Bell Island
Bell Island is a Canadian island located off Newfoundland
Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador is the easternmost province of Canada. Situated in the country's Atlantic region, it incorporates the island of Newfoundland and mainland Labrador with a combined area of . As of April 2011, the province's estimated population is 508,400...

's Avalon Peninsula
Avalon Peninsula
The Avalon Peninsula is a large peninsula that makes up the southeast portion of the island of Newfoundland.The peninsula is home to 257,223 people, which is approximately 51% of Newfoundland's population in 2009, and is the location of the provincial capital, St. John's. It is connected to the...

 in Conception Bay
Conception Bay
Conception Bay is a Canadian bay located on the northeast coast of the island of Newfoundland. The bay indents the Avalon Peninsula with the opening of the bay to the Atlantic Ocean at the northeast. It is bounded by Cape St. Francis in the south and Split Point near Bay de Verde in the north...


Measuring 9 km in length and 3 km in width, Bell Island has an area of 34 km². The subsurface is composed of Ordovician
The Ordovician is a geologic period and system, the second of six of the Paleozoic Era, and covers the time between 488.3±1.7 to 443.7±1.5 million years ago . It follows the Cambrian Period and is followed by the Silurian Period...

Sandstone is a sedimentary rock composed mainly of sand-sized minerals or rock grains.Most sandstone is composed of quartz and/or feldspar because these are the most common minerals in the Earth's crust. Like sand, sandstone may be any colour, but the most common colours are tan, brown, yellow,...

 and shale
Shale is a fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock composed of mud that is a mix of flakes of clay minerals and tiny fragments of other minerals, especially quartz and calcite. The ratio of clay to other minerals is variable. Shale is characterized by breaks along thin laminae or parallel layering...

 with red hematite
Hematite, also spelled as haematite, is the mineral form of iron oxide , one of several iron oxides. Hematite crystallizes in the rhombohedral system, and it has the same crystal structure as ilmenite and corundum...


It is home to three communities, the largest of which is the incorporated town of Wabana
Wabana, Newfoundland and Labrador
Wabana is a Canadian town and the largest and only incorporated community on Bell Island in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.-Geography:The town is situated on the northeast end of the island and was incorporated in 1950...


The provincial government operates a ferry service from Portugal Cove to Bell island daily. It is primarily used by commuters who work in the St. John's metropolitan area
St. John's Metropolitan Area
The St. John's Metropolitan Area is the most populous census metropolitan area in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. With a population of 181,113 in the 2006 Canadian Census, the CMA is the second largest in Atlantic Canada and the 20th largest CMA in Canada.The St. John’s CMA had...



Likely settled by Maritime Archaic
Maritime Archaic
The Maritime Archaic is a North American cultural complex of the Late Archaic along the coast of Newfoundland, the Canadian Martimes and northern New England. The Maritime Archaic began in approximately 7000 BC and lasted into the 18th century. The culture consisted of sea-mammal hunters in the...

 and/or Dorset
Dorset culture
The Dorset culture was a Paleo-Eskimo culture that preceded the Inuit culture in Arctic North America. It has been defined as having four phases, with distinct technology related to the people's hunting and tool making...

 people, Bell Island, as with the rest of the island of Newfoundland was likely inhabited by the Beothuk
The Beothuk were one of the aboriginal peoples in Canada. They lived on the island of Newfoundland at the time of European contact in the 15th and 16th centuries...

 Nation at the time of European discovery.

The first European inhabitants settled during the 18th century and attempted to farm and fish with the island having a subsistence economy throughout much of the 19th century. The first recorded settler was an Englishman, Gregory Normore, in 1740.

The economy expanded tremendously during the 1890s when iron ore mining began near the community of Wabana
Wabana, Newfoundland and Labrador
Wabana is a Canadian town and the largest and only incorporated community on Bell Island in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.-Geography:The town is situated on the northeast end of the island and was incorporated in 1950...


Wabana grew to become the island's largest community and the mine became one of the largest producers of iron ore in northeastern North America. The mine's workings extended beneath the seabed of Conception Bay, creating one of the most extensive submarine iron mines in the world.

Most of Bell Island's ore was shipped from loading facilities to Sydney
Sydney, Nova Scotia
Sydney is a Canadian urban community in the province of Nova Scotia. It is situated on the east coast of Cape Breton Island and is administratively part of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality....

, Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia is one of Canada's three Maritime provinces and is the most populous province in Atlantic Canada. The name of the province is Latin for "New Scotland," but "Nova Scotia" is the recognized, English-language name of the province. The provincial capital is Halifax. Nova Scotia is the...

 where it was smelted in a steel mill. The steel mill at Sydney and the iron mine at Bell Island were owned by the Dominion Steel and Coal Company
Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation
The Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation was a Canadian coal mining and steel manufacturing company.Incorporated in 1928 and operational in 1930, DOSCO was predated by the British Empire Steel Corporation which was a merger of the Dominion Coal Company, the Dominion Iron and Steel Company and the...

 (DOSCO), which at one point was one of the largest private employers in Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...


World War II

During the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, the anchorage for bulk carrier
Bulk carrier
A bulk carrier, bulk freighter, or bulker is a merchant ship specially designed to transport unpackaged bulk cargo, such as grains, coal, ore, and cement in its cargo holds. Since the first specialized bulk carrier was built in 1852, economic forces have fueled the development of these ships,...

s shipping iron ore was attacked by German
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

U-boat is the anglicized version of the German word U-Boot , itself an abbreviation of Unterseeboot , and refers to military submarines operated by Germany, particularly in World War I and World War II...

s in two separate attacks in 1942. Four ships were sunk and 70 merchant marine
Merchant Navy
The Merchant Navy is the maritime register of the United Kingdom, and describes the seagoing commercial interests of UK-registered ships and their crews. Merchant Navy vessels fly the Red Ensign and are regulated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency...

rs lost their lives:
  • SS Sagonaga
  • SS Lord Strathcona
  • SS P.L.M 27
  • SS Rose Castle

In addition to the four cargo ships, an errant German torpedo
The modern torpedo is a self-propelled missile weapon with an explosive warhead, launched above or below the water surface, propelled underwater towards a target, and designed to detonate either on contact with it or in proximity to it.The term torpedo was originally employed for...

 also struck the DOSCO iron ore loading dock on shore. A memorial overlooks the waters where the wrecks can be seen at low tide. Bell Island was one of the very few locations in North America to see enemy action during the war, and the only location in North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

 to be subject to direct attack by German forces during World War II (due to the errant torpedo hitting land).

Key iron ore mine closes

Being an underground operation, the Bell Island iron ore mine was an extremely expensive mine to operate. During the 1950s, some of the largest surface iron ore deposits in the world were discovered in northeastern Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

 and the western part of Labrador
Labrador is the distinct, northerly region of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It comprises the mainland portion of the province, separated from the island of Newfoundland by the Strait of Belle Isle...

. After the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway
Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway
The Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway is a Canadian regional railway that stretches through the wilderness of northeastern Quebec and western Labrador. It connects Labrador City, Labrador, with the port of Sept-Îles, Quebec, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River...

 was built in the latter part of the decade, Bell Island iron ore became uncompetitive.
During the early 1960s, the steel and coal industries on Cape Breton Island
Cape Breton Island
Cape Breton Island is an island on the Atlantic coast of North America. It likely corresponds to the word Breton, the French demonym for Brittany....

 began to falter in the face of foreign competition. In 1966 the steel mill in Sydney and nearby coal mines were slated to be closed. At the same time, iron ore mining at Wabana stopped.

Bell Island's resource-based economy was hard-hit by the shutdown, resulting in a large out-migration of residents. Some moved to the nearby growing metropolitan centre of St. John's
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
St. John's is the capital and largest city in Newfoundland and Labrador, and is the oldest English-founded city in North America. It is located on the eastern tip of the Avalon Peninsula on the island of Newfoundland. With a population of 192,326 as of July 1, 2010, the St...

. In recent decades a reverse move has been occurring where housing is being built on Bell Island to accommodate residents who wish to commute
Commuting is regular travel between one's place of residence and place of work or full time study. It sometimes refers to any regular or often repeated traveling between locations when not work related.- History :...

 by ferry
A ferry is a form of transportation, usually a boat, but sometimes a ship, used to carry primarily passengers, and sometimes vehicles and cargo as well, across a body of water. Most ferries operate on regular, frequent, return services...

 (20 minutes each direction) to Portugal Cove and travel to work in the city.

The scenic and sheltered waters of Conception Bay are also seeing an increase in pleasure boating activity as the suburban communities grow around nearby Conception Bay South.

