Canadian Consulting Engineer

Structures in St. John’s, Newfoundland survive to recall days of war

April 30, 2009
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

On May 27-30, the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers (CSCE) will meet in St. John's, Newfoundland. As part of the ...

On May 27-30, the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers (CSCE) will meet in St. John’s, Newfoundland. As part of the conference they will hold a historic site dedication honouring engineers and constructors who have left a mark. Newfoundland’s historic lighthouses will be featured, including the most famous one at Cape Spear constructed in 1836.

But the lighthouse is not the only interesting historic structure. Watching over the approaches to St. Johns harbour, the Cape has witnessed much history and it is said by some to be haunted by ghosts from the past.

In 1939, ten years before Newfoundland would join Canada, the world was at war. Cargo ships passing between the Eastern Seaboard of North America, St. John’s and Europe were under constant threat from German submarines. In order to protect the harbour and vital supply convoys, the Canadian Army installed two 10-in. guns on disappearing carriages at the very tip of the Cape. These massive guns had been purchased from Fort Mott in the U.S. where they had been in service since 1889. Directly behind the guns a network of underground bunkers, magazines and tunnels hid and protected the soldiers and the ammunition.

Each gun had two magazines, one for the cordite charges and one for the shells. An overhead rail was used to transfer the heavy shells to the guns. The underground arch chambers were constructed of structural plate corrugated steel pipe (SPCSP) with approximately a 6 metre span and 3 metre rise. All that was visible from the sea were four small corrugated steel pipe ventilation shafts that protruded from the earth.


Nearby at the harbour entrance to St. John’s at the foot of Signal Hill, gun batteries had existed since the 1670s. In 1941 American forces installed two 8-in. coastal defence guns at the summit of Signal Hill on the site of the present day parking lot for Cabot Tower. Ammunition was stored in two underground bunkers consisting of a round corrugated steel pipe entrance (approx. 2 metre diameter) leading to a larger SPCSP underground arch chamber.

Today the earth and steel bunkers that remain are in excellent condition. Some are still in use today as underground storage facilities while others remain as reminders of past conflicts.





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