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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Québec, Montreal, Arizona, California, France

    Default To The End of the Road : My Labrador Trip

    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!

    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 09-30-2006 at 11:59 PM. Reason: typo

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula

    Default Just wow!

    What an amazing trip, Gen. Thanks for sharing. I think seeing an iceberg up close would be amazing! I think you win the prize for "off the beaten path" traveling this year!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Someday...

    ...I will get to that part of the world. Your description and account have once again piqued my curiosity. As I was following your route, I realized that QC-389 goes right by one of the larger impact craters on Earth, Manicouagan, and that you were generally driving on the Canadian Shield, some of the oldest rock around - the very starting point for the formation of the North American continent. But besides the geology are the unique adaptations made by people living in such a harsh (but I'm sure - beautiful) environment. Le Mur makes so much sense but actually isn't that far removed from some of the solutions that our neolithic forebears came up with at places like Skara Brae in Scotland's Orkney Islands. One of the things I love about travel is that it teaches us far more about how we are all alike than how we differ. While I wouldn't have thought that you'd run into a deaf Japanese adventure traveler in Fermont, I'm not surprised that by going to such a remote outpost, you met someone at least as interesting as yourself. I'm a sucker for ferries (the smaller the better), and having seen the odd iceberg or two, the service out to Cartwright sounds like a blast. How early in the spring/summer do they start up and how late into the fall/winter does the service operate?

    I must say, that I can barely find Battle Harbor on Streets & Trips and can't find St. Lewis or the road down from Cartwright at all. How do you know about these towns and how did you talk your mother into going to such out-of-the-way places? The only comparably desolate spots I've gotten to are on the northern coasts of Ireland and Scotland, and the people there are also some of the warmest and most interesting I've ever met. Must be something about the climate, scenery and isolation. But l’Anse-aux-Meadows is slowly working it's way to the top of my 'must-see' list, so as I said at the top: Someday...

    Thanks for a great report with all the links and pictures!


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Québec, Montreal, Arizona, California, France

    Default Craters and ferries

    As I was following your route, I realized that QC-389 goes right by one of the larger impact craters on Earth, Manicouagan,
    Yep, as you get close to Mt Wright, if you look west you will see some kind of red rock formations in the horizon which is probably part of that crater. Sorry for the bad quality of that picture, I took that photo with a disposable camera in 2003, I couldn't photograph it on my last trip in June since it was dark when we got in that area. At some point on highway 389 you also follow closely the Manicouagan Reservoir originally formed by the crater which is very impressive.

    Le Mur makes so much sense but actually isn't that far removed from some of the solutions that our neolithic forebears came up with at places like Skara Brae in Scotland's Orkney Islands.
    The two architects who designed "Le Mur" were inspired by some of Ralf Erskine's constructions in northern Sweden like Svappavaara for instance. Now, take a look at this picture. Looks familar?:-)

    How early in the spring/summer do they start up and how late into the fall/winter does the service operate?
    We actually had to postpone our trip a little because of the ferry's schedule. We planned on leaving on June 2nd and had to wait because the ferry started to operate only on June 9th. I believe their operation season ends around mid October or early November but if you want to know for sure here are the websites for the 3 ferries we took on our journey : M/V Sir Robert Bond (Goose Bay, Lab to Cartwright, Lab), M/V Apollo (Blanc-Sablon, Qc to St. Barbe, NF) and finally the M/V Caribou (Port-aux-Basques, NF to North Sydney, NS). There is also a ferry that goes from Blanc-Sablon, Qc to Natashquan, Qc where the road (highway 138) starts again but it is not Government owned and its primary use is cargo and as a result is very expensive.

    I must say, that I can barely find Battle Harbor on Streets & Trips and can't find St. Lewis or the road down from Cartwright at all. How do you know about these towns
    Well, it is quite simple, you just ask around -- well, as soon as you get a chance to, because you don't get to meet lots of folks in these parts! You can also do research on the net (here's some basic info on St. Lewis and a mile-by-mile type of guide to the TransLab Highway) and most importantly you order the New Foundland-and-Labrador Free Travel Guide and browse their maps. You can also ask Gen to send you her "homemade guide" and other tips because some informations might be hard to get (i.e. lodging).

    and how did you talk your mother into going to such out-of-the-way places?
    She just happens to trust me I guess...Maybe she shouldn't though:o)lol Well, she enjoys nature --as long as she doesn't have to put too much physical effort:-)-- she's curious and she doesn't mind long car rides. We both love discovering new remote areas around or within Quebec. Do you travel with your kids or grand kids a lot?


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