Steeped in history and graced with a panoramic view of Placentia Bay, Castle Hill stands alone. Castle Hill National Historic Site of Canada (NHSC) was designated in 1968 for its role in the defence and strategic interests of France and England from 1692 to 1811. But it’s role in the lives of the people of the Placentia area ensure it will be remembered as much, much more.
Occupying about 24 hectares of land, Castle Hill NHSC consists of several forts and fortifications. These defences occupy a strategic position on a hill that overlooks Placentia (the original French capital of Newfoundland from 1662-1713 known as Plaisance) and the “Placentia Road” or the marine approach from Placentia Bay leading to the narrow entrance to the harbour.
Although the origin of the name “Castle Hill” is uncertain, many older forts were referred to as castles. Over time, the name Castle Hill has become etched into the memories and stories that animate the area.
While the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) raged, Castle Hill did feature in a prominent role. Newfoundland did not play a direct role in this war, it was the location to which Governor Thomas Graves sought refuge in 1762 when St. John’s was attacked. What was Fort Royal was then re-named Castle Graves (later, the hill came to be known as Castle Hill).
While the garrison at Castle Hill was officially moved in 1811 by the British, it remained a part of the history of the region. As early as 1910, J.A. O’Reilly wrote in “A King Edward Peace Memorial Park” (see Memorial Digital Archives Initiative Newfoundland Quarterly, Volume 10, No. 3, pages 26 and 28) that Castle Hill should be used as the site for a peace memorial. Such a call is that much more poignant given the date—four years before the world was catapulted into World War I.
Photographs from the latter part of the 19th century (see Newfoundland Illustrated, 1894 – page 87), before it had been re-built by Parks Canada, are also indicative of its place in the stories and memories of those who have travelled and walked alongside Castle Hill. People whose families have lived in this area for many years, fondly recall how they scrambled and hiked along the trails around Castle Hill. These were the same trails created by and trudged centuries ago by soldiers lugging hundreds of pounds of cannon up to Fort Royale.
Today, the trails that surround Castle Hill are used daily by the people of the region. Whether they are seeking the rigours of exercise or perhaps a poignant moment in the embrace of nature, people eagerly walk or run on the trails of Castle Hill. As such, the significance and value of Castle Hill has easily spanned the breadth of time.
Castle Hill NHSC is a place where visitors can experience and touch the history that has enlivened Placentia. Breathtaking many would utter, gasping in awe when they first see the unrivalled and beautiful view of the surrounding communities, forests, hills and Placentia Bay itself. Unquestionably, Castle Hill is a fixture in the sense of place that is intertwined in the deep history distinguishing the Placentia area.