The Bell Island boom

On April 2, 1978, there was a loud explosion on Bell Island which caused damage to some houses and the electrical house wiring in the surrounding area. Two cup-shaped holes about two feet deep and three feet wide marked the major impact. A number of TV sets in Lance Cove, the surrounding community, also exploded at the time of the blast. It was initially thought to be caused by ball lightning
Ball lightning
Ball lightning is an unexplained atmospheric electrical phenomenon. The term refers to reports of luminous, usually spherical objects which vary from pea-sized to several metres in diameter. It is usually associated with thunderstorms, but lasts considerably longer than the split-second flash of a...

. Meteorologists
Meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere. Studies in the field stretch back millennia, though significant progress in meteorology did not occur until the 18th century. The 19th century saw breakthroughs occur after observing networks developed across several countries...

 confirmed that atmospheric conditions at the time were not conducive to lightning. The boom was heard 55 kilometers away in Cape Broyle. The impact occurred in the Bickfordville area, on the southwestern side of the island. According to Tom Bearden, the boom occurred when a bolt of unusually straight lightning impacted the ground at a 45 degree angle.

The incident was investigated by John Warren and Robert Freyman from the Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory, managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security , located in Los Alamos, New Mexico...

 (then called the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory) of New Mexico, United States. It has been speculated that, due to the two men's place of work, they were investigating a secret weapons test and were military attachés. However, reacting to data received from the Vela satellites
Vela (satellite)
Vela was the name of a group of satellites developed as the Vela Hotel element of Project Vela by the United States to monitor compliance with the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty by the Soviet Union, and other nuclear-capable states. It means vigil or "watch" in Spanish.Vela started out as a small...

, they were in fact investigating a superbolt - an unusually large bolt of lightning, lasting an unusually long time: about a thousandth of a second.

A documentary aired on the History Channel about electromagnetic pulse weapons investigated the speculation that the incident may have been a result of top secret experiments. It was postulated that either the Soviet or the U.S. governments were the cause of the 'attack' and that it involved high energy beams focused into the ionosphere that were attracted by the iron in abandoned mines. In the Skeptoid
Skeptoid is a weekly podcast created and hosted by American skeptic and author Brian Dunning. The show follows an audio essay format, and is dedicated to the critical examination of pseudoscience and the paranormal....

 podcast The Bell Island Boom, presenter Brian Dunning dismissed that theory stating "Although iron is magnetic and can be magnetized, natural iron ore has its molecules jumbled in every direction and rarely happens to have a significant magnetic field, certainly not strong enough to divert or attract a particle beam.

Bell Island mine expedition

Steve Lewis
Steve Lewis (diver)
Steve Lewis is an active cave and wreck diver. Born in Peckham, New Cross London, he currently resides in Muskoka, Ontario Canada.-Technical Diving International:...

 an experienced cave diver
Cave diving
Cave diving is a type of technical diving in which specialized equipment is used to enable the exploration of caves which are at least partially filled with water. In the United Kingdom it is an extension of the more common sport of caving, and in the United States an extension of the more common...

, wreck diver and member of The Explorers Club
The Explorers Club
The Explorers Club is a professional society dedicated to scientific exploration of Earth, its oceans, and outer space. Founded in 1904 in New York City, it currently has 30 branches world wide...

 led a team that photographed
Underwater photography
Underwater photography is the process of taking photographs while under water. It is usually done while scuba diving, but can be done while snorkeling or swimming.-Overview:...

 and assessed the Bell Island mine for "condition, safety and feasibility" of future research in 2006. On February 4, 2007, expedition member Joseph T. Steffen lost his life on a dive into the mine. The project continued despite the loss of this explorer and team members managed to lay approximately two kilometers of line
Distance line
A distance line, penetration line or guideline is an item of diving equipment used by SCUBA divers as a means of returning to a safe starting point in conditions of low visibility, water currents or where pilotage is difficult...

 and document many of the mine's artifacts. Their report also provided the Bell Island Heritage Society with important information on artifacts
Artifact (archaeology)
An artifact or artefact is "something made or given shape by man, such as a tool or a work of art, esp an object of archaeological interest"...

 left when mining operations ended in 1966.

See also

  • List of communities in Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Islands of Newfoundland and Labrador
    Islands of Newfoundland and Labrador
    This is a list of islands of Newfoundland and Labrador. The province of Newfoundland and Labrador is composed of mainland Labrador and the large island of Newfoundland. The coast of both the island and the Labrador peninsula are lined with islands of various magnitudes.-List of islands:-External...

  • Vela Incident
    Vela Incident
    The Vela Incident was an unidentified "double flash" of light that was detected by an American Vela Hotel satellite on September 22, 1979....

    : satellites capable of detecting lightning superbolts

External links

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