Nfld. & Labrador

Bell Island mine an 'underwater museum' awaiting discovery

A Conception Bay South diving company is getting ready to launch an unconventional trip in Newfoundland: an underwater adventure in the abandoned Bell Island mine.

Conception Bay South, N.L., diving company to launch underwater adventures at abandoned mine

A new dive adventure will allow people to explore the submerged tunnel two of the Bell Island mine. (Vimeo)

A diving company is getting ready to launch an unconventional trip in Newfoundland: an underwater adventure in the abandoned Bell Island mine in the middle of Conception Bay. 

The mine, which closed in the mid-1960s, is a key part of the history of Bell Island, which is also the site of several Second World War shipwrecks that have long fascinated divers. 

During the war, a German U-boat sank the SS Saganaga and SS Lord Strathcona in 1942, and later that year sank the SS Rose Castle and the free French vessel PLM27.

Now the focus is on the abandoned mine itself. 

"It is a dive into history because of course there [are] a lot of artifacts left down there and you've got that great sense of adventure, so you have that recipe that these divers are coming to look for," said Rick Stanley, owner of Ocean Quest, adding that work has been ongoing to get ready for the big dive in tunnel two, planned for mid-February.

Ocean Quest's Rick Stanley on his company's plans for scuba diving in Bell Island's old mine tunnels

"It's not just a tunnel, it's an underwater museum. There's so many things to see down there."

"We're going to be laying some more permanent lines down in the mine shafts. We're also going to be doing some scientific data on the human body in extreme environments, we're also going to be building a destination," he told CBC's On The Go.

It's not just a tunnel, it's an underwater museum.- Rick Stanley

Stanley said this kind of destination doesn't yet exist in Newfoundland and Labrador, and will hopefully appeal to history and diving buffs around the world.

The spot where the dive — called Mine Quest — will happen is a section of the mine closed in 1949, ahead of the mine's complete closure in 1966.

Stanley said there are rails, an iron ore car and tools still in the mine.

Diver died in 2007

Stanley said plans for the mine have been underway for a long time, but the death of an American diver at the site in 2007 derailed them.

According to Stanley, his friend Joe Steffen died from an air embolism, caused by a tumour, that killed him during a dive at the mine.

"Of course that slowed down the whole process of getting Mine Quest underway … it was a sad day," said Stanley. "It could have happened anywhere, not necessarily in that mine."

Stanley said despite the loss, his friend was a big supporter of the project and would have wanted it to proceed.

Not for just anyone

While the group is hoping to attract professional divers from all over the globe, Stanley said it's not for just anyone.

"You go down there, you must be ready for it and of course you must meet our criteria before we're even going to let you down there to begin with," he said.

"It's not like an opened dive site that you can jump in and take your chances ... There's a check and balance to it all."

A crew of divers with Ocean Quest took a wreath underwater to lay at the site of shipwrecks off Bell Island on Remembrance Day in 2014. (Philippe Grenier/Radio-Canada)

The Mine Quest adventure's appeal is the ability to dive in an abandoned mine and a shipwreck all in one place.

"They have that diversity to come here for a week's holidays," said Stanley.

"We're not expecting them to be coming in droves … but we are expecting that this is going to be a great addition to what we've already been successful doing with the Bell Island shipwrecks."


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