A trek across this dramatic landscape will leave you longing for more.
When the final section of the Trans Labrador Highway opened up just a couple of years ago—making it possible to drive more than 1,000 kilometres (not all of them paved) from Labrador West to Southern Labrador—my husband, Barrie, and I decided to make the trek from our home in Yarmouth, NS. Four provinces and 5,673 kilometres later, we had brought home memories for a lifetime—and we were still speaking to one another.
Labrador is touted as one of the world’s last frontiers, and its beauty is gob-smacking. There’s something about the light (and air) that gives things a unique quality. And that oh-so-long highway commands a certain respect, brought home by signs like the one outside Churchill Falls: “Next Services 294 km: Check Fuel.”
The most striking feature of this land, however, is her people. The hospitality we experienced went far beyond what we could consider “typical.” For example, when working on our itinerary, we discovered that we couldn’t find a room in Labrador City. The next town with accommodation was more than 500 kilometres away—not a good prospect after an eight hour drive from Baie-Comeau, Que.
We were prepared for emergencies, though, and had camping gear with us. We hoped to pitch our tent at the Grande Hermine Campground about 40 kilometres past Labrador City. A friend called on our behalf, but owner Cavell Burke said, “No way! There was ice on the lake last night. They stays with us!” Shortly after we arrived at the main lodge, we were enjoying Cavell’s peanut butter cheesecake while her husband, Ned, told us stories about the huge stuffed trout on the wall, and about the white birch tree that stands smack in the middle of the lodge.
The next morning, Gordon Parsons came by. A big bear of a guy, he has a twinkle in his eye and a beard about as scruffy as my husband’s. He’s also an avid birdwatcher and a geocaching guru.
Off we went on a mission to find birds—and geocaches with names like “Two Cups and No Coffee.” Gord says he’s set up about 20 per cent of the roughly 800 geocaches in Labrador.
Fast forward several days to our arrival in Battle Harbour, NL. When cod was king back in the 1800s and early 1900s, Battle Harbour was the unofficial capital of Labrador and Newfoundland. This is where explorer Robert Peary called a press conference in 1909, using Battle Harbour’s Marconi Station wireless services, to share details of having reached the North Pole with the world.
There are no cars on this small near-shore island, and you can walk the circumference in less than two hours. But you’ll want to linger every step of the way. Luckily for us, the winds picked up shortly after we arrived. We were stranded for four days. I danced a jig!
We spent our time gawking at two icebergs parked behind our lodgings, playing a trivia game called “Newfoundlandia.” (If something is “scow-ways,” is it high, low, damaged or slanted? Answer: slanted.) We also poked around the settlement where many of the original buildings have been restored.
Nelson Smith is one of the restoration workers and he does double duty as a tour guide. He told us about the seal hunt and how oil was extracted; about the cod fishery and how cod was salted and dried; and how nets were “barked” (a method to preserve them that uses a liquid made by steeping the bark and buds of conifers).
And the food! Thanks to Myrtle Rumbolt, who does all the cooking for the visitors at the Island’s guest cottages, we had stick-to-your-ribs food three times a day served in a communal dining hall up over the general store.
I yearn to visit Labrador again soon.
If you go: 6 things to see
- Nalcor Energy. One of the world’s largest underground generating stations at Churchill Falls.
- The Birches Gallery in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The collection of Innu and Inuit art is extraordinary.
- Labrador Interpretation Centre. Moving/informative exhibits and exquisite crafts.
- Labrador Heritage Museum. Original Hudson’s Bay Company store built in 1923 in North West River
- Experience Labrador. Take an excursion out to the Wonderstrand with Pete and George Barrett in Cartwright.
- Red Bay National Historic Site. Learn about the archaeological excavation and conservation of a 16th century chalupa (Basque whaling boat).