Bell Island Special Housing Assistance Program Photos

The closure of the Wabana submarine iron ore mines was drawn out over a 15-year period beginning in 1950 when the first of the four mines was shut down. Large numbers of miners commuted weekly to Bell Island from their homes around Conception Bay; they would have been the first to be laid off because they were not permanent residents. In spite of that closure, parent-company, DOSCO, poured millions of dollars into an extensive expansion and modernization program of the operation over the next six years, however, improved methods in steel-making meant that Wabana's customers began turning to mines in Labrador and South America for higher grade ores.

A.V. Roe Canada Ltd. purchased DOSCO in 1957, and two years later closed the second Wabana mine. After the first one closed, there had been a small but steady exodus of former miners who heard the call of southern Ontario, where jobs were said to be plentiful. One place than many had gravitated towards was then called Galt, later renamed Cambridge, where large factories needing workers were being built. The second closure saw more people heading west for those jobs. By the time the third Wabana mine closed in 1962, those affected headed west in greater numbers. Those already settled in Ontario wrote home to say there were jobs to be had, and people naturally went where they had relatives and friends to help them find work and lodgings. The final Wabana mine closed on June 30, 1966, causing a mass migration and pleas for help from government to assist with the move.

A combined Provincial and Federal Government Resettlement Program had been in place for small outport communities in Newfoundland for a number of years. In 1967, when it became obvious that the mines would not reopen, a similar program was set up for Bell Island home owners with the title "The Bell Island Special Housing Assistance Program". The offer was $1,500. no matter the age or condition of the house (equivalent to about $11,000 in 2021). Each person who applied to take advantage of the program was assigned a number. A photographer went to Bell Island and photographed the front of each applicant's house, writing the applicant's assigned number in chalk on a board that can be seen leaning against the house or fence in each photograph in this collection. The applicant's letter and house photograph were then filed together for reference. The deadline for the home owner to turn over their house was August 31, 1969. If they did not plan to leave Bell Island by that time, they would not receive the $1,500, so there are some photographs in this collection of houses whose owners applied to be considered for the program, but who then did not sell. Once the house was turned over, the owner could buy it back for $1.00 on the condition that they tear it down; they could then use the lumber to rebuild off the Island, and a number of people were known to have done this. Some homes that were in poor condition were resold for $1.00 to people who were willing to tear the house down and use the lumber for firewood. The Department of Welfare retained some homes for housing families on social assistance, so some of the houses in this collection may still be standing today.

Where available the name of the file is the name of the person on the application who owned the house in 1969. Otherwise the file name is the assigned number given to the applicant. We will be adding the actual names to the files as they become available to us.


Memorial University - Archives and Special Collections