Quebec, Trans-Labrador Highway (Part 3), Fermont, Gagnon, and Manic Everything, August 14, 2008

16 02 2011

A Common Sight on Route 389

The last stint of the Trans Labrador Highway was about 580 kilometres and took us mostly through what we call Northern Quebec, (but if you look on a map it’s really middlin’ Quebec), and was by far the most active part of the highway in terms of traffic and things to see. We also got some of the most beautiful and amazing picture of our trip on this portion, but maybe not in a conventional sense.

The Long, Long Building of Fermont

Once we left Labrador City we only had to go about 10 minutes down the highway and we were in Quebec again. Here, the highway changes name from Route 500 to Route 389. Almost instantly we came across the mining town of Fermont. We didn’t spend a lot of time there, but we did note a few interesting features. One was an enormous truck, much bigger than a monster truck, which was on display at the entrance of the town. (We didn’t know yet, but later in our Cross Canada adventure we would encounter an even much bigger truck. At this time, we were amazed that a truck even this size could exist). The other was a residential building 4 stories high and at least a full kilometre long, that was built that way to act as a wind and snow break for the town. In the winter, the people who live in the building never have to leave it. It’s a triumph of urban planning! We drove through the town quickly, but other than those 2 things there wasn’t much to see.

Step Aside Monster Truck

Tires of Mont-Wright Mine

Right outside the town is the Mont-Wright iron ore mine, where most of the people of Fermont work. It is giant and plateaued, and much of the mountains have been eaten away. I can’t say it wasn’t beautiful in an industrial way. There was traffic and dust, and I took one of my favourite photos, this one of a train emerging from a cloud of dust. The highway got really twisty and we crossed the same rail track 17 times. There was even a stop sign! Dust. It was hot and we had to keep the windows closed. This is when the joy of celery sticks, bought in Happy Valley, trimmed, and chilled in the fridge, asserts itself. Yes, celery had never been so good.

Robin's Favourite Photo

Once we got away from the mine we were able to open our windows again, but we frequently had to re-close them because another truck came by. Some of those trucks were driven very recklessly, too, careening around unbanked, unpaved curves with full trailers of logs or whatever fishtailing behind them. Later, we found out this is one of Canada’s most dangerous roads.

The Abandoned Grate of Gagnon

After 3 hours of gravel highway, we came to the ghost town of Gagnon. Gagnon was the company mining town until everything was moved to Fermont, and not even any buildings are left, just a little stretch of pavement, a chunk of sidewalk, and a drain grate. For a ghost town in the middle of nowhere, there were sure a lot of people around. We saw about 4 parked cars and one mystery sight of one car being towed with a chain by another car. We don’t know what all those people were doing, but we just guessed they were fishing.

From here the highway has mostly hydro-electric projects, mainly the 7 Manic dams and generating stations (there are 7 but you only see 3 along the road). Some are huge but none rival Churchill Falls in scale or inaccessibility. The Manic dams are so named, I believe, for the Manicouagan river and lake. Manicouagan Lake is really a man flooded reservoir in one of the largest asteroid impact craters on Earth. If you look on a map you can see it is massive, almost perfectly round and has an almost as big round island in the middle, so it actually looks like an island with a moat around it. Astronauts in space can see it with their naked eyes and sometimes call it the “Eye of Quebec”. We were curious to go to its shore but there is no easy way to get to it so we had to content ourselves with glimpses from the van, and I’m not sure we got any of those, either.

Quebec Gives a Dam

The other thing on this part of the highway is the gas station in Relais-Gabriel. The gas station is the only thing there. You must buy gas; if you want to get anywhere else but there you have no choice. The gas, as you can imagine, is extremely expensive. There are also a little cafe and corner store, and cabins that travelers can rent. I have no idea why anyone would want to stay there, but I guess some do. I wonder often and a lot, what would it be like to be the family that runs that gas station. You would see a million strangers and have no neighbours. And probably each one of those strangers would complain about the price of your gas.

Manic 5

We saw one of the smaller dams and then we came to the Daddy Dam, Manic 5 (now known as Daniel-Johnson Dam). This is the largest multiple-arch-and-buttress dam in the world. The pictures we took can tell you more about this wonder of engineering than my words can. Here, the road became paved and we knew we were approaching civilisation again because there we all kinds of regular cars around, and in front of the dam there are motel rooms, a corner store, and a cafeteria style restaurant. Step stopped to use the pay phone to sort out some school stuff for the fall.

