Dateline July 14, 2012: Newfoundland, St John’s Cape Spear, Signal Hill and “Screeching”!

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Stand here with your back to the sea and the entire population of North America is to the west of you.

Standing on the eastern point of North America

Face the sea and the next stop east is Ireland. Perched on a rugged cliff at our continent’s most easterly point lies Cape Spear Lighthouse – the oldest surviving lighthouse in the Newfoundland.

Original Lighthouse,

Constructed in 1836, the Cape Spear Lighthouse represents the unique architecture of British lighthouse construction during this era. The structure consists of a stone light tower surrounded by the lightkeeper’s residence. In 1955 a new lighthouse tower was built on the site using the active light from the original lighthouse.

New Lighthouse

The human side of Cape Spear tells the story of the Cantwell family. Generations of this famous family of lightkeepers resided at Cape Spear for over 150 years and worked tirelessly to maintain a light so vital to mariners. As we toured the cape we explored the remnants of the World War II coastal defense battery. The cannons were made in the United States in 1894 to guard Philidelphia and then moved in 1941 to Fort Cape Spear where the Walk in the Canadian and American soldiers guarded St. John’s from potential attacks from lurking German U-boats.

The ocean vistas of crashing waves and many whales feeding off the cape was breathtaking. We were able to get pictures of the whales playing in the Atlantic in front of us.

We then traveled back into St. John’s and up to Signal Point and Cabot Tower. The construction of the tower begun in 1898 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland.

The Tower

The rangers told us, as you stand atop Signal Hill, let your soul be stirred by the crack of muskets and the roar of cannon fire. Discover the story of how British and French soldiers battled fiercely to control this strategic location.

Explore the iconic Cabot Tower and experience a view of St. John’s and the North Atlantic that is truly spectacular. They were right, it is!

As its name implies, centuries before the advent of ship-to-shore radio, signalman perched on Signal Hill surveyed the ocean for ships headed toward the port of St. John’s. Flag signals flown on the hill communicated the names of arriving ships to those who inhabited the harbor front below.

St John harbor from Signal Hill

We had enjoyed our experience in Cape Brenton at the Marconi Historical sight and as James had told us of the first time in 1901 when the famous Guglielmo Marconi made communications history at Signal Hill by receiving the first ever transatlantic wireless signal. Interestingly there was little information on it at Signal Hill so it was fun being able to experience the whole history of wireless under Marconi’s efforts.

The views of St. John’s Harbor and the Battery at the entrance to the harbor are outstanding.

Cannons protecting the harbor entrance

Looking down below where the army had been stationed over the years there were batteries of cannon facing out over the entrance to the harbor.

We drove back into St. John’s looking for a parking place, none available, so we drove around and went back to Pippy Park until about 6:00 when we decided that we had to head back to the old town area and George Street (their famous pub section). We lucked out and found parking near the ACTION! We walked the length of George Street and selected a pub to go into, wow!! It was like any old, old, dirty bar in so many towns in America!, but the people could not be nicer, they were very fun to talk to. We had a beer and moved on.

One event we took a pass on is called “Screeching”. A little history: During World War II, the Americans set up bases in Newfoundland. One night, an American serviceman was out drinking with some locals. Eager to try the traditional drink of the province, (West Indies sourced) he took a shot of the unnamed rum. When he was able to breathe again, the American let loose a loud noise that was later described as some sort of horrible “screech”.

The “Screech In” Ceremony:

Every Newfoundlander knows what a “Screech In” Ceremony is all about. It is the only way that those not lucky enough to be born a Newfoundlander can become as close as possible to being a Newfoundlander, without having to die and be reincarnated as a Newfoundlander.

Those who survive the ceremony will be forever known as HONORARY NEWFOUNDLANDERS.

Requirements for the ceremony:

1. The “Screech In” ceremony can only be preformed by a natural-born Newfoundlander.
2. A real fish (traditionally a cod, but, since these are hard to find, any whole fish will do).
3. A Sou’Wester.
4. A bottle of Screech.


The Ceremony:

The ceremony host (the natural-born Newfoundlander), will have the victim stand in front of a group of witnesses while wearing the Sou’Wester.

The host will then hold up the fish to the victim so that the victim can kiss the fish (on the lips). {The host and witnesses have final say on whether the kiss is sufficient to continue. In rare cases, two or more kisses have to be administered}.

Next, the host will gingerly pout a full shot of Screech. This is handed to the victim and he or she has to repeat the following, before drinking, and while holding the glass high:

“Long may your big jib draw”

After this, present the victim with the “Screech In” Certificate as proof of their adventure and welcome them into the Royal Order of Screechers.

While we did not “screech”, John felt like he still needed to kiss a cod.

Kissing the Cod