The bunkers at the foot of the North Head trail leading to Signal Hill, used to store artillery to protect the harbour during the Second World War, have been vandalized with graffiti. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
A war historian says bunkers located near the Lower Battery trail leading to the Signal Hill National Historic Site should be torn down if Parks Canada fails to deal with the effects of vandalism.
“Most people go through the Lower Battery, which is a very picturesque neighbourhood, and then the first thing they see when they get on the trail are these three eyesores,” said Paul Collins.
“Parks Canada should either do something with them or tear them down.”
Collins, a historian whose doctoral thesis focused on the history of St. John’s as a naval base during the Second World War, went on a recent hike through the area to take advantage of nice weather.
“When I went by (last Friday), I just noticed how bad they looked. Here they are at the start of this ... very popular trail, and they’re eyesores.”
Graffiti covers the bunkers inside and out. Collins said the present state of the bunkers detracts from the beauty of the trail and the area’s historic significance. Likewise, Collins contends the condition of the bunkers does not reflect well on Parks Canada, St. John’s, the province, or Canada as a whole.
According to Collins, the bunkers housed artillery pieces used to protect St. John’s harbour during the Second World War.
“As a historian, I think it’s a shame that these haven’t been preserved,” he said. “Certainly, Fort Amherst (on the south side of St. John’s) has not been preserved.”
In an email to The Telegram, a Parks Canada spokesman said vandalism and graffiti have been an ongoing concern in relation to the bunkers and other local attractions the agency is responsible for, making reference to the Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site.
“Through preventive and restorative measures, as well as raising public awareness, Parks Canada’s goal is to limit the incidences and impact of vandalism on the cultural resources under our care,” it said.
Parks Canada staff are in the process of remediating damage to the bunkers, according to the statement.
Collins said countries such as France and Belgium place plaques at the site of most abandoned bunkers to offer a historical perspective on their significance to war efforts.
“Here we have two very historic fortifications from the Second World War, and they’re just been allowed to deteriorate into an eyesore.”
While he believes the bunkers are too far gone to commemorate their historic significance given how much the structures have deteriorated over the years, Collins suggests a fresh coat of paint could “go a long way.”
The bunkers are also a safety hazard in his view given they are not maintained and have been slowly falling apart for decades. He said doors should be locked to prevent people from entering them. He suspects some people use them as urinals.
“You get somebody who goes in there and something happens, there’s a whole liability issue. So I’m really surprised that the doors aren’t bolted shut. If the bunkers are abandoned and unused, then the doors should be locked to prevent anybody from going in.”
Following his walk last week, Collins wrote an email and sent it to various government departments, including Parks Canada and federal Heritage Minister Shelly Glover. He did receive a note from Parks Canada acknowledging that his correspondence had been received and would be forwarded to the proper authorities.