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.