Thursday, September 03, 2009

Bell Island

Today, the last day my family are here with me, we visited Bell Island for the first time. It was an extraordinary day, contributed to in no small part by the weather which was stunningly clear, it was as if the ocean and the sky were having a tug of war as to which would get the most turquoise.

We took the ferry from Portugal Cove – picture by me below, ferry is in the background

and headed over on our 30 minute ocean ride across Conception Bay South. I had heard that the iron ore mines were well worth visitng though they were not for the faint of heart as the climb down (and back again!) was pretty challenging and at times claustrophic. We were undaunted by this but confess to feelings of unease at the thoughts of the overwhelming weight of the ore above our heads.

Karen, our tour guide, was amazing. Our group was small, very unusual, she said, so we were given, I believe, more personal anecdotes about the miners who worked long and hard in digging the incredible shafts, deep within the earth and under the surrounding ocean. Unbelievably challenging even today but an astonishing engineering feat at the time, well over a century ago. We trudged around in our warm jackets (we were asked to put them on prior to going down as the temperature would drop dramatically) and our hard hats, fascinated by the lives that were lived by both man and beast down so deep within the bowels of the earth.

Karens' father and grandfather worked in the mines, starting at very young ages doing menial work and then graduating at fourteen to the actual mining itself. She had stories of horses that didn’t see the light of day for months on end, even their stables were way down in the bowels of the earth. Stories of rats that were treated with total respect by the miners as they could sense an imminent collapse and would scatter – the miners fed them bits of their lunches every day as a thank you for saving their lives – much like the canaries in coal mines.

The mines have been kept intact and many artefacts were on display. You can read more about it here if you like.

Another of Bell Island’s claims to fame is that it was the only site in North America to be attacked by German U-Boats in World War Two.

Picture below was taken by the grandgirl from the Bell Island side of the path of the ferry crossing.



To add to our adventurous day, a few minutes after she took this picture, we were on the ferry and dolphins entertained us all the way back to Portugal Cove.

My summer scrapbook overflows with unforgettable memories.

9 comments:

  1. I enjoyed my journey with you from Portugal Cove to Conception Bay South. The stories reminded of those told by Jack of his father and both grandfathers time in the coal mines of the Durham Coalfields. When the pit ponies came to the end of their working lives and were returned to ground level, most of them were blind.

    Your granddaughter is showing signs of your talent for the camera.

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  2. Thanks, GM, they have now left on their long trek back to Ontario, the house is terribly empty so I am keeping busy!
    Interestingly enough, with the horses in the pits of Bell Island, they were treated better than the miners and brought up to the surface every few months, their eyes blindfolded in layers and slowly exposed to the light.
    The stables underground are still intact and were whitewashed to brighten them, unlike them men's squalid quarters.
    XO
    WWW

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  3. The old mine reminds us of how incredibly arduous a lot of work used to be, and often people just had to get used to the conditions or not work at all. And I didn't realise rats were a useful disaster-sensor the same as canaries.

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  4. It is very difficult when loved ones leave after a very busy summer and one has to go back to an empty home... Every time relatives leave my home to go back to their lives, I always feel like crying for a day or two... then I go back to my routine and forget all about my sadness.

    It is these wonderful memories that makes life so amazing and beautiful!

    You have had a wonderful summer with lots of discovery and love... what more can anyone ask for.... :)

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  5. Nick:
    We all learned so much down there, I also didn't know about rats and their life-saving qualities!
    XO
    WWW

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  6. Nevin:
    Yes, I'm keeping busy today, but I think the tears are catching up with me!!
    Xo
    WWW

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  7. I've learned something (again) here WWW. Thank you!

    We forget what hard lives some had in "the good old days". for all the faults of 21st century life, we've a lot to be thankful for.

    I'm sure your grandgirl feels as sad as you today. I still recall my own devastation when younger, when my "Nanny" left after a visit, or I did. It's such a very special bond. :-)

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  8. Yeah, I got the blues alright, T!
    House is far too empty and even though I've kept busy and trying so hard NOT to phone them every half hour as they wend their way back over Eastern Canada.
    XO
    WWW
    We sure do have it so much better these days!

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  9. It teaches you to never pine for days gone by, because a lot of people had tough lives back then and did work we would not want to do now. Rightfully so, and for the animals as well.

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