Conception Bay Newfoundland
(inc. 1950; pop. 1991, 3608). Wabana is the largest community on Bell Island qv. The history of Wabana is closely tied to the development of the mines. As early as 1578, Anthony Parkhurst qv noted the presence of iron ore on Bell Island. In 1612, investor Percival Willoughby qv was informed by Henry Crout that, ``the like land is not in Newfoundland for good earth and great hope of Irone stone'' (Cell). Willoughby attempted, unsuccessfully, to gain ownership of the island. There appears to have been some attempt at mining the ore c.1819; Lewis Anspach qv noted a mine at Back Cove, but gave no details. In 1891, just before full-scale commercial mining began, 709 people were living on Bell Island, fishing and farming. In 1895 the Butler family of Topsail gained the rights to the iron ore deposit, which was subsequently developed by the New Glasgow Coal, Iron and Railway Co. The secretary of the company, Thomas Cantley, decided to name the area around the mine ``Wabana''. Derived from the Abnaki words wabunaki (eastland) and waban (the dawn), the name was chosen because the mine was the most easterly in North America. The New Glasgow Co. purchased the mine from the Butlers and in turn sold out to the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Co., popularly known as the Scotia Co. It was soon discovered that the main body of ore, acquired by the Whitney Company (later Dominion Steel), lay in beds beneath the surface. As early as 1896, 180 miners went on an unsuccessful strike, asking for 12 cents an hour, a raise of 2 cents. Four years later, 1600 workers struck, demanding a raise to 15 cents an hour. Some 1100 of them belonged to the Wabana Workmen and Labourers Union, led by Thomas St. John. The bitter strike was ended by what became known as `the Treaty of Kelligrews': the men were given raises but the union was dissolved.
The total population of Bell Island was 1320 in 1901, and included 199 miners. Other miners commuted to work from around Conception Bay, many of them living in company ``mess shacks'' during the week and returning home on weekends. By 1911, 265 miners and their families, in a total population of 1.105 people were living in the area around the mines. The community had Roman Catholic, Church of England and Salvation Army churches. There were about 28 factory buildings in the community, and it had five merchants and two doctors. By 1921 there were also Methodist and Presbyterian churches, and a population of 2672, including 424 people employed in the mine. The shore fishery had virtually ceased to exist.
In 1920 mining operations were taken over by the British Empire Steel Company (BESCO), and later by the Dominion Steel Company (DOSCO). A new union, the Wabana Mine Workers, was formed and was led for many years by D.I. (Nish) Jackman qv. The mine experienced its share of disasters. In 1938 a methane gas explosion killed two men, and 22 men, mostly commuting miners, were killed in 1940 by the collision of the ferry boats W. Garland and Little Golden Dawn. During World War II the ore carrier S.S. Saganaga was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1942, while the ore carrier S.S. Rose Castle and merchant ship PLM were also sunk near Wabana.
From 1949 the mines were controlled by Dominion Wabana Ore Ltd., a subsidiary of DOSCO. Wabana entered its most prosperous period, and until 1956 there was extensive modernization of the mine. The number of people employed in mining peaked at 2280 in 1958, and the next year shipments of iron ore reached 2.81 million tons. Most of it went to the steel mill at Sydney, Nova Scotia. The town of Wabana had a population of 8026 in 1961 and was almost entirely dependent on the mines. But increasing competition from cheaper sources of ore led to the closure of the number 6 mine in 1959 and the number 4 mine in 1962. Production ceased in 1966 with the closure of the number 3 mine, and many people left Wabana. So many families ended up in the mining town of Cambridge (Galt), Ontario that it earned the nickname of Little Bell Island. By 1976, only 4824 people remained in Wabana. Some people returned to small-scale fishing and farming while others commuted to St. John's to work. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the main employers were the schools, the community college, the Walter Templeman Memorial Hospital and Pinnacle Seafoods fish plant. The Wabana mines were named a national historic site, and the town's history was celebrated in several large murals on public buildings.
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