Last June, my Mom and I went on our annual Mother-daughter road trip. This time, we decided to pick an unusual destination : Labrador. Here's a short intro for Americans : Labrador is a part of the Province of Newfoundland-Labrador which was the last Province (not to be confused with the Territories) to join the Canadian Federation. Labrador is located north east of the Province of Quebec, it is 294 330 km² wide and have a population (mostly Whites, Innus, Inuits and Métis) of less than 28 000.
We drove about 1 200 km on our first day from Granby to get to Fermont, Qc. Basically we had the choice of sleeping in Baie Comeau (a ~7 hours drive from our hometown) or in Fermont 570 km further because there is no town or village whatsoever for 570 km north of Baie-Comeau. So when we got to Baie Comeau, we decided to go on. As you head north on highway 389, the road is only paved to km 211. Then it gets unpaved all the way to Fermont except for a short stretch near the old mining ghost town of Gagnon (closed by the Govt in 1985 due to the shut down of the Fire Lake Mine). Highway 389 goes along several hydroelectric facilities like Manic 2 and Manic 5. Manic 5, a.k.a. Daniel Johnson Dam is the largest facility of its kind in the world and is 250 meters high. As we went north, the vegetation got scarcer and the pine trees got thinner and we could smell the remains of the huge forest fire that happened there just a week before. The only services (i.e. : gas, basic convenience store and one or two questionable motels) between Baie Comeau and Fermont are on kilometers 23 (Manic 2), km 211 (Manic 5) and km 316 (Relais-Gabriel). In Relais-Gabriel, the gas was 1,40$/L (it is usually between 0,85 and 1,10 in Quebec) and we paid 16$ for our 2 plain grilled cheese and soups!!
We reached Fermont after dark and as the sun was setting, we got to see some wildlife : porcupines, foxes and bats. The sky was a starry dome. This area is famous for its northern lights (and its huge flying bugs) but we didn’t see any. It was not the season I guess, probably too warm. The next day, we went to visit “Le mur” (“The wall”), a unique concept in North America. It is 1,3 km long, 50 meters high and it contains all the community services you can imagine : indoor pool, shopping center, town hall, skating rink, bowling alleys, gym, hotel, bars, police dept, primary and high schools, a fully equipped hospital, apartments you name it! The wall is located on the north side of the city to serve as a wind screen. It is shaped in a half moon pattern that surrounds the houses and other buildings that are “outside” of the wall. We also hiked Mt Daviault which is located on the south side to get a global view of the town and of the shaping of the wall.
Our goal for that day was to reach Happy-Valley-Goose Bay (about 700 km east of Fermont) because we had to take a ferry on the next day. We entered Labrador zoomed across Lab City-Wabush and headed to Churchill Falls. We saw lots of wild animals on the way : bears, beavers, eagles… I wanted to visit Churchill Fall’s underground electric facilities but we got there just a little too late. We spent some time walking along the wonderful – and powerful -- Churchill River and continued east. As we got close to Goose Bay, even though it was getting dark, we could see that the scenery was changing drastically. It was no longer lakes and taiga and boreal forests but some sort of huge sand dunes and white sand pits that looked surreal in the dying daylight.
At the B&B we met a Japanese guy who was travelling by himself in the most secluded destinations of Canada. He showed us pictures and told us about people he met and places he’d been like the Baffin Island (Nunavut). But the most surprising and interesting thing is that he was barely speaking English…and was deaf! He couldn’t even rent a car because of his “handicap” so he was totally dependent of public transportation, and as you probably guessed there is no such thing as buses or trains in most of those areas he visited!
One of the most interesting stops we made in that area aside from The 5 Wing Military Base (which served as a strategic airfield base during WWII and the Cold War), was the Labrador Interpretation Center in North West River (~ 30 minutes north of Goose Bay), where we learned about the history of Labrador but also about its different communities, people and most importantly, their politics. In fact, I was to taken by it, we almost missed our ferry!:o)) The reason why we had to take a ferry was quite simple : the road ends in Goose Bay and there is no other way to get to the coast unless you can afford to fly. They are currently building the last stretch of the Trans Labrador Highway (250 km) from Happy-Valley to Cartwright Junction but it’s not opened yet. They actually postponed the opening of that road so many times that a lot of people begin to think of it as a mirage in the desert…or should I say in the snow:o) But now they have a good reason to finish that road : they will open a National Park in the Mealy Mountains (Akamiuapishku).