Camping at Manic 2

It was dark and as we got closer to the end of the highway there started to be things like campgrounds and other amenities, so we stopped in at one near Manic 2 and spent the night. The next morning I took a shower and there must have been something unfamiliar in the water because after the shower I was unbearably itchy for hours. We stopped to gander at Manic 2, which was no Manic 5 but still a wonder to behold. It turned out we had camped pretty close to the end of Route 389, and in no time we were in Baie Comeau. After so many weeks in remote towns, company towns, scrubby wilderness, really long gravel roads, and no cellphone signals, to suddenly burst out into this averagely urban town on the paved shore of the St. Lawrence felt oddly relieving, and we headed straight to the local Canadian Tire to get a new coffee pot.

The End of the Road


Labrador, Labrador City and Wabush, Aug 13 & 14, 2008

10 01 2011

Jim Relaxes in Mike’s Living Room

Step Models the Satellite Safety Phone

Like so many Canadian cities, Labrador City and it’s suburb,Wabush pretty much blend into one city, and with a combined population of around 9000, it is not large as cities go. I think the main industry there is iron mining. It’s located very in the interior, and in fact is almost on the border of Quebec. We got to Labrador City in the early evening, and after returning the satellite phone to the Two Seasons Inn, headed over to Wabush for an evening with Mike.

We had never met Mike, but our newfound Newfoundland friend, Todd, knew him through work and we had asked for an introduction. Mike was originally from Newfoundland and he and his brother Jim entertained us like a true Atlantic Canadians, feeding us all kinds of nice foods and large amounts of alcohol, and luring us into the living room where music was played by Mike and Step. I tried to take pictures of Mike but he didn’t like that so instead I show you his cans of Full Monty and Spotted Dick. Mike also showed us some amazing photographs he had taken on his travels.

Interesting Food Stuffs of Our Host

We slept in the van that night and it was odd because we were in a suburban area and it was Wednesday night, but really loud cars kept zooming past us and making the van shake. I guess some Labrador Citians like to drag race in the night, or other such sports. It took me a little longer than usual to fall asleep.

The Fast Paced Streets of Wabush

Not Widely Available

Mike was so hospitable and kind he left his house open the next morning so we could go in and take showers. Then we decided to explore Labrador City a bit. We went to the visitor centre and got the lay of the land, and also tried to purchase an “I survived the Trans-Labrador Highway” bumper sticker we had seen in the gift shop of the Sir Robert Bond. We hadn’t wanted to purchase one until we had actually survived the highway, so we wouldn’t jinx our chances, but oddly there were none to be found in the city. We hit the hardware store because we needed a coffee pot and an under-van water tap. They couldn’t help us with the coffee pot but we did get the tap head and Step repaired ours right in the parking lot. Go Step!

The Unassuming CBC of Labrador West

Robin Has a Dream

Mike works for the beloved Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and in fact, he is the Voice of Labrador West. Anyone who knows me can attest that I love radio and I love the CBC, so I was excited to take him up on the offer of an office visit. I have visited the CBC in Vancouver many times, where it is housed right downtown in a giant, security guarded, concrete bunkeresque building that also goes deep underground, so you might understand my laughing delight when I saw this CBC office. It was also right downtown, but located inside the Labrador Mall next to the Wal-Mart, consisting of one room and the studio booth. I think only Mike and one other guy work there. You know, maybe I’m idealising, but that seems like a perfect life to me. We hung out while Mike interviewed a teenage girl who was on an Arctic boating expedition, and then Mike let me sit in his chair and Step took pictures of me pretending to be Mike.

We walked around Labrador Mall a bit, which looked exactly like Any Mall Anywhere, and I am ashamed to say we went to Wal-Mart and bought some new camping chairs. I don’t usually have anything to do with Wal-Mart but our old ones had literally fallen apart and the shopping pickings were pretty slim. Sorry, World. We also stopped by a local corner store and I bought some frozen Toutons. Then we got in the van and drove about 10 kilometres and we were back in Quebec, and ready for another stint of Trans-Labrador Highwaying.

