I remember when Bell Island was a hub of activity. In the summer months, my family and I would take day trips over on the car ferry and spend the day there, topping off our trip with a tour of the ore mines. It was truly the highlight of our trip, next to a stop at the gift shop. Our last trip there was sometime in the summer of 1998 and sadly, by that time, the island tourism had appeared to slow. Although a few stragglers wandered in and out that year, it seemed as if the foot traffic had hit a low, but the stories of the Wabana Iron Ore Mines, of strange noises, lights, and apparitions, persisted.
Life on the Island
Bell Island is located on the Northern part of the Avalon Peninsula, a small block of land sticking out of the ocean that is roughly 9 km long and 3 km wide. Year round, the island can be accessed via a car ferry on The Tickle, the section of the Atlantic that lies between the island and Portugal Cove. Farming is a primary means of income for many and is second only to fishing, though not many can make a living from the sea any longer. The topsoil on the island is unusually rich and makes for a good yield. Throughout the 19th century, the seal hunt drew large crowds of men from both Bell Island and Conception Bay.
In 1578, a merchant from Bristol, England, reported that there were very rich iron ore deposits on the island and, by 1678, soil samples were sent by Sir John Guy’s colony in Cupids to England for analysis.
By 1890, the deposits began to draw attention from outside mining interests including New Glasgow Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company (later called Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Co.). The NSSC began developing the site in 1892 at the urging of the Butler’s from Topsail. Thomas Cantley, Secretary of the NSSC, called the site Wabana. It is believed that Wabana is an Abenaki Indian word meaning “the place where daylight first appears.” Mining officially began in the Summer of 1895. The deposits at the Wabana mines fed giant steel mills in Sydney, Nova Scotia, and ore was also shipped as far as the United States and Germany.
For the most part, mining operations ran steadily, at times at an expanding pace, but WW1 (Germany being one of Bell Island’s largest purchasers of ore) and the Great Depression greatly affected the demand for ore and its price. Although many believed that modernization would help the mines, it was actually more of a hindrance. Many lost their jobs because new machinery could get the ore out of the ground and to the surface far faster than men with picks and shovels and mining carts. Though the mine experienced an upswing between 1936-59, one mine was shut down. By April of 1966, the final shaft, #3 mine, was shut down permanently. At the time of closure, Wabana was Canada’s longest operating mine project. Almost 80 million tons of ore was pulled from the earth and shipped to other parts of Canada, Germany, the United States, Belgium, and Holland.
Since the mine’s closure, many have left the island. In 2011, the total population was 2,346. Tourism is the primary industry at present, but those who live on Bell Island also farm and fish (to the best of their ability since the government crackdown.) #2 mine has been reopened for tours and many come to the island in the summer months to see what live below the ground was actually like.
To date, no outside company has made a bid to reopen the mines.
If you think about it, working in a mine was likely very dangerous. Heavy machinery could crush you, the ceiling could cave in, low lighting conditions might cause to to catch a pick to the head… None of the above sounds particularly pleasant or pretty, which is likely why many have experienced paranormal phenomena in #2 mine.
Visitors to the mine have reported:
Shadow figures- A visitor to the mine in 2016 reported seeing the shadow of a man standing in a lower portion of the tunnel that she was in with her tour group. She said the figure just stood and watched for a time, then vanished.
Noises- Strange noises are likely common in a mine shaft, particularly one as old as #2. Clanging and banging is often heard along with voices and a strange hissing sound.
Lights- Lights are often seen down in the mine shafts at night. At night, #2 shaft is not lit nor are any of the others (as they are not in use and sealed.) Some visitors have reported that the lights seen appear to be those similar to the older lights worn on mining helmets.
Visitors have also reported being touched on the shoulder or back and feeling cold spots throughout the mine.
Have you ever visited the Wabana mine and gone down into shaft #2? Did you have a strange experience? Please drop us a line via email or leave a *comment below.
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*UPDATE: Thanks to Melissa McCall for sending photos of her Wabana Mine experience! Without Melissa telling me what she was seeing, we found out we were both seeing the same thing! What do you see?
Melissa wrote: My family and I took a tour in the Bell Island Mines back in 2015, the tour guide brought us to one area of the mine where two cardboard cutouts of miners were placed. She told us how women in the mines were known to be bad luck and weren’t allowed in the mines. I was in the very back of the group and, as we left this area, I stayed behind to take a picture. I said “girls aren’t allowed in this area” and laughed. When I looked through my photos that evening, the photo that I took has an image of a man looking in my direction behind that cardboard cutout. Thought I would share and get your thoughts on this.