St John's Newfoundland - the closest port on the North American mainland to the UK.

My submarine 'Auriga' was stationed in Canada in the Sixth Squadron based on Halifax Nova Scotia. We used to call in on St John's Newfoundland on our way north to the ice where lurked Russian submarines pursuing the Cold War. In the Summer, the Cabot Straits, the Gulf of St Lawrence and therefore the St Lawrence Sea Way were open but in the winter months the whole lot froze over and was shut to sea traffic. Halifax was the most northerly port opened all the year around. This map shows the area:-

In the winter months we used to penetrate the pack-ice in the Cabot Straits and then dive under the ice in the Gulf of St Lawrence.

So, to my story about St John's. There is not much to do or see there, but my, are the people friendly. They are also a hardy bunch of people. In 1500 approx, John Cabot {an Italian navigator} found the land mass and quite literally called it his 'new found land'.  He also explored the sea around this land mass, passing between the southern tip and the northern tip of Nova Scotia [which bears his name - Cabot Straits] and found the Gulf of St Lawrence with the route inland deep into the province of Quebec. Just to the north of the town at about 500 feet above sea level is a substantial stone tower built on Signal Hill. It was erected in 1900 and it commemorates the 400th anniversary of Cabot's discoveries. In 1932 it became the HQ of the St John's coast station and operated on many frequencies using the calling VON. Just 6 yards away from this tower still very much on Signal Hill is another stone pillar, tiny when compared with the Cabot Tower on which there is a plaque commemorating Marconi.


Now, for Marconi to receive signals on this very spot [see picture to right] he would need an aerial and a receiver and bearing in mind that the Cabot Tower was new in 1900 with no occupier, this experiment of 12th December 1901 would be conducted in and from the Tower?


Marconi flew a kite aerial from this spot and the other end was connected to his receiver which was in a hospital building a little further down the Signal Hill which is now long gone. Strange!  Marconi received radio signals from Poldhu in Cornwall nearly 2000 miles away on a frequency of 38 kc/s, now of course kiloHertz [kHz], which is just inside the LF [Low Frequency Band of 30 to 300kHz] which interested us as submariners. With a great deal more power, we could receive Rugby [GBR] on 16kHz QRK/QSA5 when on the surface, but once dived the signal was rapidly attenuated and unusable, so all made sense to us.  It was very much a ground wave propagation when at that time the ionosphere was little understood and nobody expected to receive sky waves [HF or short wave].

Why did Marconi choose St John's for his experiment? Presumably for the same reasons that Alcock and Brown took off from St John's passing over Signal Hill as they climbed in their historic flight across the Atlantic.  It is the closest seaport on the North American Continent to Europe.

Before we leave the story of Canada, I'll leave you with a quite staggering fact.  I have already published two pages about the "water" in, on and around the North American Continent giving details which truly are amazing, and they can be found here TWO CRUCIAL INTERNATIONAL MARITIME MEASUREMENTS and here Bits and Pieces Volume IV  and Scroll to Story Number 11. In this case the art/skill of a top notch navigator [assuming one does it once or twice only in a career, and not every couple of weeks to earn a living] is definitely required, threading ones way through thousands of rocks, islands, hazards of every kind and very few straight lines - in transit ships are nominated "downbound" and "upbound" and queuing is often required. The Royal Navy has done it on several occasions, some of them to keep very important engagements! I have done it, but as a passenger only. We are now going to enter the St Lawrence river/Seaway as shown above and we are off to Thunder Bay which is in Ontario.

This is the route we are going to take which looks easy, but let me assure you that it is far from easy.

The start of the journey takes us through the heartland of Canada passing Quebec City and Montreal en-route to Lake Ontario. There the Lake feeds the River Niagara which travels south, over the horseshoe falls and eventually down to the City of Buffalo where it drains into Lake Erie. We pass down a much smaller waterway someway to the West of the River Niagara also into Lake Erie joining the Lake at Port Colborn. We pass up through the centre of Detroit across a waterway leaving at Port Sarnia into Lake Heron. Across Lake Heron passing through rocky territory and zig zagging our way through many Islands [the most tortuous and dangerous passage], passing by Salt Ste Marie/Pointe Aux Pins and into Lake Superior, called so, because it is the top Lake [most Northern] and therefore above all others. When we arrive at Thunder Bay [a largish township] we are approximately 2000 miles from the open sea. But, and much more importantly, we are 600 feet above that open sea we left behind, so how did we do it? Well after Quebec City and before we leave the River St Lawrence to enter Lake Ontario there are six very large locks [massive ships transit this waterway], some reasonably close to each other, but some spread very far apart, and by the time we have got to Lake Ontario we have been lifted nearly 450 of those feet, approx. Shortly after have entered the narrow waterway at the SW end of the Lake [running if you remember in parallel with the River Niagara over to our left] and heading South, we encounter two more locks between that point and the leave point [Port Colborn] [locks 7 and 8] which lift us the remaining 150 feet. Two thousand miles from the sea and 600 feet above it is unique and a good experience to witness.