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Vol 38  No 8
January 12, 2006




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GSI: Geological scene investigation

The story of Betts Cove

By Deborah Inkpen

Betts Cove 19th century
(Photo courtesy CNS)

Betts Cove now
(Photo submitted)

Betts Cove isn’t the scene of a grisly murder like on the television show CSI, but it is the scene of a GSI, a geological scene investigation. An elite team of Memorial researchers are putting their investigation expertise to work on uncovering the mysteries of the former mining town on the Baie Verte Peninsula, Newfoundland and Labrador. Lead investigator Dr. Derek Wilton, a geologist with the Department of Earth Sciences, said that Betts Cove was particularly interesting because nobody’s lived there since 1883. At that time up to 1,200 people resided there.

“Betts Cove is this hidden little secret,” said Dr. Wilton. “It’s completely isolated, the only way to get there is to drive from Baie Verte to Nippers Harbour and then take a half an hour boat trip to Betts Cove.”

Along with Dr. Wilton, graduate student Kerri Riggs, postdoctoral candidate Rick Rennie, and Dr. Greg Kealey, vice-president research and history, University of New Brunswick, undertook research at the site.

The study of Betts Cove was sponsored by Coasts Under Stress (CUS) the five-year collaborative research initiative project, started in April 2000. The intent of CUS was to evaluate the social, heath and ecological restructuring associated with one-industry northern coastal communities on both of Canada’s coasts. Over 60 researchers, mainly from the University of Victoria and Memorial, were involved in the project. One of the areas of interest was the effects of mining and smelting industries on the ecosystems in which they operated. Comparative case studies were undertaking at smelters in Anyox, British Columbia, and Tilt Cove and Betts Cove in Newfoundland.

The Betts Cove mine and smelter operated from 1875 to 1883.

In November of 2005 Dr. Wilton and Ms. Riggs, along with Drs. Paul Sylvester and John Hanchar, Earth Sciences, and Keith Storey, Geography, went back to Baie Verte to report to the Emerald Zone Economic Development Board on their findings and to suggest a marketing plan whereby the site might be marked as an industrial archaeology venue. “There’s a lot of interest now in industrial archaeology,” said Dr. Wilton. “People love to come to these sorts of places, particularly if they are untouched. The site has remnants of 18th century mining and smelting that you aren’t going to find anywhere else because in other locales sites have been cleaned up, but in Betts Cove some of the equipment is still there as well as the leftover ore.”

The mine at Betts Cove closed due to the catastrophic collapse of a portion of the roof on the facilities. Dr. Wilton believes that the collapse occurred because the mine is situated on a fault line.

“The site deserves much more extensive historical, environmental and geochemical research,” said Dr. Wilton.

“Our continuing exchanges of research findings indicate that in economic, environmental, and other terms, there are striking historical parallels between the mining regions of Northern Coastal BC and Newfoundland and Labrador, which suggests that problems and developments, which have often thought to be unique or regionally specific, are not necessarily so,” said Angela Drake, CUS.

“This research will tell us a great deal about the potential impacts of future developments, such as Voisey’s Bay and how we can use the past as a guide about where we are likely to go ­ or where we want to go in the context of future developments in this non-renewable resource sector.”

Coasts under Stress is funded at $6.1 million by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), with additional funding from participating universities and partners in government, business, non-governmental organizations and First Nation groups.


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