Newfoundland Travel - Bell Island Mine Tour

Updated: 6 days ago

Have you ever taken a detour from everyday life to travel 650 feet below the earth's surface? If not, well, why not? The Bell Island No. 2 mine, crafted through many long hours of manually digging and blasting for iron ore, allows you to do just that! This mine, opened in 1902, was one of the world's largest submarine iron ore mines in its years in operation. It closed in 1949 and reopened in its original state for tourism several years later. #bellisland #bellislandminetour #tourismnl


Bell Island's #2 mine is an underground iron ore mine.
Bell Island's #2 iron ore mine is mostly preserved as it was when it closed in 1949 and open for public tours.

The red, iron-rich rock, of Bell Island dates back 550 million years and mining the iron ore for sale proved to be a valuable commodity to the community for 71 years. There were six iron ore mines on Bell Island but mine #2 the only one open for guided, public, tours. Mine #2 is one of four submarine mines, the others being mines #3, 4, and 6. These mines involved mining in the middle and lower levels of the ground. The two above-ground mines, numbers 1 and 5 ended at the ocean surface. #ironoremining #abandonedmine #bellislandminetour

This is Geraldine, our tour guide (and the daughter of one of the miners who worked in the Bell Island mines). She is preparing a group for the tour of the #2 mine and holding a piece of raw iron ore. She passed the rock to the group to demonstrate the weight of the piece (estimated to be eight times heavier than a rock of similar size). I was surprised by its weight and impressed by the exertion that the men working the mines had to undergo on a daily basis for ten hours a day, six days per week. #bellislandmining #ironore

Manual excavating tools are hung on plank in a tunnel in Bell Island's #2 underground mine
Manual excavating tools are hung on plank in a tunnel in Bell Island's #2 underground mine

We learned that excavation of the mine was done by men by the use of dynamite and manual digging equipment such as pick, axe, and shovel.

See some of the manual tools that miners used to clear the ground to collect iron ore from the mines
See some of the manual tools that miners used to clear the ground to collect iron ore from the mines

Boys as young as 10 years of age would assist the miners by tending to the horses, retrieving equipment as needed, and other such tasks. It was considered bad luck for women to be in the mines so they were not included in mining for iron ore.

Impressively, early miners dug underground in a pillar and room tunnel method using candlelight as a light source
Impressively, early miners dug underground in a pillar and room tunnel method using candlelight as a light source

The earliest miners had to depend on candlelight as a light source as they dug through the rock. Here, Geraldine turns off the lights in the tunnel and illuminates a candle to provide us with the realization of how difficult this must have been. With time, seal oil lanterns and, later, carbine lamps and battery operated lanterns replaced candlelight.

Overhead lighting now provides dim illumination along the impressive mined corridors far underground in Bell Island
Overhead lighting now provides dim illumination along the impressive mined corridors far underground in Bell Island

Here you can see the iron rich ribs in the walls of the tunnel. The overhead and ground surfaces, lacking the red coloration of iron rich rock, consist mainly of granite and other rock material.

The number 9 is painted on this section of the mine's wall to orient men as to their location within the underground tunnel
Numbers were painted the mine's walls to orient men as to their location within the underground tunnel

The tunnels were excavated at a 10 degree slope in a pillar and room design. Rock would be removed from "the room" zones and "pillars" left intact to promote structural stability within the tunnels. As men would clear the mine, they would paint numbers on the walls to orient them as to direction in the tunnels to prevent them from getting lost. #bellislandminetour

Man-made wooden bridge connecting corridors to rooms in the underground tunnels of Bell Island's #2 mine
Man-made wooden bridge connecting corridors to rooms in the underground tunnels of Bell Island's #2 mine

Sometimes, wooden bridges were constructed to allow communication through wet areas of the footpath that miners were creating as they worked the mines. There is no salt water in the mine but fresh water from rain and run-off does infiltrate through the underground tunnels.

Learn the important role that horses played in mining the iron rich grounds on Bell Island
Learn the important role that horses played in mining the iron rich grounds on Bell Island

As the rooms were mined, the rocks were placed in carts which were then moved by track to the central tunnel before being moved up the tunnel. Horses would be used to bring the rock from the upper corridor to the mine entrance where the rock would be removed from the mine.

Rock pile to the left of the Bell Island Community Museum
Rock pile to the left of the Bell Island Community Museum

Once outside, the rock would be sifted by hand by the younger boys to remove the iron ore from granite and other rock material. The rock pile to the left of the Bell Island Community Museum was all sifted manually to remove valuable iron ore from the remaining rock.

Water collecting in a trench in number 2 mine limits further journey through the underground tunnel system
Water collecting in a trench in number 2 mine limits further journey through the underground tunnel system

The #2 mine extends a distance of 2-3 miles under Conception Bay (well out under the ocean). However the guided tour does not include the full distance due to time considerations and, more importantly, the presence of large volumes of fresh water in a trench at marker #23. When the #2 mine closed in 1949, the drainage system was disconnected, resulting in the collection of water in the trench.


This is a picture of a Bell Island miner that is displayed in the museum in the community
Visit the Bell Island museum to put a face to, and pay tribute to, the miners of Bell Island

This is one of the many photos found on the walls of the Bell Island museum. This one photo compelled me emotionally to photograph and share. It is with the utmost respect that I feel for the men who mined the rock of Bell Island, Newfoundland. #bellisland #bellislandmuseum

Rusty mining car on tracks displayed in an open field on Bell Island's coast
Today, relics from the once vibrant iron ore mining industry are proudly displayed throughout the community

There remains much iron ore in the mines that has not been excavated and the future is unclear. The #2 mine is solely for tourism operation at this point. I strongly recommend a visit to Bell Island's Number 2 mine tour. The staff are warm and welcoming and their stories, absolutely amazing! Visit the mines to explore the captivating history of mining on Bell Island's mining industry and to experience, first hand, the ambience and emotional connectiveness that the tour creates. Please continue to follow my blog for more of my memorable experiences through our beautiful province.







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