Bell Island

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For the Bell Island in the Grey Islands of Newfoundland, see Bell Island (Grey Islands). For the Bell Island in Alaska, see Bell Island (Alaska).
Nickname: Town OF Wabana and Lance Cove
Bell Island Newfoundland.jpg
Aerial view of Bell Island
Bell Island is located in Newfoundland
Bell Island
Location of Bell Island in Newfoundland
Location Conception Bay
Coordinates 47°37′58″N 52°57′57″W / 47.63278°N 52.96583°W / 47.63278; -52.96583Coordinates: 47°37′58″N 52°57′57″W / 47.63278°N 52.96583°W / 47.63278; -52.96583
Area 34 km2 (13 sq mi)
Highest elevation 120 m (390 ft)
Highest point Round Juniper Marsh
Province  Newfoundland and Labrador

Bell Island is a Canadian island located off Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula in Conception Bay.

Measuring 9 km in length and 3 km in width, Bell Island has an area of 34 km². The subsurface is composed of Ordovician sandstone and shale with red hematite.

It is home to three communities, the largest of which is the incorporated town of Wabana.

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.


Probably settled by Maritime Archaic and/or Dorset people, Bell Island, as with the rest of the island of Newfoundland was probably inhabited by the Beothuk Nation at the time of European discovery.

Bell Island iron ore pier ca. 1900

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.[1]

The economy expanded tremendously during the 1890s when iron ore mining began near the community of Wabana.

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, Nova Scotia 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 (DOSCO), which at one point was one of the largest private employers in Canada.

World War II[edit]

During the Second World War, the anchorage for bulk carriers shipping iron ore was attacked by German U-boats in two attacks in 1942. Four ships were sunk and 70 merchant mariners lost their lives:

  • SS Saganaga
  • SS Lord Strathcona
  • SS P.L.M 27
  • SS Rose Castle

In addition to the four cargo ships, an errant German torpedo 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 to be subject to direct attack by German forces during World War II (due to the errant torpedo hitting land).

Closure of iron ore mine[edit]

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 and the western part of Labrador. After the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway was built in the latter part of the decade, Bell Island iron ore became uncompetitive.

A Canadian Forces Labrador helicopter landing on "The Clapper", a sea stack off the tip of Bell Island, in 1987.

During the early 1960s, the steel and coal industries on Cape Breton Island 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. In recent decades a reverse move has been occurring where housing is being built on Bell Island to accommodate residents who wish to commute by ferry (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"[edit]

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.[2] Meteorologists 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.[2]

The incident was investigated by John Warren and Robert Freyman from Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, in 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, they were in fact investigating a superbolt - an unusually large bolt of lightning, lasting an unusually long time: about a thousandth of a second.[3]

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.[4] In the Skeptoid 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.[3] Although some have pointed out that the natural oolitic iron ore on Bell Island is in fact magnetic due to its hematite content, such ore does not generate a magnetic field, for the reasons Dunning discussed.[5]

Bell Island mine expedition[edit]

Steve Lewis an experienced cave diver, wreck diver and member of The Explorers Club led a team that photographed and assessed the Bell Island mine for "condition, safety and feasibility" of future research in 2006.[6][7][8] On February 4, 2007, expedition member Joseph T. Steffen died of an air embolism during a dive into the mine.[9][10] The project continued despite the loss of this explorer[11] and team members managed to lay approximately two kilometers of line and document many of the mine's artifacts.[12][13] Their report also provided the Bell Island Heritage Society with important information on artifacts left when mining operations ended in 1966.[6][14]

Radio Bell Island 93.9 FM[edit]

On November 5, 2012, Radio Bell Island Inc. received approval by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to operate a new low power community FM radio station in Bell Island.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Oickle, Vernon (2007). Disasters of Atlantic Canada: Stories of Courage & Chaos. Lone Pine Publishing. p. 96. ISBN 978-1-894864-15-2. 
  2. ^ a b Oickle, Vernon (2007). "Bell Island Boom". Disasters of Atlantic Canada: Stories of Courage & Chaos. Folklore Publishing. p. 97. ISBN 1-894864-15-8. 
  3. ^ a b Skeptoid: The Bell Island Boom
  4. ^ The Invisible Machine: Electromagnetic Warfare (Television production). History Channel. c. 2007. Retrieved 30 October 2010. 
  5. ^ Özdemir, Ö.; Deutsch, E. R., "Magnetic properties of oolitic iron ore on Bell Island, Newfoundland," Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Volume 69, Issue 2, p. 427-441.
  6. ^ a b "Historic dive made "below the bell"" (PDF). Bell Island Heritage Society and Ocean Quest Adventure Resort. August 3, 2006. p. 14. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  7. ^ Gallant, Jeffery (Sep–Oct 2006). "Tech team dives 'Below the Bell'". Diver. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  8. ^ Doppler (Lewis, Steve). "Bell Island Expedition "Mine Quest": Our Personnel". Retrieved 2009-07-02. 
  9. ^ "U.S. diver dies while exploring flooded mine". CBC News. 2007-02-04. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  10. ^ "Air embolism killed Bell Island diver: autopsy". CBC News. 2007-02-07. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  11. ^ "Bell Island adventurers resume dive in wake of death". CBC News. 2007-02-06. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  12. ^ "Map showing approximate location of lines and places of interest". 2007-02-14. Retrieved 2009-07-02. 
  13. ^ Dekina, Vlada (2007). "Mine Quest - Diving the Mines of Bell Island". Retrieved 2009-07-02. 
  14. ^ "Mining History". Bell Island Heritage Society. Retrieved 28 April 2010. 
  15. ^

External links[edit]