Back When Betts Cove Was Big

A whole Green Bay town disappeared.

Back When Betts Cove Was Big

A mine starts. A town springs up. The good times roll. The mine closes. The town dries up. There are a few stories like this, of mining boom and bust, in our area of Newfoundland. Little Bay had a population of over 1500 in the late 1800s, and now it has about 100. In the 1950-60s Tilt Cove had over a thousand people, and now it is officially the smallest town in Canada with a population of 6.

And once upon a time there was a town of 2000 people, just ‘out the bay’. It was called Betts Cove. For perspective, 2000 is two-thirds the current population of Springdale. It is twice the population of Triton. Betts Cove was big.

The copper industry in Notre Dame Bay made Newfoundland the sixth biggest copper producer in the world for a while at the end of the 1800s. These past mining communities play a huge role in Green Bay’s history. Local towns of past-producing mines might now be a fraction of what they were, or they might not exist at all. But if you are connected to Green Bay, you connected to them. Census reports show our great-grandfathers were married in Tilt Cove, or were born in Little Bay.

Betts Cove was once a busy community, and we can imagine our great-grandfathers moving there for work. Now little more than some rusting metal remains, in a cove a little up the coast from Nipper’s Harbour, to show where the mining town of thousands once stood.

There was basically a dozen residents, folks fishing for cod, in Betts Cove when copper was discovered. Mining began ‘full tilt’ in 1875 after a German, Francis Ellershausen, optioned the claim.

Mine work at Betts Cove, presumably like at other mines of the era, was far from cushy. Miners trekked down to the depths of by stairs, ladders and planks. Most work was done by hand and, we can assume, was back-breaking. Rock was blasted loose, removed through the swing of pickaxes and the force of crowbars, then put into tramway wagons, and pulled by a steam engine to the top through a shaft.

Miners were then paid in specially printed Betts Cove Mining Company bills, that could only be used in stores in Betts Cove.

At peak operations there were about two thousand people living in Betts Cove,  a very respectable number considering it was 1800s outport Newfoundland. With this population came a few stores, three churches, a hospital and a school, a telegraph office and two policemen. There was also a mineral assay lab and a foundry.

For a time, times were good at Betts Cove, and good for the Betts Cove Mining Company. The mine was chugging along and the company leased other local copper properties, like the one in Little Bay.

Betts Cove, from way above

In 1881, the mine in Betts Cove was sold to the Consolidated Copper Mining Company. The company promptly earned itself a not-so-good reputation. It has been said the mine was over-worked to the point that even mine pillars were removed for the copper they contained. The resulting destabilization caused a landslide and cave-in of the mine roof in 1883. No one was hurt, thankfully, but the mine’s future was essentially doomed from that point. Just a quick year later, the town’s population was down to less than 50 miners. The company turned its attention to Little Bay. A drop in copper prices was then enough to seal Betts Cove’s fate. And in 1901 the population was back to about a dozen people.

There the story ends.

A Google Earth search of the area reveals nothing in Betts Cove. Some online, and local, sources indicate there are pieces of rusting metal among trees, piles of mine tailings, and flooded shafts. But geologists and prospectors still study the cove from time to time, a very small comparison of the human activity of over a century ago.