Top News

PAM FRAMPTON: No defence for the fence

A car slows down near the fence erected on Signal Hill this week, as Rick Mercer does an interview with CBC in front of it, July 17. —
A car slows down near the fence erected on Signal Hill this week, as Rick Mercer does an interview with CBC in front of it, July 17. — Pam Frampton

“If the landscape changes, then I don’t know who I am either. The landscape is a refracted autobiography. As it disappears you lose your sense of self.”  — Iain Sinclair, Welsh writer and filmmaker

In the end, the whole fracas about the fence erected near the visitors centre on Signal Hill this week could be summed up thusly: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Parks Canada says the seven-foot-high, 80-foot-long wooden fence was necessary to prevent motorists heading up Signal Hill from being distracted by performances of the Signal Hill Tattoo, as well as to improve the experience of those watching the show (which, incidentally, is only offered two months of the year).

Others suggested the fence was built to keep people from watching the Tattoo for free.

Whatever the case, before the fence went up this week, the Tattoo had been using a military-style temporary fence that could be erected during showtime and then taken down.

In a news release Wednesday evening announcing it was responding to public feedback by taking down the short-lived “permanent” fence, Parks Canada said: “The existing fence will be taken down this week and replaced with a temporary structure that will only be put in place during performances.”

Well, duh — that’s what it had been doing in the first place, at much less cost.

Rick Mercer helped make short work of the fence with his tweet on Tuesday:

@rickmercer Half way up Signal Hill in St. John’s — @ParksCanadaNL have built a fence designed to block the view. Welcome to NL nothing to see here.”

And so the fence furor was ignited, with most opinion seeming to come from the school of “whose stupid idea was this?”

Many cities in the world recognize the value of protecting common viewscapes because they mean something to citizens.

Now, as fences go, it was nice enough, and well-built. What seemed to galvanize the public is the fact that it blocked part of the view and there appears to have been no public consultation before it was put in place.

Parks Canada’s mandate on behalf of the people of Canada is to “protect and present nationally significant examples of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage…”

Well, that includes the view. And views matter, especially when they are engrained in who we are.

The sweeping view of the harbour, through the Narrows and out into the broad expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, is all part of the ascent to Signal Hill. It’s where we go to get our bearings, to think, to mark milestones in our lives and to show off our city to tourists. To have a portion of that view abruptly blocked off was a visceral blow for people who feel that they are part of the landscape and the landscape is part of them.

Parks Canada is the guardian of Signal Hill, but the hill and its environs belong to the people — and not just to those who pay admission to see a performance being held in a particular field.

Now, I know some people think the fuss about the fence was pure foolishness. But for a government agency to unilaterally decide to deprive people visual access to a highly valued part of the landscape was an affront.

I wrote to Parks Canada on Wednesday with a few questions, asking whether there had been any public consultation and if so, what form had it taken, and whether there was any documentation on what was heard. I also asked about the rationale for the fence and the cost of erecting it.

I didn’t even get a reply.

Many cities in the world recognize the value of protecting common viewscapes because they mean something to citizens.

In 2003, the City of St. John’s commissioned a study on preserving visual resources, including iconic views, calling them “key elements which contribute significantly to the image and character of the city…”

It labelled the panoramic view from Signal Hill as one of primary importance, and a view that was considered non-threatened at that time.

Now that Parks Canada has dismantled the fence, let’s hope it stays that way.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s managing editor. Email pamela.frampton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton


MORE FROM PAM FRAMPTON
The high cost of living (long)
Nalcor — a league of its own

Recent Stories