eastern winds tour/ transcanada pipeline

Posted March 11, 2008 by jake moore

eastern winds tour/ transcanada pipeline image

telematic newfoundland
Soumis par jake le Lun, 2008-11-03 07:17

The massive rock that is Newfoundland is perhaps best known to most Canadians as the place the fish used to be, but its soaring cliff faces and blackwater bays have also played a major role in the development of telecommunications and aeronautics.

Our first stop on the Eastern Winds tour was St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Itis known as the oldest city founded by Europeans in North America, so old in fact that much of its history is steeped in legend and therefore up for debate. Luckily the people of these parts are always ready for a conversation. The story goes that the city earned its name when explorer Giovanni Caboto, better known to North Americans as, John Cabot, became the first European to sail into its harbour, on June 24, 1497 - the feast day of St. John the Baptist.

To celebrate the 400th anniversary of his landing, a tower was erected on the site in 1897. The Cabot Tower was built on the cliff’s edge known as Signal Hill looking out to the sea. This highest vantage point began simply as the site from which those in the tower could send signals to those in the town to let them know who was approaching. The method of delivery was to use cannons as attention getting devices and then flags and semiphore to get the message across. The receivers in St. John’s would respond in kind, flashing signs and cannon fire once all was understood.

On December 12th, 1901 Signal Hill entered infamy with the reception of the first transatlantic wireless signal. The morse code letter “s”, signified by three dots, was sent from the Poldhu Wireless Station, in Cornwall, England and intercepted here by Guglielmo Marconi.

Marconi had proven what no one else thought was possible - that signals could travel wirelessly along the curvature of the earth. Until this time it was believed that radio waves, like the other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum that we perceive as light, travel only in a straight line. It was also not yet understood how far they could travel. By grounding his signal, he was able to amplify it enough to travel the 2100 miles from Poldhu to St. John’s.

This remarkable achievement meant that communication with people not in a fixed location would be possible. Something inestimably valuable for a colony whose polpulation was regularly dispersed on the sea. Unfortunately Marconi’s achievement could not set roots in Newfoundland. He could not even repeat his successful experiment there for the government officials so excited by what this could mean for their populace and the future of Newfoundland. For they had signed an agreement of monopoly for the Anglo-American Telegraph Company, guaranteeing it 50 years of sole provision of telecommunications on the island.

Thus the protection of capital thwarted legitimate progress towards what the real needs of a particular community might be. The trans-atlantic cable kept the colony hardwired to the motherland, but could not help at all the people right outside the bay. The necessity of this kind of comunication would be proven dramatically the night the Marconi station operators Robert Hunston and Walter Gray at the Marconi shore station in Cape Race, Newfoundland would receive the call from the SS Titanic. Without that last minute beacon, certainly all lives on the ill-fated voyage would have been lost.

Long before arriving in Newfoundland I had wanted to see where the trans-atlantic cable had come ashore. While it was no longer the means of communication appropriate to this communities needs, it was a remarkable achievement and to my mind deeply romantic. The cable stitched together the continents and brought us into greater relation, lessening the divide between what Europeans perceived as the old and new worlds. It was one giant step in the compression of physical space on this planet that would mark the 20th century.

“Indeed, virtually the first use of the first transatlantic telegraph cable laid in 1866 was to send star-transit timings between astronomers in Newfoundland and Great Britain, to nail down the exact longitude differences between points in Europe and North America.”
from the IEEEE Meeting of the History of Telecommunications at Heart’s Content Newfoundland, July 2001

so, a day trip was planned.

We would head across the Avalon peninsula, round Conception Bay, stop in Harbour Grace, and then, on to Heart’s Content.
Ximena, Bérèngere and i headed downtown to pick up a rental car. On our way we stopped in at a very curious shop on Duckworth Street. Its windows were filled with arcane tools and a jumble of pictures maps and curios. We stepped inside and within a few seconds were met with…

“you girls aren’t from around here now are you?”

Newfoundlanders can spot a come-from-away immediately, but thankfully are usually open to conversation. The store was a goldsmith shop and the tools were a combination of those needed for jewellry and watchmaking. Proprietor Christopher Kearney had originally followed his father’s footsteps into the watchmaking trade before he developed a unique jewellry practice with a specialization in Labradorite.

Christopher Kearney would prove to be more than just a talented artist and a friendly presence. When we told him of our plans he told us he had a piece of the cable right there in the shop!

it seems his great great uncle had helped with the navigation that led the Great Eastern successfully ashore. In fact, he had been brought out to the Great Eastern so he would arrive ceremoniously in Heart’s Content. Young Chris believes the cable is therefore part of his familial legacy and came to own a piece of it.