The M/V Sir Robert Bond left at 5 p.m. Daylight lasts very long north of the 52nd parallel in the summer! So we watched as the sun slowly went down over the Mealy Mountains on the marvellous Lake Melville. We rented a tiny cabin aboard, so tiny in fact that my Mom felt claustrophobic and decided to sleep in the lounge. I didn’t sleep very well, I am not seasick or anything it was just that each time the ship would hit a wave the bed would shake real hard. Around 3 a.m. (NFST) we entered the Atlantic Ocean, then I could truly “feel” the waves. I got up, took a shower and waited on the deck until the sun came out. In the meantime I somehow managed to make myself a decent coffee with my camping espresso machine. I saw my very first iceberg around 5 : simply gorgeous, just floating there in the dark blue water. A couple of islands appeared throughout the fog in the horizon and soon enough we were docking in Cartwright.
On the (unpaved) road again! We drove for some time and got hungry. We wanted to pick a nice spot by the ocean. We headed east towards St. Lewis. We asked a local who directed us to a lovely scenic vista. As we were having lunch he came by and handed us a huge bag of fresh crab legs. He offered us a free boat tour to Battle Harbour an interesting island about 5 km off shore with interesting history and peculiar architecture. We couldn’t refuse! He helped us find a room at a (unofficial) B&B and we were all set.
We got to the docks and were welcomed by Lawrence, a guy in his 50’s who obviously spent all his life in St. Lewis and was in his element. He was driving the speed boat furiously and was talking with his head turned back at us at the same time. We were heading straight to a huge iceberg that was sitting right beside Battle Harbour Island. My Mom is not a swimmer and she’s a little scared of the water and he was driving the boat pretty fast. So she began to scream : “eeeek” “aaaaah” “eeeww” and begged me to ask him to slow down and to turn around. Which I eventually did, even though I really wanted to go there with our quirky knowledgeable new friend. As we were approaching the shores, we saw another iceberg a couple of miles south down the coast and we headed that way. We got as close as 20-25 feet from it and made a circle around it. God, it was absolutely amazing! It was as if the colours of the sky were absorbed by the ice. Needless to say we would never have been that close to an iceberg if we would’ve been in some tourist excursion!
St. Lewis has also one of the most beautiful municipal parks I’ve seen this far, except maybe for Brackenridge Park in San Antonio and South Mountain Park in Phoenix. The locals simply call it “Up the Hill”. It is a mix of rocks, lichen, ponds, mousses, inukshuks and ocean with some occasional icebergs floating afar.
During that trip, we climbed up the tallest building of Labrador (32 meters) and the tallest lighthouse in the province of NewFoundland-and-Labrador : the Point Amour Lighthouse. I was pretty proud of my Mom who’s usually afraid of heights. We drove down the coast of Labrador until we reached the Province of Quebec again in Blanc-Sablon and kept going until we got to the end of the road (highway 138). I got a flat tire and fixed it in no time. I was quite surprised that my first and only flat tire actually occured on a paved road!! One last thing about Labrador : even though the scenery is awesome, I'd go back there tommorow just for the people because I believe they are probably the most "authentic" folks I met during my numerous trips and the blend of cultures there (Innus, Métis, White and Inuits) is quite unique an interesting.
We took another ferry from Blanc-Sablon to the island of NewFoundland and saw some whales. In NF, we visited the western peninsula : l’Anse-aux-Meadows National Historic Site (Norse artefacts (a.k.a. Vikings), Gros Morne NP, Rose Blanche superb lighthouse, ate fish & chips, explored some picturesque small towns like St. Anthony, Rocky Harbour, Burnt Island and finally Port-aux-Basques.
We took our last ferry ride to Nova Scotia. We didn’t visit much places there and neither did we in New Brunswick, except for Shediac. For no particular reason, we just didn’t feel like it, we felt like going to the Gaspe Peninsula instead, which wasn’t part of the original plan. We decided to save Louisbourg, the Cabot Trail and Acadian communities for another trip. So we went around the Gaspe Peninsula : we camped, we went inland looking for some old-scary-cemetary-lost-in-the-middle-of-the-forest I heard about, we went to Forillon NP, Percé, New Richmond, Gaspé (their damn museum wasn’t open! I’ve been to that museum twice and it’s never open!) and got back to our hometown.
I’ve got some pictures posted here. If some of you would like to receive more info about B&B’s, attractions, routes, ferries (it’s easy to get lost in the whole process of making reservations because yes, some of them are mandatory) and other places of interest, please contact me, I’d be happy to share my tips with you!