Nfld. & Labrador

'Stunning in its ugliness': New fence on Signal Hill baffles visitors

Rick Mercer says a newly constructed wooden fence near the Interpretation Centre on Signal Hill is ruining one of his favourite views of St. John's, and he wants to know why it's there.

Wooden fence appears to have been designed to block view of city, says Rick Mercer

The newly constructed fence near the Interpretation Centre on Signal Hill in St. John's. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Like a number of Newfoundlanders who only visit home a few times a year, when author and comedian Rick Mercer touches down in St. John's, he usually heads straight to Signal Hill for a "gawk."

"It was a bit of a foggy day so I knew I wouldn't see anything from the top," he said. 

Instead of going straight up the hill to Cabot Tower, Mercer decided to drop by the Interpretation Centre and look out at his hometown from Signal Hill's midway point.

But, he said, he didn't get much of a view … and this time, it wasn't because of the fog. 

"I pulled in, and there's this giant big fence that's being built," he said. "I can only assume the fence is intentionally designed to block the view."

Aside from the wooden fence obstructing the view and being "stunning in its ugliness," Mercer said he wonders how the fence will affect people with limited mobility. 

"St. John's is a notoriously difficult place for anyone with mobility issues. Now, if you wanted to have a look, you got to walk up the path. There's a whole segment of society that aren't able to do that because they have a lack of mobility," he said. "I wonder if that was even considered."

Mercer wasn't the only one surprised to see the newly built fence blocking one of the city's most spectacular views.

Robert Koster, visiting St. John's from Bancroft, Ont., says he was shocked to see crews building a fence on Signal Hill. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Robert Koster of Bancroft, Ont., was confused to see crews working on it when he visited the Newfoundland Chocolate Company's spot inside the Interpretation Centre.

"I wonder why in the world would they put a fence up there to block a view like that?" he asked. 

A visitor enhancement

A spokesperson for Parks Canada says the fence is not meant to block the view at all.

Instead, said Bill Brake, field unit superintendent Newfoundland east for Parks Canada, the fence was built to improve the experience for people coming to see performances on and near the visitor centre grounds — such as the Signal Hill Tattoo period re-enactment and plays such as the ones performed by Shakespeare by the Sea — and other special events on the site 

The fence is also intended to prevent near-misses and close-call  accidents as traffic slows down or stops completely around the visitor centre as drivers try to catch a glimpse of the city during a "short window" before heading to the top of the hill, he said.

They've erected a permanent fence that has an impact on all of St. John's to keep some guy with his youngster from watching the Tattoo in the parking lot?- Rick Mercer

"The idea is that while it improves the experience for visitors, it also helps in terms of the traffic flow issue and having people sort of not being slowing down or stopping there mid-journey in that particular area. So it also helps us address a public safety issue," said Brake.

Brake said a temporary fence has been in place for the last four years near the visitors centre, and the current cedar fence was built in the last few days. The former fence did not meet the needs for visitors or performers on the performance field, he said. 

'Consider the impact'

Mercer said the view from Signal Hill is one of the standout things that makes the City of St. John's so great.

"When you do something like this, you have to consider the impact it has on people," he said.

"I'm guessing that they are concerned that some people might get a glimpse of the Tattoo without paying their $10. They've erected a permanent fence that has an impact on all of St. John's to keep some guy with his youngster from watching the Tattoo in the parking lot? I think that's ill-conceived," said Mercer.

Brake said the fence will not affect the view beyond the visitation centre where tourists and locals generally visit anyway. 

He said the visitor centre and surrounding area is still accessible for anyone with mobility constraints, and said the fence is not meant to block visitors from watching the Signal Hill Tattoo for free, as Gibbet Hill and other areas are still accessible, free of charge, with a view of the show.

"Signal Hill is near and dear to a lot of people in St. John's and the province as well. So, typically whenever we do anything at the hill, regardless of what it is, we hear from people. As we are now," Brake said. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

With files from On The Go and Meg Roberts


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