From BOOM to BUST
August 25, 2013
This is a tale of two communities, one roaring back to life, booming on the riches of offshore oil and gas - the other slowly but surely dying, its boarded-up buildings crumbling like the fortunes of its once-bustling iron ore mines.
Today, jeddy1989, Darren, Danielle and I visited Wabana, a struggling community on Bell Island just off the coast of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula.
Wabana used to be one of the largest, most prosperous communities in the country. It was affectionately known (primarily by its residents) as Newfoundland's second capital.
It boasted 6 iron ore mines, including the largest sub-sea mine in the world. There is still more than enough iron ore under the surface of the island and the surrounding sea - but it's more expensive to mine than surface operations elsewhere. And so this town is slowly being resigned to history.
It's only a 25-minute drive and a 20-minute ferry ride from St. John's (our capital, and the booming city), but it may as well be another world.
We'll start with a very early morning stroll through St. John's...
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The ferry to Wabana and Bell Island departs from Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, a suburb of St. John's.
The island is exceptionally beautiful and, although most public buildings and even many residences are boarded up and abandoned, it is still home to thousands of very proud people.
There are a lot of claims-to-fame for Bell Island, many of them negative. It was one of the only places in North America directly attacked by the Nazis. 70 people were killed when the island was torpedoed, the third-highest loss of life in any Nazi attack on Newfoundland.
It's a wonderful place to visit, with a great sense of humour and hospitality.
Dicks' Restaurant and Lounge is famous for its traditional fries, dressing and gravy.
And the cheeky things it gets visitors to write on its wall.
The main tourist attractions on Bell Island are all related to its iron ore mines. Here are the remains of once towering docks (almost the height of the island itself) that loaded the iron ore onto ships.
It's also possible to visit the Mine No. 2 Museum, see some of the relics from Wabana's past, and walk through a small portion of the mine.
Some of the item tags are hilariously descriptive.
You can also visit the Wabana Lighthouse, which offers impressive views of Bell Island's steep coastal cliffs.
Don't miss the last ferry back to Newfoundland. There are two ferries that run simultaneously every day, but they do stop in the evening. If you plan to visit, it costs $2.50 per person, or $6.90 for a driver and vehicle. You only have to pay to get to the island, not to get back.
Back to Portugal Cove-St. Philip's!