Bell Island’s mining history stretches back to the 1890s, with the identification of major deposits of iron ore on the island. Mining substantially drove the local economy, and by 1923 Bell Island was the second largest community in Newfoundland, behind St. John’s. But, as a primarily underground operation, Bell Island’s mines were very expensive to operate. Gradually, global competition from producers who could extract ore cheaper in other locations led to a decline in the market value of Bell Island’s product, and the last of the mines closed permanently in 1966.
Bell Island’s No. 2 mine closed in 1949, and the site now hosts a museum. Opened in 2000, the museum features a walking tour of the underground shafts of what was once one of the world’s largest submarine iron ore mines.
The loss of iron ore mining on Bell Island strongly impacted the island’s economy and population, which dropped from a high of 15,000 to the current population of around 3,000. However, the Bell Island Community Museum and No. 2 Mine Tour attracts nearly 12,000 visitors annually, positioning it as a cornerstone of the local community and economy.
The Culture of Outports team is working with the Museum to undertake a Community Build on the Museum grounds to help celebrate both the island’s mining heritage and the Museum’s role as a hub for the local community.