We returned to the Killick Coast Drive today to pick up a side trip that was recommended to us by a tourist info worker. Bell Island is a quaint little spot in Conception Harbour reached by ferry from Portugal Cove. We arrived at the cove with no real idea on the ferry schedule, but were under the understanding that they ran every 40 minutes or so. A ferry was discharging traffic just as we arrived, so we thought we were in luck. Not so, as we ended up being the second vehicle left on the dock. Then we got the bad news that the crews take an hour long lunch break, and the next ferry wasn’t for another hour and 40 minutes. Then it was late on top of things, so we ended up sitting on the dock for almost 2 hours. Oh well, at least we don’t have a schedule to keep.
It turns out that a Killick is a large rock that ships used to use in place of a metal anchor. A few hundred years ago, most of the killicks used in this area came from Bell Island, as the rocks are particularly heavy there. These rocks are called Hematite, and they are really iron ore. In the late 1800’s it was discovered that the north end of Island was a fine place to start mining this ore and operations began. This was timely, as the cod fishery was in serious decline at the time. This is kind of like the present times, as the cod is in decline, but the discovery of oil has really helped the economy in this province.
The ore was discovered to be in very defined seams, sandwiched between solid rock, and descending into the ground at a 10 degree angle. Two open pit mines were developed to extract what ore could be reached on the surface, and four others were dug into the ground and followed the seams of ore wherever they went. It turns out that this was under the sea floor, and by the time they were finished mining, they had dug almost 3 miles into the ground, all at a 10 degree grade. The mines never ran out, it just became too expensive to extract the ore, and they figure that there are upwards of 10 billion tons of ore left to mine if it ever becomes financially expedient. Mining ceased in 1966, and they have preserved Mine #2 and turned it into a tourist attraction. We walked down only 650 feet into the mine, as the rest of the 3 miles is flooded.
One of the reasons we were told about visiting Bell Island is that there are great opportunities to take pictures. This is from the east tip of the island.
And this is The Bell, which the island gets it’s name from.
We stopped in several places to take pictures, and really enjoyed our time on the Island.
And here’s the greenhorn miners. Our tour guide, Bonnie, had a real passion for the mine, as several of her relatives worked the mine their entire lives. She also has a great voice, and at one point she shut off all the lights to let us see how dark it really was and started singing a portion of Rita MacNeil’s song Working Man. It was pretty special.
Here you can see how abruptly the ore seam stops and the rock starts. The mines all start in the same general area, but some of the seams travel right over top of other mines. The engineering required to ensure that they won’t collapse must have been extensive. Mind you in the early 1900’s they probably didn’t care much about the lives of the miners.