What a blast!

Steve Bartlett
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Reporter gets to fire Noon Day Gun … at 10 a.m.

BOOM! As smoke rose from the cannon, absolute power is briefly within my grasp.

And — whoo-ha-ha! (evil villain voice) — there’s more coming.

The blast had only been a test with what’s called a friction tube.

There was still eight ounces of gunpowder to be loaded — and fired.

Today, Signal Hill will figuratively blow out the candles on Parks Canada’s 100th birthday cake by blasting the Noon Day Gun.

On Wednesday morning, officials offered The Telegram a chance to fire it and gain insight into what’s involved.

The editors sent yours truly, knowing full well 1860s military apparel would look absolutely ridiculous on me. (“When are you due?” one co-worker asked after seeing the pictures.)

With a steady rain falling, Lt. Robin Martin and Sgt. Zach Welsh — their re-enactment titles — prepare the cannon and go through the protocol involved every time it’s fired.

Me, I stand to the side, dressed like the guy who opens the Sheraton’s front doors, waiting for a work offer from an organ grinder.

Jokes aside, the Noon Day Gun is of historical significance.

“It’s huge,” says Martin, a military animation specialist with Parks Canada. “It’s one of the icons that people associate with Signal Hill.”

The earliest reference to the gun is 1842. In the decades that followed, it became part of the St. John’s lexicon, with people setting their watches and planning their day around it. Guns were also fired to warn about things like fog and fire.

Interestingly, Martin points out, in 1906 a group of clergy had the gun stopped because it disrupted church on Sundays. Public outcry— including a song, “Who Stopped the Gun?” by Maurice Devine — saw it soon reinstated.

The Richard Squires government got rid of the noon booms in 1931 as an austerity measure. But again, public protests brought it back within weeks.

The gun went silent in 1949, when, apparently, ammunition for the canon could no longer be found.

Tens years later, after Signal Hill became a national historic site, it was reinstated again and continued to be fired until the early ’90s.

It was brought back in 2008 to mark the 50th year of Signal Hill’s national designation.

After it goes off at noon today, the gun will be fired throughout this weekend and on Saturdays and Sundays until mid-June.

From then, it’ll go off daily until about Labour Day.

All I had to do Wednesday was fire it once following the aforementioned practice pop.

During my youth, I had loosely related experiences in the Cabot Tower parking lot. However, since The Telegram remains a family publication, a recount of them will only appear on the Internet.

The stage for failure is set before we left the interpretation centre, when Martin says, “Every person I’ve taught to do it has gotten it on the first try.”

After the gun is readied and the commands are shouted, Martin signals for me to approach the cannon, which is a replica of British ordinance used between 1790 and 1820.

Following orders, I coil the lanyard around my left hand and stand to the left.

“It’s huge. It’s one of the icons that people associate with Signal Hill.” Lt. Robin Martin

I wonder about pointing the canon at St. John’s City Hall to see if it really is a bunker. The answer is no, that the gun powder would only cause a puff of smoke anyway.

When Martin yells “fire,” I’m to keep my body steady and pull away to the left.

Not knowing how loud the blast will be, I’m quite anxious, despite the mandatory plugs in my ears and Martin’s assurance: “There’s no direct danger, otherwise we would not allow you to do it.”

As he’s shouts the firing drill — which is adapted from 1796 — I find myself singing AC/DC. “For those about to rock — FIRE! — We salute you.”

However, there’s no saluting when Martin finally bawls “FIRE!”

The cannon doesn’t go off on first yank and I’m feeling some kind of projectile dysfunction. (So much for everyone getting it on Attempt 1.)

Protocol says to wait for another “Fire!” but discouraged, I don’t and promptly give the lanyard another pull.

This time, “BOOM!” a puff of smoke, another brief feeling of absolute power, and a congratulatory handshake from Martin.

I had fired the noon day gun at 10 in the morning.

And it was a blast, despite the tight tunic and teasing that’s transpired since.


Twitter: bartlett_steve

Organizations: Parks Canada, Sheraton, AC/DC

Geographic location: Signal Hill, Cabot Tower

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