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ON THE 11th HOUR: when the war went quiet
People are speaking out about a recent eye-raising change at one of the province’s most visited tourist sites — and they’re not on the fence about it.
“I absolutely hate it,” said Jennifer Whitten-Rowe of St. John’s, who stopped before hiking a nearby trail to talk about the 80-foot-long, seven-foot-high wooden privacy fence that has been erected along the south side of the Signal Hill Visitors’ Centre.
“It’s one of the nicest views in the province and now it’s completely blocked. … Whoever had the idea to do that, it was a bonehead decision.”
That sentiment seems to be shared by many, who took to social media to protest the fence at the national historic site.
Comedian and political commentator Rick Mercer was one of the first to express outrage in his Twitter post, in which he says, “Halfway up Signal Hill in St. John’s - @ParksCanada @ParksCanadaNL have built a fence designed to block the view. Welcome to NL nothing to see here.” The tweet is accompanied by a photo of the fence, which seemed to be catching many people’s attention Tuesday.
Alfred Brunke, who is originally from Germany and lives in Vancouver, was seen trying to look around the fence as a loud buzz of a contract worker’s saw could be heard as he worked on one end of the fence. Brunke slowly walked through the opening, where it appears a gate will be installed, put his hands on his hips, looked out at the view of the harbour and shook his head.
“It’s too bad,” he said, referring to the fence. “It’s something that doesn’t look nice there at all.”
Besides shielding passersby from the view of The Narrows and St. John’s harbour, it also prevents people from seeing into a large field, where various events are held, including the St. John’s Tattoo performances.
An award-winning, long-running historical animation program, the Tattoo is a popular tourist attraction, at which members, dressed in full regalia, portray British military soldiers from His Majesty’s Royal Newfoundland Regiment of Foot and the 27th Company-2nd Battalion-Royal Regiment of Artillery from the late 1790s.
Shows are held twice a day, four times a week, during the summer months, at a cost of $10 per person.
CEO Jim Lynch told The Telegram he is glad Parks Canada decided to erect the fence and is surprised by the negative public reaction. He said the fence is something he has been pushing for from Parks Canada for decades.
It’s not about making more money, he said — it’s about safety.
“We’re not interested in whether people can see Tattoo from outside,” said Lynch, adding that the shows can be viewed from various areas around Signal Hill. “We had a number of incidents where people heard musket or cannon fire and walked right onto the field into the line of fire.”
“We’re not interested in whether people can see Tattoo from outside." — Jim Lynch
He said that although the group fires black powder and there’s no projectile, Parks Canada has regulations about the distance between it and spectators.
Bill Brake, Parks Canada’s field unit superintendent for eastern Newfoundland, agreed the fence was erected to make it a better, safer experience for visitors in the area and performers on the field.
He said there were problems with traffic, as drivers would often be distracted by the performance.
“We’ve had a lot of near-misses in the past, drivers stopping or slowing down to look at what’s happening on the field. The reality for us is that’s not a safe situation,” said Brake, adding that the temporary fence didn’t meet their needs, while the permanent fence will reduce the noise from both sides.
Brake said the scenic views may be blocked at that particular small section of roadway, but the best views can be accessed by driving around the visitors’ centre.
“It really does not impact people’s ability to access the best views at the hill,” he said. “It’s not the view that has people in that particular location. They’re there because they want to access the visitors’ centre, the café or take in a performance, and this structure improves the experience for everybody.”
But not everyone agrees.
“I was shocked to see this. It’s ugly. It’s an eyesore,” said Merlinda Weinberg, who is originally from Toronto, lives in Halifax and is making her first visit to this province.
“I understand what they were trying to do, but it’s so out of character to the friendliness and openness of Newfoundland.”