Parks Canada not keeping up Signal Hill grounds: Johnson

Barb Sweet
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Signal Hill


Parks Canada needs to clean up its act on Signal Hill before it imposes an increase in fees, says philanthropist Paul Johnson.

“From the beginning of the transfer of the top of Signal Hill and Cabot Tower, from the province to the federal government (Parks Canada), our ‘national historic site’ has been improperly cared for, mismanaged and subject to monumental neglect. The province should ask for it back,” Johnson said in a letter to the editor published today on page A19.

Parks Canada has proposed increasing all national park fees in line with the consumer price index in April.

But it’s also proposing a new season pass for the Cape Spear lighthouse and the Signal Hill visitors’ centre of $9.80, which can be purchased instead of the daily pass, currently $3.90.

Under the proposal, there remains no charge to use the grounds of either Signal Hill or Cape Spear.

Johnson, founder of the Johnson Family Foundation, told The Tele­gram the state of Signal Hill is “disgraceful.”

“Go up and pay a visit and look at what we do with Geo Park by comparison,” he said.

“(Parks Canada is) claiming they are running in the hole every year. I wouldn’t mind them running in the hole, except they are not doing the job. And they expect the public to pick up the cost. I don’t even know how they’d spend the money if they got additional money. It’s a management problem.”

The foundation has developed a number of projects around the city, including The Lookout and the Johnson Geological Centre and its adjacent park on Signal Hill.

 Johnson said the Parks Canada Signal Hill grass is not being cut and stoneworks, pavement and history boards are not being maintained. And he said the two walks on the north slopes of Signal Hill are unsafe.

Johnson said the Grand Concourse Authority, which manages a network of walkways around metro, used to send condition reports to Parks Canada, but was asked not to do that anymore.

According to Johnson, the authority is considering taking out its signage approach to the two north slope walks because of the trails’ condition.

 He remembers the first time he looked off Signal Hill when he was six or seven, walking with his father from Patrick Street. At the time, the road to Signal Hill was a dirt lane.

“It was astonishing to look out and see the Atlantic Ocean,” Johnson said of the view.

Johnson said Parks Canada should never contemplate charging to use the trails and the park itself, noting people watch the sunsets and sunrises and enjoy views of the city, as well as the sea.

“We’ve been doing it for hundreds of years,” he said.

In the last few years, Parks Canada redirected the road to Signal Hill, diverting motorists through the interpretation centre parking lot.

But that’s only annoyed residents who used to have a relative straight line to the top, Johnson said.

“It hasn’t made a nickel worth of difference,” he said.

Bill Brake, superintendent for Parks Canada’s Newfoundland east field unit, said for people who want to walk to Signal Hill or Cape Spear trails, or visit the grounds, the fee changes will have no impact, because that enjoyment remains free.

While federal tax contributions help establish parks and conserve land, Brake said, certain fees are needed to maintain services such as tours and interpretation centres.

Parks Canada operations, according to federal regulations, keep the revenues they generate, Brake said.

“The revenues we generate at Signal Hill stay at Signal Hill,” he said.

As for the diversion on the roadway, Brake said that was done for public safety because of accidents due to motorists speeding down the hill and close calls for walkers. At the same time, sidewalks were installed along the roadway.

Brake also said Parks Canada strives to keep its grounds and trails maintained.

“You’ve got to realize, we’re in a harsh environment,” he said, noting they require ongoing capital improvements, maintenance and repairs because of the effects of weather.

“Our trails our safe, no question.”

Brake said Parks Canada wants to hear from as many people as possible about the proposed fee changes, which follow a five-year freeze.

