Visit to Signal Hill

Welcome sign at Signal Hill

Welcome to Signal Hill

Back in June I attended a conference at Memorial University at St John’s Newfoundland.  The morning of my last day in the city a colleague and myself went to visit the historic site of Signal Hill, where Marconi received the first transatlantic radio signal after they were transmitted from Poldhu Cornwall, England, in December 1901.

The day we visited the Hill was thick with fog, which had enveloped St John’s for the five days I had been there.  Still it was good to visit such an important site for radio even if you could not even see the sea which was at the foot of the hill.  The Cabot Tower at the top of the hill is not the actual building where Marconi received the signals, that was then adjacent Fever Hospital which was destroyed by fire in 1920, however the Cabot Tower is the focus of the commemoration of the event and it has an exhibit, a shop and a radio station, VO1AA, run by the Society of Newfoundland Radio Amateurs. The shop is at the entrance level and then there is a floor for the exhibit, you can also gain access to the roof – which probably has fine views in good weather but the fog was thick the day we visited. Unfortunately, there was nobody manning the station so I did not get chance to operate from there.  Still, there was plenty on display although the modern equipment looked like it was locked away. The photographs below show some of what was on display.

The name ‘Signal Hill’ does not come from Marconi’s work, but due to the fact it was a viewing post for incoming ships.  Once the merchant line was identified a flag associated with that company was raised so the stevedores and other dockworkers for the respective company could get ready for the ship’s arrival in the port of St John’s. There is a photograph of rolled up and neatly stored set of flags, which I presume were the company identifier flags, in the gallery below.

Click to view slideshow.

In the shop I bought a copy of “Marconi’s Miracle” by D. R Tarrant.  This is a short (101 pages) but concise account of the reception of the first transatlantic signals, including the build up and subsequent controversy of Marconi’s work.  The controversy being that Marconi was effectively and quickly forced to cease his work in Newfoundland as the Anglo-American Telegraph Company enforced their exclusive rights to  telegraphy systems in Newfoundland.  They obviously felt concerned the new wireless system would take business from their cable system.

Just further down the Hill from Cabot Tower is a visitors centre that has more information about not only Marconi but the military significance of the Hill and the trading in the region.  That is worth a visit too.

So, if you find yourself in or near St John’s I strongly recommend you visit Cabot Tower and if you are an amateur radio operator it is a ‘do not miss’ just for its important significance.

Alan Steele, VA3STL, is a regular contributor to and writes from Ottawa, Ontario. Contact him at [email protected].

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