Labrador, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Aug 12 & 13, 2008

27 11 2010

Amazing Taxidermy at Northern Lights

Welcome to the Heart of Labrador

In spite of being the largest urban development in Central Labrador, Happy Valley-Goose Bay has a population of less than 8000 people. Yes, it is a town so small it still uses 7 digit dialing. So there is not much there, but what is there is all very interesting and we were able to spend a whole day there without running out of things to do. Goose Bay used to be a huge military base, is now a smallish military base, and Happy Valley is a town of civilians. We arrived very early in the morning, but the Daybreak Café was open (because it was daybreak!) so we were able to get a decent bacon and egg breakfast. My placemat advertised “Goosestock: Just Like Woodstock, but without the 60’s”

We had come to Happy Valley-Goose Bay to visit Step’s university friend, Larry, but Larry had to be away on business so instead we would be hosted by his wife, Germaine. We checked in before she went to work and got advice on good places to go in town.

A Typical Commercial Building in Happy Valley

Happy Valley-Goose Bay has all kinds of quirky stores, such as Uncle Ern’s Meat & Treats, which sells specialty foods like President’s Choice General Tao Chicken flavoured chips, and Peak Freens. Then there’s Uncle Sam’s Butcher Shop (I am starting to see a theme here) which sells all kinds of Caribou products, but which was closed when we tried to shop there because they had run out of meat. There was a sign in the window who said they would re-open when Caribou season started.

The Love Shack of Northern Lights

Exterior of Northern Lights

By far the most interesting shop, though, was Northern Lights, a kind of independent department store that is Happy Valley’s answer to WalMart. Northern Lights is 2 floors! On the first floor there is a kind of clothing department featuring, among other things, a large selection of down parkas, and with a special section for prom dresses. Another large section is devoted to cheesy souvenirs, some of which bordered on politically incorrect, and then there is a separate room which had sex gear, and even a little area that was a head shop with bongs and the like. I bought a few issues of “Them Days”, which is a ‘zine full of people recollecting early life in Labrador. We saw a lot of places selling Them Days in Happy Valley, but I don’t remember seeing it for sale anywhere else in Labrador, which is curious because it’s a very popular, collectible publication.

A Display of Incredible Nature

Wild Beasts of Labrador

Downstairs at Northern Lights is even more exciting. On this floor is the camping and hunting gear, and there are all sorts of great displays featuring taxidermed bears hanging around rivers and things like that. Speaking of taxidermi, Holy Kamoli! A lot of room in the basement of Northern Lights is taken up by dozens of taxidermed beasts. Bobcats and beavers and wolves, oh my! Plus, there is a private military museum which you pay by donation and which Step spent some time on. There are also some military machines in a vacant, grassy lot next door. (We ran into the broken trailer people there, who were pretty much doing what we were doing, looking around Labrador. I’m glad we ran into them, because we wanted to do a tour at Churchill Falls the next day and so did they, but we didn’t know we had to phone ahead. Because we found that out through them, we were able to notify Churchill Falls and our tour plan was saved! There will be more about that adventure in the next blog entry).

Tiki Bar at the Hamilton Hotel

Happy Valley has a visitor centre where we went, mainly to find out where we could get a satellite phone to take on the Trans Labrador Highway with us, in case we ran into any trouble. The answer was The Hamilton Hotel across the street. Like a lot of the commercial buildings in the town, Hamilton Hotel was a prefab metal building with few or no windows, (during winter that probably helps to keep heat inside). But that doesn’t stop them from having a fully pimped out Tiki Bar! Sadly, we couldn’t hang out there because they were closed to finish renovations. It’s nice, though, that in the bitter winter of Labrador, there’s a Hamilton Oasis of Palm Frond.

We went food shopping at NorthMart, which is like a wee Great Canadian Super Store. I tried to buy some yogurt. You know, some fermented milk. We had given up on organic long before Labrador, but now there was not one option of plain, unprocessed yoghurt. The friendly sales lady tried to help, though, and recommended an Activia Snack pack with a variety of flavours. Being Foodarians, we decided to forgo yoghurt consumption for now. We also had a hard time selecting any vegetables, as the ones for sale were kind of tired. There was some Earthbound Organic celery that didn’t look too bad, though, and some sprouts which we figured would be fresh because they were sprouts. When we got to the checkout to pay, the cashier needed a price check on sprouts, and while we waited she asked us what they were, and how did we eat them? East Coast and West Coast, we are all one country but pantries apart.

An Interesting Magazine

Them Days had their own building so we went in a checked it out. You can buy back issues of the ‘zine there, or check out their archival stuff if you are interested in the history of Labrador. They had all kinds of pictures on their walls and one was particularly chilling, showing the back of a figure wrapped in a blanket and just utterly, completely covered in bugs. The title of the picture is “Mosquito Day”. Brrrrr.

Germaine and Larry live right on the Hamilton River, with their 2 children who also weren’t around for our visit. Germaine made us Caribou steaks for dinner, and we caught up on Boogie Bus housework and laundry. We didn’t see Germaine the next morning and we were in the house alone. We showered and got ready for our drive to Churchill Falls. I was outside by the van when Step came out for the last time and asked me if everything was packed up from the house and I said “yes”. Just as the door was locking irrevocably behind him, I recalled our stovetop espresso pot was by the kitchen sink. Time slowed down. “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” I cried in sub tone slow motion. But it was too late. Our coffee maker was inside the house and we were outside. And there was nowhere where we could purchase another stovetop espresso pot. We drove to the end of the pavement and the beginning of the next leg of the Trans-Labrador Highway. And there we were, 1,113 dirt paved kilometres to the next Canadian Tire, and no coffee pot.

Step is Interested in Military History

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One response

14 12 2010
Dan Port

Hello,

I stumbled across your blog and I have enjoyed reading it. I lived in Goose Bay for many years through my youth.
The Northern Lights store you visited is owned by a fellow named Bruce Haynes. Bruce’s brother Glen and I were very good friends when we were young. His dad was the Harbor Master and Glen and I spent many days down at the docks. Bruce was always a bit of an odd duff but very interesting. I always thought it strange that he never joined the military as he was very intrigued by it. He does have a lot of interesting items on display .

As for the Trans Labrador Highway my dad and his buddy were the first two people to ride motorcycles, little trail bikes really, from Goose Bay to Churchill Falls. Probably the first two to actually drive the whole trip between Goose and Churchill as it was nothing more then a goat trail. At a few spots they actually had to carry one bike for a bit and then come back and get the other bike. The trip took a week and a half one way.

I do hope you enjoyed your Labrador experience. It is really a very beautiful place.

Dan Port

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