CHAPTER VII.--PROSPECTS FOR THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE. (continued)

Minerals.

1. THE BELL ISLAND MINE.

  435. The beds of iron-ore at Bell Island in Conception Bay (see Map No. 1) form what is reputed to be the largest deposit of iron-ore in the Empire. Indeed, there are no other readily accessible deposits in the Empire, outside the United Kingdom.

  436. Anspach, in his history of Newfoundland, published over a hundred years ago, mentions the existence of an iron-ore mine at Back Cove, Bell Island,* but for many years the deposits were neglected as of no commercial value and it was not until 1895 that mining operations were actively undertaken. The development that has taken place since then has shown that the deposits on the land are merely the fringes of great beds or ore that extend far out under Conception Bay. No precise estimate can be given of the amount of ore which these beds contain but it has been computed by experts that the total deposits amount to some thousands of million tons of which at least 50 per cent. may be expected to be recoverable.

Portugal Cove showing Bell Island, n.d.
Photo by Holloway. From the album of photographs furnished to the Newfoundland Royal Commission, August 1933. Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives (Coll-207), Memorial University of Newfoundland Library, St. John's, Newfoundland.
Larger Version (48 kb)
Portugal Cove and Bell Island

  437. The deposits were first worked by the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company, which secured a lease of them in 1893 and commenced operations two years later. Three parallel beds of ore were opened up, and in 1899 the Company disposed of the lowest of these beds to another Canadian Company, the Dominion Iron and Steel Company. Until 1922 these two Companies worked side by side in the Island; in 1922 the whole undertaking was taken over by the newly-formed British Empire Steel Corporation and since then the deposit has been worked by it and its successor, the Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation Ltd.

  438. The ore, which is known as Wabana† ore, is of excellent quality. In grade and composition it is a dense, fine-grained hematite, averaging 52 per cent. in metallic iron with about 11 per cent. silica. The phosphoric content ranges from 0.75 per cent. to 1 per cent. The three principal beds, which have an average workable thickness of 6 feet, 8 feet, and 16 feet respectively, are worked by four shafts with a present annual capacity of 1,500,000 tons, and a potential capacity of at least twice that figure. Two shipping piers have been built where ships carrying 12,000 tons can be afloat on all tides and can be loaded at the rate of 2,000 tons per hour. The distance from the mines to Sydney, Nova Scotia, is about 400 miles, to Philadelphia 1,242 miles, to Rotterdam 2,294 miles and to Middlesbrough 2,350 miles. Over 28,000,000 tons, of the value of over $75,000,000, have been exported since mining operations were first undertaken in 1895. Of this total, 16,000,000 tons were exported to Sydney, Nova Scotia, for use in the Corporation's furnaces there; approximately 1,000,000 to the United Kingdom, and over 11,000,000 to foreign countries.

  439. In normal times the Company employs 2,200 men and distributes some $2,000,000 per annum in wages. The miners and surfacemen in former years were engaged in two six-monthly shifts, the first comprising those who went fishing in the summer and worked in the mines in the winter, and the second those who worked in the woods in the winter and in the mines in the summer, but in recent years the men employed have adopted mining as a steady occupation and are now not equipped for fishing. At the present time, owing to the depression, two of the four slopes are closed, and the remaining two are worked for only two days a week. Employment is thus available only for 1,100 men, or half the number usually engaged, and even these are at daily rates: miners receive from $4.75 to $2.76 a day, and general surfacemen average $2.55 a day, mechanics $3.55 a day.

  440. The reduced employment in the mines constitutes one of the most serious problems confronting the Newfoundland Government. For, under present conditions, the unemployed miner is unable to earn a living either from the fishery or from work in the woods, and large numbers of men have therefore been forced to fall back on public relief. Their numbers, too, have been swollen by returning emigrants who have lost their employment abroad, and the districts surrounding Conception Bay, which are the most thickly populated and were formerly the most flourishing part of the Island, have now become a centre of distress. The effect of these conditions on the economic situation of the country has been very serious, since the reduced purchasing power of the people in these districts has contributed to a marked decline in business and therefore in imports and revenue receipts, while at the same time relief payments have formed an increasing charge on public funds. The benefits that would accrue to the Island if normal working conditions could be restored in the mines can, indeed, hardly be exaggerated.

Output.

  441. As will be seen from the following table of shipments for the six years 1927-32, Germany has lately been the principal market for Wabana ore:--

Sydney,
Nova Scotia.
Tons.
Germany.
Tons.
U.S.A.
Tons
United
Kingdom.
Tons.
Total.
Tons.
1927 ............
1928 ............
1929 ............
1930 ............
1931 ............
1932 ............

Total ............
429,248
616,354
681,400
467,784
209,061
---

2,403,847
845,151
866,953
753,929
661,406
439,564
148,485

3,715,488
61,030
37,048
76,340
48,771
22,920
---

 246,109
---
27,540
 5,330
---
33,720
---

66,590
1,335,429
1,547,895
1,516,999
1,177,961
  705,265
  148,485

6,432,034

  442. It will thus be seen that out of a total of 6,432,034 tons shipped from Bell Island during these years only 66,590 tons, or about 1 per cant. of the total, were shipped to the United Kingdom, while at the same time Germany took 57 per cent. and the United States of America 4 per cent. The ore shipped to Nova Scotia, which amounted to 38 per cent. of the whole, was for use in the Corporation's own works in Sydney. A full statement showing the shipments made from Bell Island since 1895 is reproduced in Appendix M.

  443. Constant endeavours have been made during recent years to induce steel masters in the United Kingdom to give a trial to Wabana ore, but these have so far met with little success. The imports of iron-ore into the United Kingdom in recent years have been as follows:--

Total.
Million Tons.
From Spain.
Million Tons.
From
North Africa.
Million Tons.
1927 ...................
1928 ...................
1929 ...................
1930 ...................
1931 ...................
1932 ...................
5.1
4.4
5.6
4.0
2.1
1.8
2.4
2.2
2.6
1.8
 .9
 .8
1.4
1.1
1.4
1.1
 .6
 .5

  It will be appreciated from the foregoing figures that if even a modest proportion of the ore imported into the United Kingdom could be taken from Newfoundland a great impetus would be given to the Bell Island Mines, with corresponding advantage to the Dominion.


  * Rev. L.A. Anspach, History of Newfoundland, 2nd edition, London, 1827, p. 368; United Kingdom Parliamentary Papers, C. 8189, 1896, p. 4.
  † Note.--"Wabana" is an Indian name meaning "the place where the light first shines." Bell Island is almost the most easterly land in the American Continent.


Image description updated May, 2004.



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