How do you hide one of the more interesting landscapes on the Avalon Peninsula? Make it a 35 square kilometre island, put it in one of the most popular large bays near St. John’s (Conception Bay), and connect it to the mainland by a regular and fairly frequent ferry service.
You can’t miss it. It dominates the bay from Foxtrap north to Bauline, it is 9 km long and the long axis is parallel to the shore, and it is over a hundred feet high. A lot of the geology of the Avalon involves granite and shales along the coastline. Bell Island is mainly a sandstone geology, and in ways looks more like a mesa or butte than a typical island for the area.
It has been occupied at least since the 1700s by Europeans, and was probably occupied by Beothuks when Cabot discovered Newfoundland. In the late nineteenth century they started mining iron ore, which gave the local economy a great boost. When mining stopped in the late 1960’s due to uneconomical conditions for mining, the local economy collapsed and many people moved away. Recently, with the expansion of bedroom communities around St. John’s, some people are moving back. The 20 minute ferry ride is a little inconvenient, but much better than many of the commutes to town. Also, people get a boat ride every day, and the scenery can be beautiful.
What I love about this island includes exploring old and abandoned areas, exploring the strange sandstone and rock formations along the coast, and the general quietness when you get away from the main communities of Wabana and Lance Cove. They also have a tour of the old mine shafts, which extend out from the island under the bay.But the real wonder of the island are the views of the bay and the sky, especially the sunsets. The best sunset I remember in my life was from the field near the Bell on the south side of the island. Sunrises are probably wondrous as well, but I haven’t been there then for some reason!
Here are a few images of the island.
The Northern Bell, near the lighthouse. There is also a sea-tunnel right through the rock.
The old lighthouse at the north end.
The west side of the island. The island gradually slopes downward from East to West.
A stream trickling and spreading over the shelving rock. It was glowing gold.
When I was a kid there was a tree and a seagull nest on the top.
The Southern Bell, at the south side of a flat field.
The Southern Bell. It is a couple of hundred feet high.
Due to technological changes, etc, the mine was closed in 1966. This was the major industry on the island, and very few people remain. The island is beautiful, and almost abandoned
Heading out through the main slope.
They used to constantly pump to clear the lower galleries. People have done a bit of scuba diving, but a creepier experience would be hard to imagine. The galleries extends kilometres under the bay, where you would have over 100 metres of seawater, then the roof for the gallery, then you looking up at condensation dripping from the roof.
Wabana Mine, Bell Island, Newfoundland. Remnants of carts and tools. Mined closed 1966.
At these stables in the mine, ponies were harnessed to the carts, then moved to the mine head. Ore movement was never automated through the life of the mines.
The way back, near the entrance. You walk up into fog, due to the low temperatures in the tunnels compared to the warmer air outside..
The trick if you got lost was to head back up the slope and look for light. Much of the route we took was totally dark, except for the flashlights.
This island is near St. John’s, NL, in Conception Bay. It was the site of a huge Iron Mine from 1895 to the late 1960’s.
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