A Mall Like Any Other

Labrador, Trans-Labrador Highway (Part 2) and Churchill Falls, Aug 13, 2008

18 12 2010

Sign at the Beginning of Route 500

This Picture Lasts for 500 Kilometres

We got up pretty early to get a good start on what would be our 2nd stint on the Trans-Labrador Highway (read about the 1st stint here), for we hoped to make it the 524 kilometres to Labrador City that night. Near the beginning we came across the trailer people’s broken trailer abandoned on the middle of the road, and we wondered about their story, but we couldn’t see the people anywhere so we thought about it no more. It’s kind of funny, in both a haha and peculiar way, that when we first ventured out in the Boogie Bus, a country’s breadth ago, driving the full sized van had been a bit precious and intimidating. Now we were careening down a loose dirt highway, with no emergency services in sight, our hind end fishtailing over the soft surface, and we didn’t feel at all concerned. We were lucky that it was a cold and damp day, for the road wasn’t nearly as dusty as it might have been and if we stopped to pee we had a good couple of minutes before the black flies started bothering us. Frequently we saw roadside quarries and Step joked that Lithuania has nothing on Labrador in terms of strategic sand and gravel reserves.

Other than these quarries, the occasional road working crew, scraggly forests, and a rare hunting cabin or 2, the ONLY thing along this part of the highway is a super gimungous hydro-electric development known as Churchill Falls. This part of the highway is known as Route 500, but when it was built in 1992, the people of Churchill Falls nicknamed it the “Freedom Highway”, since before it’s construction the only way in and out was by plane or sled.

Houses of Churchill Falls

Inside the Town Centre

With a population of about 600, Churchill Falls is a real company town. I think the only people there who do not work for Churchill Falls Corporation are the one RCMP man and the guy at the gas station. The town is pretty self contained, with a 2 story building that is the town centre, which has a grocery store, a wee one room “department store” (which didn’t sell stove top espresso makers), a library, a restaurant and hotel, and everybody’s life line, a postal outlet—Sears Catalogue, baby, Churchill Falls’ answer to the mall. There is also one church that is time shared by all the religious denominations, a school for the kids, a gym, sauna, curling rink, and  pool. ”The Company” provides quite a few recreational things for the people—there is even a little ski hill and lift!

We arrived for our midday tour to see somehow the trailer people had made it after all. They had managed to go back to Happy Valley, find a fix-it guy, get their trailer repaired, and make it to Churchill Falls right after us. We were all met at the town centre by a tour guide who took us in a shuttle to one of the outbuildings where we were shown an educational video about the making of Churchill Falls. The video was made in the ‘80’s and had quaint appeal. I won’t get too deeply into it here, but the makings of this facility was quite a miracle of engineering.

A Company Town

The actual falls that the town is named after were once a natural wonder which reportedly rivaled, or surpassed even, the majestic splendor of Niagara Falls, but due to their very remote location no objection was made when the government decided to dam all the waterways from 90 kilometres around, and to divert the falls into 11 mammoth underground turbines. (Well, actually, the Innu that lived there objected very much, but the government did not consult them, and reconciliation for this act is still going on today). So much power is generated at this facility that it is equal to 1.3 billion gallons of oil a day! Some of it goes to Newfoundland and Labrador, some to Maine, but most of it is sold really cheaply to Quebec, which is a bone of contention to the provinces and a court case pops up every couple of decades or so. (This stuff, of course, was not featured in the video).

Red Faction Robin?

After the video we were given hard hats and earplus to wear and taken by shuttle to the facility itself. This is a huge operation and we only saw a small portion of it. It is almost all underground in rough rock tunnels that had been blasted out of granite and we really felt like we were inside a first person shooter video game. In one area we came across an old bus and the tour guide told us if the facility ever flooded everyone was to run to the bus which would take them back to the surface. If they couldn’t get to the bus in time, there is also a waterproof “safe room” which has its own air supply, and enough food and water for 30 people for 30 days. Shiver.

The Get Away Car

Old Timey Message Board

One cool thing we saw in the tour was a display case that had a jar full of notes in it. In days of yore, when the falls were still falls, hardier tourists would occasionally make their way there, and the jar acted like a kind of guestbook, where they could leave a note, such as “Kilroy was here” or their impressions of what they saw.

