Apr
14
2010

Cape Spear

Located at the most easterly point of North America, Cape Spear National Historic Site offers a glimpse into a lightkeeper's existence in the 1800s

St. John's isn't a big city, but it's still a city. Traffic gets congested, people clutter the sidewalks, and the 9-to-5 workweek moves so fast it's sometimes hard to keep up.

People dressed in business suits move in and out of downtown where I work, clutching coffees and chatting on cell phones. Some days, it's easy to get lost in the crowd.

But just 15 minutes from downtown, on the most eastern tip of North America, is Cape Spear, a tiny peninsula that extends into the Atlantic Ocean.
 
Topped with a lighthouse and embedded with old war bunkers, the cape is one of those places I visit when I need a breath of fresh air—and a break from city life.

Wander the Old Keeper's Lighthouse

Cape Spear's first lighthouse was built in 1836 to guide ships into St. John's harbour. Today, it's the oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland and Labrador and is furnished to represent the lightkeeper's home from that period. 

For a mere $3.90, I was given free range to walk through rooms brightly wallpapered in floral patterns and adorned with handcrafted furniture and antique books. 

A climb up the narrow stone steps took me directly to the top of the lighthouse tower, which is no longer in use but still offers a stunning 360-degree view of the ocean and surrounding coastline. A smaller, functioning lighthouse is now being used not far from the original one. 

Watching a single boat headed towards the harbour, I got the feeling a lightkeeper's existence was a lonely but beautiful one.

Explore the World War II Bunkers

At the base of the hill below the old lighthouse is a wide entrance, black and leading deep into the hill. This leads to deserted passageways leftover from World War II, where troops defended against the threat of German submarines and raiders.

Once connected magazine and equipment rooms, today the passages are empty but still accessible on foot. I used my cell phone to light up the path in the darkness ahead of me, with the tall concrete walls forming a sort of maze.

Following the main passageway, vacant rooms branch out from both sides. Water drips from the ceiling. As I wonder if bats haunt the dark corners where soldiers dwelled, a chill runs down my spine.

Just outside the bunkers are two of the original cannons standing on guard, pointing out into the blue.

When You Go

To get there from downtown Water Street, head west by turning left at Leslie Street, and then cross the bridge. Go through the intersection and continue along for 15 km on Route 11, also known as Cape Spear Drive. It's practically impossible to get lost when you're driving to the end of the east coast.

The Cape Spear grounds are open year-round, but the lighthouse is open only from May 15 to October 15, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

With such spectacular views, any time is a good time to wander the trail around the Cape Spear coastline. But spring and early summer offer the best opportunities to spot breaching humpback whales and drifting icebergs. 

It's often windy, so bring a sweater. Don't let the sun fool you—it can get quite chilly.

If you're an early riser, head out there before daylight. Your reward? Watching the sun come up while the rest of North America sleeps.

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Candice Walsh

Candice Walsh is a technical writer for a deep sea technology company and an associate editor at Matador Network. When she isn’t writing about sonar equipment, she’s dreaming about travel. She’s lived in Newfoundland all her life and is currently stationed in St. John’s. Check out her blog, candicedoestheworld.com.

linlah

If I never get to see this I will have been there through this wonderful article. Congratulations.

Corbin Fraser

Congrats on this piece Candice! Love the photos. Looking forward to makin my way over to St Johns. Will be sure to check this puppy out!

Alouise

Great write up Candice. It's always nice to find a place away from the city to escape to. Has Newfoundland hired you as an ambassador yet? Because they really should.

Candice

Thanks for the wonderful comments, folks! It's right up there with Signal Hill. Alouise, I'm working on it, hahaha.

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