Government of Canada commemorates the national historic significance of the German U-Boat Attacks at Bell Island, on 80th anniversary 

News release

September 8, 2022   St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador  Parks Canada Agency

The Government of Canada is committed to connecting Canadians to national historic places, persons, and events that reflect our country’s rich and varied heritage and create opportunities for Canadians to learn more about our diverse history.

Today, Joanne Thompson, Member of Parliament for St. John's East, Newfoundland and Labrador, on behalf of the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, participated in a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque unveiling ceremony recognizing the importance of the German U-Boat Attacks at Bell Island in 1942, as an event of national historic significance. The ceremony was held this morning at the Bell Island Community Museum, Wabana, Bell Island. The unveiling was almost 80 years to the day since the first U-boat submarine attack on September 5, 1942.

During the Second World War, Bell Island, located in Newfoundland’s Conception Bay, was strategically vital to Canada and Newfoundland’s war efforts. Iron ore produced in Bell Island’s mines supplied Cape Breton’s steel mills and was an integral part of the military-industrial war effort in Canada. Its location, however, made it vulnerable to attack from the sea, leading military authorities to install two 4.7-inch guns and searchlights in the nearby cliffs.

Following the outbreak of war in 1939, ore-carrying vessels from Bell Island quickly became a target for German U-boats attempting to choke off the supply of war material being shipped to the United Kingdom from North America. On September 5, 1942, the first attack by U-boat U-513 on vessels at anchor at Bell Island resulted in the sinking of SS Saganaga and SS Lord Strathcona. A second U-boat attack two months later on November 2 by U-518 resulted in the sinking of two more ore carriers – SS Rose Castle and PLM 27. Nearly 70 Allied sailors were killed in the attacks. The second attack also resulted in serious damage to Bell Island’s Scotia Pier loading dock. Some said that the sound of the explosions could be heard as far away as St. John’s, bringing the war home to Newfoundlanders. Both German U-boats escaped after the attacks.

The Government of Canada, through the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, recognizes significant places, persons, and events that have shaped our country as one way of helping Canadians connect with their past. By sharing these stories with Canadians, we hope to foster understanding and reflection on the diverse histories, cultures, legacies, and realities of Canada’s past and present.

The designation process under Parks Canada’s National Program of Historical Commemoration is largely driven by public nominations. To date, more than 2,200 designations have been made nationwide. To nominate a person, place or historic event in your community, please visit the Parks Canada website for more information: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/culture/clmhc-hsmbc/ncp-pcn/application.

                                                                                                                     -30-

Quotes

“The attacks that occurred at Bell Island during the Second World War will forever define the resolve and historical fabric of this community, and the Government of Canada is proud to recognize the national historical significance of this event. All Canadians should take the opportunity to learn more about this story and strengthen connections to our shared history, as well as honour those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy today.”

Joanne Thompson,
Member of Parliament for St. John's East, Newfoundland and Labrador

 

Quick facts

  • Iron ore from Bell Island was shipped to steel mills in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia which produced more than a third of Canada’s wartime steel during the Second World War. 

  • Before the onset of the Second World War, Germany was well aware of Bell Island’s strategic importance having imported iron ore from those mines to support the development and growth of military industries. 

  • Currently more than 2,200 Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designations: 984 for national historic sites, 498 for national historic events and 725 for national historic persons.

  • Through commemorations like U-Boats Attack Bell Island, 1942 and previous ones such as St. John’s WWII Coastal Defences (Atlantic Bulwark), Crow’s Nest Officer’s Club and The Canadian Military Presence in Newfoundland, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada pays tribute and remembers the heroic contributions and sacrifices of Newfoundlanders during the Second World War. 

  • Created in 1919, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada advises the Minister of Environment and Climate Change on the national historic importance of the sites, people and events that have marked Canada's history.

  • The designation process under Parks Canada’s National Program of Historical Commemoration is largely driven by public nominations. To nominate a person, place or historical event in your community, please visit the Parks Canada website for more information: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/culture/clmhc-hsmbc/ncp-pcn/application

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Contacts

Ray Kenny
A/Manager, External Relations
Newfoundland East Field Unit
Parks Canada Agency
709-772-2587
ray.kenny@pc.gc.ca


Media Relations
Parks Canada Agency
855-862-1812
pc.media@pc.gc.ca

 

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