Overlooking St. John’s harbour and the Atlantic Ocean, Signal Hill National Historic Site of Canada is the city’s most visible and popular attraction. Designated nationally significant because of its important associations with Canada's defense and communications history, it provides panoramic views and seasonal military pageantry. It is also home to the iconic Cabot Tower.
Signal Hill played an integral part of the St. John's defense systems from the 1640's to the Second World War.The first known defenses of St. John's harbour were shore batteries constructed on either side of the Narrows to protect St. John's against naval attack. St. John's fell to the French marching overland from Placentia in 1696, 1705 and again in 1709. In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht recognized British sovereignty over Newfoundland, temporarily ending conflict between Britain and France.
In June 1762, the French again captured St. John's, this time to strengthen France's bargaining position after the loss of Louisbourg and Quebec. In September, the British reclaimed the Town when Lieutenant-Colonel William Amherst advanced on St. John's from Torbay. By taking Signal Hill first, Amherst had a strategic advantage over the French at Fort William. They surrendered after a night of mortar bombardment from the Hill.
The fortification of Signal Hill began during the Napoleonic Wars. Queen's, Wallace's, Waldegrave, Duke of York's, Quidi Vidi Pass and Carronade Batteries date from this period. The Hill was the place of ultimate retreat for the garrison at Forts William and Townsend. An impressive show of strength here in 1796 deterred a French fleet, under Admiral de Richery.
New barracks were built at the Queen's Battery and the summit in the 1830s, and the hill was fortified again during the American Civil War. In the First World War a contingent of Newfoundland Legion of Frontiersmen manned Fort Waldegrave in the Narrows. During the Second World War, the United States maintained anti-aircraft artillery, coastal defence guns and a mobile battery on the Hill.
Signal Hill played an important role in both military and merchant flag signalling. From 1704-1870 flags were raised from the summit to notify the British garrison of the arrival of ships to St. John's. Reflecting the rise of the city as an important commercial port, the signalling shifted to mercantile purposes from 1820-1958. Throughout history, cannon and musket firings were also used to communicate things such as time of day and military activities.
In 1901, Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal from a hospital located at the summit of Signal Hill, deepening the already significant communication history of the site.
The iconic Cabot Tower was built between 1898 and 1900 to commemorate the 400th Anniversary of John Cabot's voyage to North America and the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria's reign. It's architecture reflects Newfoundland and Labrador's historic ties to Britain and the historic defense role of Signal Hill.