We asked many questions to Karen, the tour guide. I asked if there was a lot of staff turn over and she said there was hardly any, and in fact, people would not retire because if they weren’t working anymore they were not entitled to a house, and they would have to leave the community. So instead, they just work until they die. I am personally amazed and puzzled by this. On one hand I can see the appeal of living in such a village for it’s close community ties and knowability, but on the other hand living in such a small, remote place I can only imagine cabin fever of such intensity it would drive a person insane. However, the people who actually live there seem to really love their lives there, so who am I to say?

Wild Electric Raspberry Surprise


Karen told us the night before she had picked over a gallon of wild raspberries, and she told us where they were growing. We had lunch in the van and headed over. The raspberries were in a fairly extensive field near the transfer station. They were plentiful and delicious. Step contends them to be the most delicious raspberries he’s ever had. I went back to the van to get another container and was surprised to get an electrical shock when I touched the door. I touched it again and got another shock. There was so much electricity in the air the van was electrified! This was also bombarding us. “We have to get out of here!” I said to Step, “Our brains are being electrocuted.”

We left, wondering what the effect of having such electrical power around you day after day would do in the long term. I have no idea if the residents of Churchill Falls suffer more than their share of cancers or whatnot, statistically speaking. If they do have health problems because of the intense electricity, they are not saying.

We had to cross what was once the Churchill River, now a trickle, on a vast expanse of river rock bed.

Churchill Trickle

I tried to get a glass of water, but none came out of our tap. We came up with the ridiculous hypothesis that the electricity in the air had somehow fried the motor of the pump, but later when we landed in Labrador City and assessed the situation, it turned out that the rocks of the highway had broken of the tap head on the underside of the van, and we had merely drained our tank along the highway as we drove.

We still had 5 gallons of backup water and it was only another couple of hundred kilometres to Labrador City/Wabush, where we had a dinner date. On the way there, we saw the trailer people camping in a quarry, and I wondered how they would survive a night of Labradorian black flies. We did not see the trailer people again, so maybe they didn’t.

The Surpisingly Vivid Colours of the Trans-Labrador Highway

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

Labrador, Cartwright to Happy Valley-Goose Bay via MV Sir Robert Bond, Aug 11 & 12, 2008

16 10 2010

Boarding the MV Sir Robert Bond

I am devoting a whole post to our trip on the MV Sir Robert Bond because it was our most distinctive ferry trip in Canada so far, not in a good way, and one which I doubt (and hope) will never be surpassed. Cartwright does not have a ferry terminal parking lot, so a couple of hours before our 5pm departure an announcement over a loudspeaker prompted all the vehicles to proceed willy-nilly to the loading bay of the ship, where ferry workers then sort of fitted them in the best they could, sometimes replacing the driver of the vehicle in order to back it in or otherwise squeeze it on (we met some people on the ship who’s trailer tent was broken this way, but they said it wasn’t the workers’ fault, and they had to break it or leave it).

Once we were on the Sir Robert Bond, around 5ish, we noticed a posting of meal service hours that stated dinner was served only between 4pm and 6pm. This was somewhat puzzling as nobody was  even on the boat at 4pm, and it looked like some might not be on it at 6 either, the way things were loading. After dumping our stuff in our 2 bunk stateroom (thank you, Step, for having the amazing foresight to get a room) we went as directly to the cafeteria as we could, which was not very, since the Sir Robert Bond has all kinds of narrow corridors, lounges, and staircases. The whole ship reeked of despair and kerosene. We found the cafeteria in the bowels of the boat, with low ceilings and a lot of pipes overhead. We may have been luckier to have not found the dining room at all, it turned out. For SOME REASON not even I can fathom, I selected a wilted brown salad which turned out to be inedible, a side of previously frozen vegetables which were so chewy they may have started as wooden coffee table ornaments, and one of the two entrees offered, fries and chicken wings. Step, to my alarm, ordered the grey, oily beef chow mein. This was served to us on metal trays by a silent, dermatologically challenged youth in white, and we paid a scowly older woman who merely grunted at our pleasantries. As we sat down at our plastic chairs I said to Step “I feel like I’m in jail, but I’m having to pay!”. The only thing edible on our plates were the fries, although I did choke down a carrot medallion and a few chicken wings as well. (Subsequently on our travels, when we told people of our trip on the Sir Robert Bond, they inevitably would ask “How was the food?”, and we found out any experienced Robert Bond goer packs a lunch. I can only imagine no one warned out because it’s some kind of perverse Newfoundland and Labrador insider joke to make you eat it. Why? Why? I did not know NLers could be so cruel).

