Titanic Waters: Exploring the Shipwrecks, Mines, and Cold Water Diving of Newfoundland
A shoe found on the Wreck of PLM 27
“You’re going where? What’s there?” And so it went, from one person to another, no one could understand why we wanted to dive in Newfoundland. After all, you can’t really blame them, the RMS Titanic lies a mere 350 miles away and everyone knows what sank her. Finding cold water here is as easy as finding sand in the desert. But we found something else too; in fact, a whole bunch of something else. Newfoundland (spoken as New.fun.land) along with the peninsula of Labrador, make up the eastern most Province of Canada. Newfoundland is an island of over 42,000 square miles. With a land mass of nearly the size of Southern California, and only 480,000 people, there’s no problem finding space to stretch the eyes.
The first human inhabitants were likely Paleo-Eskimos followed by a people called the Dorset. By the time of the first Norsemen, Leif Eriksson in the late 10th century, the Dorset appeared to be already gone. Eriksson named the “new land” Vinland. After the Vikings showed up, a group of people known as the Beothuk arrived from Labrador. The Vikings didn’t keep a permanent settlement so the new locals had the place pretty much to themselves for some 500 years. In 1497 John Cabot, under contract to England’s King George VII, landed and claimed the landfall for the British Empire. Of course, many other European visitors came as well including the Portuguese, Spanish, and French. By 1583, Newfoundland was named Britain’s first overseas colony in the New World. Squabbles continued but by the late 18th century permanent settlements largely of English, Irish, and some French sealed the melting pot of Newfoundland.
Some mining engineers in the early 1890’s noticed that the subsurface geology of Bell Island was rich in red hematite, and by 1894 the Bell Island Iron Ore Mine of Conception Bay began. For over 70 years men and horses scratched, dug, and blew up the rich ore deposits formed countless eons ago. The entire mine is underground and extends for miles out under the bay. By the beginning of WWII Bell Island iron had found its way all over the world. Since steel is a major requirement to build war machines this mine took on even more importance. That fact didn’t escape the notice of Nazi Germany. In late 1942, U-Boats struck and sent 4 large iron ore carriers, and their crews, to the sea bed of Conception Bay – more on this later. However, the mine continued to supply much needed raw materials for the remainder of the war. In 1949, the former British Colony of Newfoundland joined the Confederation of Canada.