The Link today carries on a proud tradition of providing a public transit route through the town of St John’s, Newfoundland. One hundred years ago tracks were laid for the street car that plied its predictable route along Water Street through the town. Today there are no tracks, and a modern bus makes the journey that connects modern passengers with their forerunners.
The sense of history is never far away from you in St John’s. When a sea mist rolls in and you let your imagination wander as you ride The Link, you can hear a bell clang and the track rumble beneath you, as a great crowd of engineers and passengers from yesteryear cheer you on. If your imagination doesn’t extend to peering through the mists of time, you can view this fascinating short video from a 1900 film reel.
The Link terminates on Signal Hill at one end of its route, and at the Quidi Vidi Brewery at the other. Of course, it covers the rest of St Johns historical heritage in between. You can step on and step off at any stop. There is a daily fare for individuals and families. You can pay the driver the exact amount or book a ticket online. The Link runs during the summer from June to September and Operates Wednesday to Sunday (no service on Mondays or Tuesdays)
Take the first Link bus of the day around 10 am and make your way to Cabot Tower on Signal Hill. The Link bus returns to each stop, every hour.
St John’s has survived for five centuries and has the character to prove it. And much of that character development took place here on Signal Hill.
It was here that the final battle of the seven years’ war took place in 1762; and Signal Hill was manned during the Napoleonic Wars 1803 to 1815 and the American Civil War 1861 to 1865
Add to that two World Wars when from this hill the town was guarded, and you end up with a city that has the flavour of old wine contained in a new wineskin.
The views from Signal Hill are spectacular looking out over the city and the Atlantic Ocean; and you can see Cape Spear, the most easterly point of North America. For serious hikers, St John’s to Cape Spear is a 3-4 hour walk.
North Head Trail
This trail is a favorite walk with visitors and locals alike, but come prepared. The trail descends 500 feet in just over a mile (1.7k) as it traverses the Atlantic Ocean and the rugged coastline. There are some sheer edges to negotiate. The trail continues down boardwalk stairs until you arrive at North Head, the entrance to St John’s Harbour. Continue along the Narrows to Lower Battery Road. During this 90 minute hike, you may see whales in the coastal waters!
Cabot Tower was being planned just after the great Fire of 1892, and detractors argued that building an extravagant tower on Signal Hill, was like putting a silk hat on the head of a man who couldn’t afford shoes. But visionaries don’t see the problems of the present (shoes or no shoes), they have their head in the clouds and see something from afar off. The vision of the early architect that helped to rebuild St John’s has left a valuable legacy to the residents of the city.
The tower project was planned to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Newfoundland by the explorer John Cabot in 1497, and to celebrate the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. The tower was completed in 1900 and was soon to book a unique chapter in history. At a position near to the tower in 1901, Marconi received the first trans-Atlantic wireless message from Poldhu in Cornwall.
Today you can see the exhibits about Marconi and the wireless station that operated in the tower. There is a gift shop and an amateur radio station.
From here it is a 10-minute ride on The Link to the Geo Centre.
Further down Signal Hill from the tower is the GEO Centre. Most of the centre is underground to exhibit the exposed bedrock of the hill. A glass-cased structure, built over of the old excavations, show the natural rock formations.
The building maintains a constant temperature by using geothermal technology as a sustainable energy source.
Downtown St John’s
Step off in Water Street and Walk to experience St. John’s Downtown area. You can walk the narrow alleyways into Duckworth Street or Harbour Drive where there are many restaurants, art galleries, and shops. And just a short way north you will find the colourful jelly bean houses for which St John’s is famous.
Water Street, the oldest commercial street in North America, grew from the fishing industry; it started as a series of streams and brooks with a pathway across connecting the various premises. It is along Water Street that you walk in the steps of captains, traders, naval officers, and pirates who walked here 250 years ago.
St. John’s Visitors Centre
This is a great stop to get off at if you’re not sure what you want to do next. The helpful staff at the St. John’s Visitors Centre can give you plenty of recommendations to do in the city. Iceberg Quest Boat Tours is also near this stop, so you can head over there and check out their schedule to get a boat ride in the Atlantic ocean and maybe even see some whales and puffins.
Railway Coastal Museum
Riverhead Train Station, built in 1903, houses the museum. The building is designated a National Historic Site of Canada. Railway buffs and those interested in the history of St John’s will love this place as it covers the history of the Newfoundland rail system from its start in the late 1880’s to its finish in 1988. The Coastal Boat Service is also exhibited here.
Newman Wine Vaults
The Link has a scheduled stop at the Newman Wine Vaults located on the corner of Water and Springdale Streets. This unique landmark has a history that dates back to 1679. When you walk into the arched stone hallways, you step back 300 years to a time when Portugal, Port, pirates, and profit converged to write a spellbinding story.
Be sure to pick up a bottle of the celebrated Newman’s Port while you are in St John’s. From here it is a 3-minute ride on The Link to the Railway Coastal Museum.
St. John’s City Hall
Departing the bus at City Hall may not seem like the most exciting spot, but there are actually some great spots here to snap some photos. The flags of each Canadian province and territory are lined up on top of the building, and there’s a giant concrete compass integrated into the sidewalk that will show you how far away other cities in the world are.
The Commissariat Colonial Building
A provincial historic site, The Commissariat Colonial Building was built by British military engineers in about 1820. This building was the administrative hub of the British forces until during the move of Newfoundland from naval to civilian rule, which lasted from 1824 to 1870. Today, the building provides a multimedia experience to what life was like in St. John’s during that time period.
Quidi Vidi Brewery
This is an independent brewery with an array of different types of beer. Quidi Vidi does not have any other breweries besides this one, so if you’re a beer lover, you’ve got to check it out while you’re in St. John’s. They also offer tours of the brewery with a tasting of their different offerings afterwards. It’s a must-visit if you’re on a mission to taste beers that can only be found in Newfoundland!
Whether you want to step back in history; have a brief shopping trip downtown; or spend a free half a day taking in the sights and sounds of St John’s; The Link will take you there.
Another option if you’re looking for more of a guided tour is St. John’s Hop On Hop Off.