Fort Amherst

Category Exploration Date Status Province / State Country
Military July 13, 2014 Abandoned Newfoundland Canada

Posted on: Tue, 08/12/2014 - 23:15 By: Mike

This point of land appears to have served in the defence of St. John's Harbour since 1632. It was apparently so named after Col. Amherst who, in 1762, took St. John's from the French.

In September, 1796, a French fleet arrived under the command of Admiral Richery.  An alarm was raised from Signal Hill, and Governor Sir James Wallace declared martial law and pressed every able-bodied man immediately into service.  The French fleet stood offshore and watched as Wallace had guns and men moved out to hills to meet the challenge.  Many signals were seen to be exchanged between the ships and three days after their arrival, they left without having fired a shot.

Looking into the narrows.

With the combination of a light, first installed in 1812, and a "fog gun", the Fort largely assisted vessels coming in and out of the narrow passage to the port city.  It's noted in the July 24, 1896 edition of the Evening Telegram that an unnamed woman having a picnic nearby became the first woman to ever fire the fog gun, and did so without flinching.  The use of the fog gun was discontinued on August 1, 1908, replaced by a compressed air fog horn.

The St. John's Daily Star notes in its October 18, 1916 edition that, on October 11, a message had been sent out indicating that the harbour entrance would be closed at night, with a chain going up across the narrows, and that the light would be extinguished.  This was in response, apparently, to reports of a German U-boat operating in the area.

Gun looking toward Signal Hill.

The ruins you see in the pictures below, however, are of the World War II-era fortifications constructed here in 1941. Its purpose was to protect the minefield that had been laid just outside the harbour.

Two 4.7" guns were moved here from Signal Hill across the mouth of the harbour to replace a pair of 75mm guns that were in turn moved to Fort Chain Rock (one of which is still there). An American-made and -manned radar, SCR-296A, was located nearby to aid in the direction of the guns.

Inside the Fort.

In one incident noted by the Atlantic Guardian, the SS Terra Nova was completing a zig-zag manoeuver, required to confused submarines, as she was about to enter St. John's harbour.  A German U-boat fired a torpedo at her, hoping to block the entrance, but missed.  The torpedo exploded on the rocks, blowing the glass from the lighthouse.  Fragments of the device are stored in a museum in Ottawa.

I parked my car and began the walk up to the point.  It seemed a fairly popular area for the tourists, so I was unsure what to expect.  When I arrived at the point, however, I saw a small lighthouse, a very old, barely visible concrete circle where a gun had once been mounted, and a historical marker...  Where's the access to the fort?

Looking out of the Fort to another gun.

A bit of looking around revealed that they weren't allowing access to the fort and had instead encircled the entire point with a chain-link fence.  After a moment of disappointed disbelief, I noted a little gap one end of the fence line.  When I took a closer look, I could see that I could, if careful, get down the embankment to the old concrete works below.  A quick glance around and down I went.

I certainly wasn't disappointed.  Both guns were still present though no longer on the carriages as they once had been.  As you will see from the pictures, this is something almost anyone would be interested in seeing, and I was sorry for others that they were not allowing them to.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
CAPTCHA This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.