Bell Island, which is the largest island in Conception Bay, is less than 10 Km from shore and it is approximately 12 Km long and 4.8Km wide. From the province's capital St. John's, the oldest city in North America, it's a 20-minute drive to the ferry terminal at Portugal Cove-St. Philips, then a 20-minute ferry ride to Bell Island.
Reports of iron ore on Bell Island go back to at least 1578, when a merchant from Bristol, England, reported finding iron deposits. In 1628, members of Cupers Cove Colony sent iron samples from Bell Island to England for analysis. The colonists apparently thought the ore was valuable for they tired, unsuccessfully, to have the deposits added to their colony's property grant.
More than 250 years passed before a mining operation began. As with many places in Newfoundland, the first settlers on Bell Island lived primarily by fishing and farming. Farming was particularly important, owing to the island's unusually rich topsoil. the first known permanent settler was Gregory Normore (1717-1783), a native of Jersey in the Channel Islands. The early settlers raised cattle, pigs and poultry, and harvested vegetables and berries.
Mining of the iron deposits finally began in the summer of 1895. Thomas Cantley, Secretary of Nova Scotia Steel and Coal, called the mine site "Wabana", which is believed to be an Abenaki word meaning the place where daylight first appears. The last of the operating mines closed in April of 1966. When it closed, Bell Island was Canada's longest continually operating mine and #2 Mine was the world's deepest submarine mine.
On a visit to the Island, you'll see the giant murals that were painted to commemorate the Island's rich heritage. Visit the museum and discover the many historic artifacts including samples of the iron ore that made Bell Island one of the richest and oldest mining operations in the world.
Or for the ultimate experience, take the underground mine tour. Visitors can tour a mining Museum and part of Mine #2 which has been declared one of Canada's Historic places. Tours of approximately one hour are conducted of the historic site. Officially opened in 1998, this tour is already being touted as one of the best of its kind. It will truly give you an appreciation of what it was like to work underground.
Bell Island was one of the the only places in North America to have seen enemy action in World War II. The pier where 80,000 tons of iron ore was stored for shipping was torpedoed by German U-boats in 1942. At low tide you can see the relics of the 4 ships that were sunk during the attack and on shore stands a memorial to the 69 men who lost their lives.
Bell Island offers a great deal to the visitor besides its mining history. Its location in the middle of Conception Bay makes its natural environment spectacular. The towering cliffs with unusual layered rock formations provide a backdrop to viewing many species of birds and many types of wild vegetation.
The bird watcher can take trails along the cliffs and beaches. During the hike, they can view colonies of black Guillemot and starlings flying to nests in the cliffs. Sandpipers and snipe frequent the island, as well as Kestrels, Merlins, and different types of sparrow. Robins, grosbeaks and woodpeckers live in the forested section.
Sea Kayakers can experience imposing cliffs, whales, and caves, and come ashore and explore the many small beaches around the island.
There are bed and breakfasts and a trailer park, restaurants, craft shops, a bakery and deli, nightly entertainment at the local pubs, a fire hall, hospital, and RCMP Detachment.
For a truly unique experience, come to Bell Island and find out why we call it 'The Belle of the Bay."