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09.30  Memorializing Bell Island Mining Mobilities

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9:00, Monday 6 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

Just before six o’clock on Sunday evening, November 10, 1940, the bow of the MV Golden Dawn collided with the MV Garland, throwing its passengers into the frigid waters of Conception Bay. At the time of this tragic accident, the two ferries were traveling in opposite directions between the large island of Newfoundland and the smaller Bell Island five kilometres distant, when a sudden snow squall obscured the boats’ lights. There were few survivors from the Garland. Some of those who perished were weekly commuters—miners from Conception Bay outports returning from a weekend at home to their jobs in the Bell Island iron ore mines. 

Bell Island’s iron ore mines operated from 1895 to 1966. Many of the occupational risks associated with these mines were connected with various mobilities that ranged across multiple spatial scales. These included exposure to possible death and injuries resulting from cave-ins, uncontrolled blasts, or run-away ore carts in the mines themselves. Commuting miners also faced danger when travelling weekly to and from Bell Island on small boats or on foot across the winter ice. Crew members on the passenger ferries as well as on the coal and ore boats were at risk, especially during poor weather and also during the Second World War. Many lives were lost with the 1942 Nazi torpedoing of the SS Saganaga, the SS Lord Strathcona, the Rose Castle, and the Free French carrier PLM 27.

The public memory of the exploitation, dangers, bravery, and calamities that pervaded the mobilities associated with iron ore mining on Bell Island are an important aspect of the heritagization of the island’s history, forming a backdrop to accounts of the social and economic uprooting associated with the industrial closure in the 1960s. This paper combines perspectives from labour heritage, mobilities heritage, and the politics of heritage. It will emphasize the changing role of print media reportage in the immediate and longer-term memorializations of dramatic ship collisions and sinkings as well as in the inscription of other mining tragedies.

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