Army units shared in the defence of the seaports which were essential to that shipping. In the face of a determined campaign by German submarines and despite heavy losses, the Atlantic routes were kept open. St. John's, the chief North American base for trans-Atlantic escorts, was on the front line of these convoy battles. Canadian and American gun batteries and Canadian air force squadrons protected the harbour.
Description of Historic Place
St. John’s WWII Coastal Defences National Historic Site of Canada is a defence complex strategically located at the approaches and entrance of St. John’s inner harbour on the east coast of Newfoundland. The site comprises the ruins of three coastal fort batteries: Fort Cape Spear, Fort Chain Rock and Fort Amherst. All three batteries stand on rocky promontories overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. During the Second World War these coastal artillery batteries presented a formidable defensive line of fire which along with machine guns and protected the harbour and allied convoy ships. Resources from this period remain on all three locations and include concrete gun emplacements, magazines, searchlight emplacements, trenches and building foundations. Official recognition refers to the three batteries and their effective viewscapes.
St. John’s WWII Coastal Defences was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1993 because of:
- its role in ensuring safe ports for convoy assembly and in providing defended bases for the naval and air
forces which protected those convoys.
During the Second World War, attacks by enemy submarines and raiding ships in the North Atlantic posed a considerable threat to the vital supply lines to Great Britain. To combat enemy attacks on Allied ships, Canada’s coastal ports were reinforced and a convoy system adopted. As part of this integrated system for the defence of the Atlantic, the outer defences of St. John’s harbour were strengthened. Facing directly on the open sea St. John’s harbour was armed with anti-submarine and anti-torpedo defences. The fortifications at the three batteries, Fort Amherst, Fort Chain Rock and Fort Cape Spear, manned by the Royal Canadian Artillery, kept enemy ships and submarines away from the harbour entrance. As a result St. John’s offered a safe anchorage and repair facilities for supply convoys that sailed across the North Atlantic. It also provided a well-defended base for the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons who played a key role in the protection of those convoys. St John’s was an extremely important war-time naval base.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, December 1993, April 2010.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of Fort Amherst battery include: the three small, flat-roofed searchlight emplacement facing southeast, with its semi-circular reinforced
concrete structure set on a raised concrete base with a rear entry point, and C-shaped front aperture
protected by a reinforced concave apron; the small, flat-roofed searchlight emplacement facing east, with its semi-circular reinforced concrete
structure set on a concrete platform with a rear entry point, and a front aperture; the small, searchlight emplacement facing northeast, with its remaining concrete platform, C-shaped
front aperture, and sides; the two elongated, gun emplacements of reinforced concrete construction; the two 4.7 inch (11.9 cm) quick firing gun barrels; the siting, mass, design and spatial relationships of any remaining concrete structures relating to the
Second World War including, magazines, bunkers, storage rooms, personnel quarters and connecting
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of Fort Chain Rock battery that include: the two irregularly shaped, interconnected rectangular gun emplacements of reinforced concrete
construction with a flat-roofed gun house and contiguous service building; the rectangular magazine ruin of reinforced concrete construction with a flat-roof and small, centered
entrance; the integrity of any remaining ruins relating to the Second World War which may be found within the
site in their original placement and extent including, concrete foundations and retaining walls;
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of Cape Spear battery include: the form, materials and placement of the two gun emplacements including the circular gun pit, parapet,
and concrete construction; the two 10-inch gun barrels in their original placement and extent; the siting, mass, design and spatial relationships of any remaining concrete structures relating to the
Second World War including reinforced concrete bunkers, magazines, the ready room, the battery
plotting room and Trenches;
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of St. John’s WWII Coastal Defences include: the spatial, functional and historic relationship between the three different batteries (Fort Amherst
battery, the Cape Spear battery, and the Fort Chain Rock battery); their simple utilitarian forms, design elements, massing, and materials that speak to their military role,
their construction materials and craftsmanship, and interior evidence of original finishes; the remaining gun barrels in their original placement and extent including the two 4.7 inch (11.9 cm)
quick firing gun barrels at the Fort Amherst battery and the two 10-inch gun barrels in their original
placement and extent at the Cape Spear battery; the massing and profile of individual batteries, their gun and searchlight emplacements their layout,
design, and orientation, the integrity of their component buildings, structures and spaces, the functional
interior layout, entry and exit points, materials and details, and the disposition and orientation of
individual buildings, structures and ruins within each battery; the effective viewscapes from the gun emplacements to the high-water mark of the Atlantic Ocean and
to the approaches to the St. John’s Narrows and Harbour.