Dining Hall of the Sir Robert Bond

Instructions in our State Room

We hadn’t showered for a really, really long time, so when we got our parole from the “Dining” Room, we got some thin little towels from our stateroom and headed for the washroom, where my shower stall had clogged pipes, and the water started sloshing into the main floor fairly shortly. Nonetheless, I was grateful for the desperately needed shower, even though our towels wouldn’t dry again after that, so our stateroom smelled of DAMP despair and kerosene for the rest of the trip. This was still preferable to the crowded mini lounges with loud TV’s on the SitCom channels, where many travelers spent the night.

Not everything about the Sir Robert Bond experience was bad, though. It was old but everything was really clean. Also, it has wireless internet! Yahoo! And there was a lot of outdoor space you could walk around in, and people were friendly. It was kind of stormy but even so people went outside, (maybe because the ship was smelly and crowded?) and we met the broken trailer people who I wish I could remember their names because we saw them many times in the next few days. They speculated the trip was way behind schedule because the Captain was avoiding the storms, which made sense to us.

Fresh Air!

There is also a bar on the ship, where we had a packaged snack, a drink, and some computer screen time. The woman at the bar concession was from Newfoundland and really chatty. She told me the black berry I had eaten on Flagstaff Hill might have had a worm in it, and that locals only eat the berry after the first frost because of the worm, but the worm wouldn’t hurt me. Ugh. (this wasn’t like succulent Pacific Northwest blackberries that grow on brambles, but a small, round berry that grows on bushes near the ground).

After a restless night, we had coffee in the dining car, but no food, and we docked at Happy Valley-Goose Bay. We had been on the Sir Robert Bond for 15 hours, and it felt miraculous to be back in the Boogie Bus. I swore to never complain about BC Ferries again.

People Hang out on the deck of the MV Sir Robert Bond

Labrador, Cartwright, August 11, 2008

9 08 2010

Cartwright, Labrador

The Flag of Labrador

We had quite a bit of time to kill in Cartwright since the ferry wouldn’t leave until the afternoon, but fortunately there was stuff to do. For instance, there’s a crafty shop there called Mealy Mountain Gallery, where I was able to purchase a “Free Labrador” t-shirt, (but not in the colour I wanted because they were out of my size in that colour, so I bought a red one). It had the sprig from the Labrador flag on it. Even though Newfoundland and Labrador are technically one province, they each have their own flag. Labrador’s flag has a white stripe, a green stripe, and a blue stripe, and a sprig of spruce on it. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the symbolism of this flag:


The top white bar represents the snow which colours the culture and lifestyle of Labradorians like no other element. The bottom blue bar represents the waters of Labrador which serve as the highway and sustainer of the people of Labrador. The centre green bar represents the nurturing land. It is thinner than the other two, as the northern climes of Labrador have short summers.

The twig is in two year-growths to represent the past and future of Labrador. The shorter growth of the inner twigs represents the hardships of the past, while the outer twigs are longer as a representation of the hope Labradorians have for the future. The three branches represent the three founding nations of Labrador; the Innu, the Inuit, and the white settler. The three branches emerging from a single stalk represents the unity of the distinct peoples in the brotherhood of mankind.”

Labradorians are very proud and so this flag really means a lot to them, at least the ones we discussed it with.

What the Bus Motel Might Look Like

The lady that ran the shop also gave me an explanation about inuksuit that I hadn’t known, which is if you look through the hole it shows you where the inukshuk builder had left a cache of food or equipment. She also told us there was currently a bus motel in the area, which is a giant 3 story tour bus that has bunks that the tourists actually sleep on, so they are living on the bus! This one was reportedly full of Germans, but we never saw it. I wish we did because I imagine seeing a 3 story tour bus roaming around Labrador would be a surreal experience—even just hearing about it is quite odd.

We went into a food store where I purchased some Lay’s “Fries and Gravy” flavoured chips, which struck me as sort of redundant. Fry flavoured chips? WTF? And I guess the “gravy” might be a similar flavour to “steak” flavour—-I don’t know. Anyway, I had never seen such a thing so I bought 2 and we ate 1, and the other I kept to add to my Food Museum which I had at home.

