Mining History:

wpe15.jpg (5902 bytes)Mining first began on Bell Island in 1895 with surface mining. Underground, or submarine, mining began at the No. 2 mine in 1902 and continued right up until 1949.

Mining ceased altogether on Bell Island in 1966, ending 71 years of an industry that saw 79 million tons of ore extracted and sold worldwide.


There are roughly four billion tons of ore left in the mines, but the industry shut down because of the high cost of getting the ore from the mine to the market.

There were six mines in total during the course of the industry at Bell Island. Four of the mines, numbers 2, 3, 4 and 6, went submarine - meaning the mines actually went under the sea floor. The other two mines (1 and 5) went underground and broke out at the shoreline.

The submarine mines extended roughly two and a half miles under Conception Bay, not really that far from Harbour Grace on the north side of the bay.   When the mines closed in 1966 the miners were working more than 4.8 km (3 mi) under the floor of Conception Bay.

Bell Island, in its heyday, went from a population of several hundred to between 12,000 to 14,000. There was a failure in the fishery around the turn of the century, and with the advent of mining on Bell Island, scores of people from fishing communities such as Brigus, Cupids, Harbour Grace and Carbonear left to work in the new industry.

The history of mining on Bell Island is one characterized by constant change. From the various companies that mined the ore to the means of production. Lighting, for instance, went through several changes over the years in the mines. The first light came from candles, which were worn by the miners on their cloth hats or put in small cutouts that were placed in the walls of the shafts every 10 to 12 feet. Then came seal-oil lamps, which were used up until 1912 and eventually gave way to carbide lamps. These lamps used calcium carbide to give off light and amazingly, the mounds of used calcium carbide can still be seen today at the same spots where the miners would scrape it out of the cartridges before replenishing them. The carbide lamps were used until the mid-1930s when battery-pack lights came on the scene.

All kinds of shovels were left behind by the workers and can be seen in great quantities during the tour. Roughly 60 percent of the ore that was mined at Bell Island was loaded by men with hand shovels.

In the early years before automation and conveyor belts, horses were used to transport the ore. They would stay in the mine for virtually their entire lives and had to be blindfolded when taken above ground.

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From the beginning of mining until 1914, Bell Island prospered. With the start of World War I, however, a great setback occurred in the industry because one of the main customers for Bell Island had been Germany. During the war there was a brief recovery, only to have another collapse occur in 1918 with the end of war production.  Again the mines recovered but when French troops occupied the industrial heartland of Germany, the Ruhr, in an attempt to prevent rearmament there in 1923, another decrease in shipments occurred. Yet a further setback came with the depression of the 1930s; from 1936 to 1959 the mines prospered again. Then competition from new producers who could mine iron ore less expensively gradually led to a decline in markets for Bell Island ore and to the eventual close of the mines in June 1966.