Parks Canada’s public consultations for the proposed price changes are taking place until

Feb. 18. Information is available at




Organizations: Parks Canada, Johnson Family Foundation, Johnson Geological Centre Grand Concourse Authority

Geographic location: Signal Hill, Cabot Tower, April.But Patrick Street Atlantic Ocean Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Mindy
    January 27, 2013 - 11:13

    The diversion on the roadway, Brake said that was done for public safety because of accidents due to motorists speeding down the hill and close calls for walkers. Mr Brake the diversion is for the up hill traffic and not the down hill that still flows just as fast. To enter the bldgs. atop Signal Hill I can understand the cost of paying but I sure hope I do not pay just to look at the view or use the trails. I sit atop of Signal Hill at least once a week.

    • garry
      January 29, 2013 - 19:59

      Clearly the neglect of Signal Hill is due to mismanagement by Brake, and cutbacks by the feds, and Brake is also the manager of Terra Nova National Park, that park is as equally neglected, its falling down around their ears. Time for them to get their act together!

  • Jim
    January 26, 2013 - 16:55

    I agree that Parks Canada has done a pathetic job at maintaining the storyboards, but as a natural space I don't see why the complaint about not mowing the grass... This ain't a plastic bungalow in Mount Pearl - there is no need to create an artificial lawn around everything. Also, the diversion in the road was not done for pedestrians - as a jogger who climbs the hill regularly, I can tell you that it was much safer when the path was straight. Now you are forced to cross traffic that is rerouted to the visitor's centre. You've spent a lot of money in order to create a more dangerous intersection, where there was no problem before. As for the Johnson Foundation, I appreciate the interest and support for developing trails and tourism in the city, but please hire some professionals! You don't need to bulldoze the landscape and install fake attractions. The trails around the Geo Center were much nicer before you started "investing" in them. Parks Canada has certainly made these changes in attempt to impose fees and raise money off of a natural resource. Paul Johnson has done some great work as a philanthropist - yet a true philanthropist would know when to turn over planning to experts, and when to recognize that supporting a cause does not mean you need to put your name on it in giant letters everywhere. People who give out of caring - and not out of a need for self-promotion - often refuse to have their names written there at all. Paul - you don't own Signal Hill either, regardless of your financial success.

  • Julian
    January 26, 2013 - 13:14

    "As for the diversion on the roadway, Brake said that was done for public safety because of accidents due to motorists speeding down the hill". What nonsense - the diversion diverts traffic going UP the hill. Traffic going down still has the same straight run it always has. Clearly Parks put the diversion there for other reasons.

  • Frank
    January 26, 2013 - 10:52

    Paul Johnson is crowing about his Geo Park. What he's done to the natural terrain is disgusting. A fish flake sticking up out of the gravel? The worst kind of tourist trash imaginable. 8 ft wide roadways covered in crushed stone? So the tourists won't get their feet wet. it's God awful. Al least Signal Hill feels like you're in a natural environment. He says we walked these trails for hundreds of years. Right. And they certainly never looked like the artificial eyesore he's put there to bring people into his geo centre. Where does the money go that he collects for that. Mind your business Paul and keep your hands of the rest of Signal Hill. Frank Barry constant park user

  • Michael
    January 26, 2013 - 10:30

    They need more money to pay government pensions. The grounds and trails will not be improved! It's a crying shame that every citizen is responsible for hefty government pensions. Government maintained and guaranteed pensions are the main culprit of increases for most basic services. We see it at Parks Canada and we also see it at Marine Atlantic!!

  • Skeptical Cynic
    January 26, 2013 - 08:45

    If Parks Canada is going to let the Signal Hill Historic Site crumble with neglect then I say hand stewardship over to the JFF. We allowed decision-makers in Ottawa stewardship over our cod stocks and look how that turned out.

  • david
    January 26, 2013 - 07:56

    Parks Canada is simply a micocosm of the ferderal government in general. As much as it does not maintain Signal Hill or Gros Morne hiking trails (take a safety check of those, Bill Brake!), or any other of the boring, basic services it was mandated to, it is endlessly looking for more money and pursuing completely unneeded ideas to enhance a few bureacrats' corner office aspirations. LIke so many other departments, like the CBC or Canada Post, its continued bloated existence is now its entire purpose. So they're looking for higher fees again....ho hum.