Cotton Grass of Labrador

Then we went to the top of Flagstaff Hill, which had a path lined with rocks painted with the elements of the Flag of Labrador. I enjoyed trying to identify the berries and plants along the path, using my little booklet I had bought in l’Anse au Claire. I ate a “blackberry”, which didn’t look anything like a west coast blackberry, and it didn’t really taste like anything. At the top of Flagstaff Hill was a gazebo and some old cannons. From there you can see a little bit of the Porcupine Strand, which is a super dooper long strand of sandy beach that the Vikings called the “Wonderstrand”, (although maybe they pronounced it “Vunderstrand”), and is a popular destination for it’s beauty and fishing.

In Sight of the Wonderstrand

Bored Kid on Rock

After a while we returned to wait for the boat. There is no ferry terminal parking in Cartwright, just a parking lot where everyone who’s taking the boat converges. Earlier it had only one guy with Arizona plates who had a crazy Westfalia that he had put giant truck wheels on (I guess he was on his way to go hunting or something), but now it was filled with all sorts of vehicles and people listlessly waiting, waiting, waiting to board the ferry. One kid had been driven by boredom to get onto a rock in the harbour. We took this time to write a few cards, and I popped by the post office on the lot and mailed them. I thought people would enjoy getting mail with a Labrador postmark. At last there came a speaker announcement saying we could all drive down the street and board the ferry, and from there the boredom morphed into slow motion chaos.

Flagstaff Hill

Labrador, South Trans Labrador Highway (Part 1) from Red Bay to Cartwright, August 10, 2008

3 08 2010

A Modern day Inukshuk

This stretch of the Trans Labrador Highway was the “newer” portion that went from Red Bay to Cartwright, where we would take a ferry to Goose Bay. For a dirt road with not a lot on it, it is surprisingly beautiful in spots. There was more traffic than we expected, at least at first, and we often saw inuksuit, and sometimes mo-hoes next to rivers which we guessed belonged to hunters or fishers. Some parts of the road were treed and the sun would shine through the clouds in rays which makes everything look heavenly, and some portions were more barren and rocky and seemed to go on forever. We didn’t see any wildlife, except for some sort of felinesque thing that ran across the road. What was that? we asked each other. We would have guessed a cat except there were no houses or habitats for many miles around. Later, we found out what we had seen was the very rare Labrador Marten. Hardly anyone sees them and apparently you could get paid a lot if you managed to get a picture of one, which we didn’t, since we had only seen it for a few seconds. Still, that was a pretty special wildlife sighting and a kind of trans-country bookend to the BC Lynx we had seen on the Cranberry Connecter.

Port Hope Simpson

We stopped for gas (propane? Hahaha) at a place called Penney’s Pitstop outside of Port Hope Simpson, and there was a friendly fellow there who was telling us a bit about life in Nain, where he spent a lot of time because he had a gravel business there. Nain is a town in Northern Labrador that we wouldn’t get to—it’s really remote, even by our standards. It sounded a little lawless, even though there is a policeman there, with kids driving without licenses and not using seat belts and other misdemeanors. I guess making up your own laws is one of the perks of such isolation. The attendant also told us which of the two restaurants in town was better, the Midway Restaurant, so we went there for lunch.

Port Hope Simpson is a pretty “big” town as far as Labradorian towns go. We got a fairly run-of-the-mill pizza served on one of those raised pizza platter things, and since there were a number of local people eating I took the opportunity to do some people watching. I mentioned in a previous post that in Newfoundland the ladies are mostly very glamourous and the guys are crocs-with-socks. Labrador is the exact opposite—the guys are ripped and rugged with good hair and tattoos, and the ladies are kind of….I’m not sure how to say it…..earthy? No, that sounds too hippie. Maybe the ladies are practical and also a tad frumpy. Anyway, girlfriends, if you want a hardworking muscle bound hottie and you don’t mind traveling, consider Labrador as a good place to shop for a date.

Heavenly Highway?

A Year Too Early

After lunch we continued on, the only thing of interest on the road was a juncture we came to, that announced the road would connect to Happy Valley-Goose Bay in 2009. That’s where we were headed! However, since it was 2008, we needed to get there by boat.

We got to Cartwright around 10pm, and after doing a quick toodle around town to get orientated, we camped overnight in a secluded lot next to the road that we could not guess the use for.

Camping in Cartwright

Read Part Two of the Trans Labrador Highway (Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Labrador City) here.

Read Part Three of the Trans Labrador Highway (Labrador City to Baie Comeau) here.