Labrador Frontier Circuit (1152 km)

The interior of Labrador is a vast wilderness with recent pockets of modern industrialization in Labrador City, Wabush, Churchill Falls and Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Those who come this way will find an outdoor enthusiast's paradise. There are thousands of pristine lakes teeming with trout, hundreds of rivers that will test your boating skills and kilometre after kilometre of forests and barren ground filled with game. During winter this country is particularly spectacular and there's lots to do – ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and tobogganing, just to name a few.

Take Quebec Route 389 from Baie-Comeau to Labrador West

Labrador has an area of 293,347 square kilometres and a population of only about 29,000 permanent residents. You can take the Quebec Route 389 to western Labrador, Route 500 from there to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Route 510 south to Blanc Sablon where a ferry crosses to St. Barbe in Newfoundland, and to Port aux Basques for the year-round ferry to Nova Scotia. (In winter the Blanc Sablon-St Barbe service is replaced by an ice-strengthened vessel between Corner Brook and Blanc Sablon.) When travelling by coastal boat or ferry it's always a good idea to plan everything in advance. Schedules can vary.

To begin this adventure, take partially paved Quebec Route 389 from Baie-Comeau on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River and drive 581 kilometres through some incredibly beautiful countryside, passing through the Quebec communities of Manic V and Fermont, and into Labrador. The drive takes about 8.5 hours.

Western Labrador is known for its mining. The largest open-pit iron ore mining, concentrate and pelletizing mineral operation in North America is located in Labrador City, the heart of industrial Labrador. Since 1958, Labrador City and Wabush have grown from work camps to modern towns with many services and amenities usually found in much larger centres.

Western Labrador offers visitors excellent summer sports and outdoor recreational activities, which include some of the world's best angling. The Labrador City and Wabush area has facilities that attract curlers and golfers from all over. This part of Labrador also provides serious ski buffs with unparalleled downhill and cross-country action. The Smokey Mountain Alpine Ski Club and the Menihek Nordic Ski Club offer facilities that will please everyone from beginners to experts. The Nordic Ski Club is a world-class facility that has twice hosted World Cup events.

The area's main winter event is the annual Cain's Quest Snowmobile Endurance Race. The race traverses 2,000 kilometres of wilderness, and the two-person teams have to deal with unpredictable winter weather and rough terrain.

Labrador has an extensive snowmobile trail system that includes groomed, ungroomed and regional trails. Snowmobilers can use the groomed trails throughout the area to enjoy the Labrador wilderness and to possibly catch a glance of the world's largest caribou herd. This Quebec-Labrador herd migrates across provincial boundaries each year and numbers about 74,000 animals.

Labrador West

In Labrador West, an adventure holiday is available with all the comforts of home. Duley Lake Family Park, about 10 kilometres from Labrador City, is a great place to stay if you really want to get a feel for the outdoors. This 75-site camping park has swimming, boating, picnic facilities and an excellent sandy beach. A second camping facility is Grande Hermine Park located 33 kilometres from Labrador City on the Trans-Labrador Highway (Route 500). It has 75 landscaped sites with water hookups, as well as a beach, picnic facilities and boat rentals.

Visitors will love the natural beauty of this park with its caribou moss, glacial eskers and erratics.

Take the Freedom Road to Churchill Falls

Labradorians dubbed Route 500 the Freedom Road when it opened years ago because they could finally drive from the Lake Melville area or Churchill Falls to western Labrador and on through Quebec to the rest of the continent. Before the road opened, they had to fly or take the train from western Labrador to Quebec. Route 500 is now being paved, and each year the driving time between Labrador City and Happy Valley-Goose Bay gets a little shorter. About 85 km of the road east from Labrador City, another 85 km west from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and a small section west of Churchill Falls is now paved.

At Churchill Falls there is a modern town with services, accommodations and some very interesting attractions to visit. The community was built around one of the wonders of the modern world. At this point in its course, the waters of the Churchill River fall over 300 metres in a 32-kilometre section, which made it ideal for one of the world's largest hydroelectric generating stations. The water was diverted into underground facilities where the huge turbines produce 5,225 megawatts of power. Tours of this huge operation can be arranged at the town office.

On to Happy Valley-Goose Bay

A lot has changed in Labrador since World War II. Happy Valley-Goose Bay was made a transatlantic aircraft ferry facility by the wartime governments of the United States, Canada and Great Britain. Military activity since World War II has included low-level flight training by NATO members, but a new role for the base has not yet been developed. Happy Valley-Goose Bay is the major distribution centre of goods for coastal Labrador and the location of government offices for the region.

In early March the annual Snobreak winter carnival is always a great deal of fun. It features a week of snowmobile races, dog team races, ski events and other activities that celebrate the coming end of winter.

During winter, this country is particularly spectacular and there's lots to do – ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and tobogganing, just to name a few. The Birch Brook Nordic Club draws raves from cross-country enthusiasts.

Route 520 to Sheshatshui and North West River

Two other communities accessible by road from Happy Valley-Goose Bay are Sheshatshui and North West River, the former International Grenfell Association headquarters for Labrador.

North West River was the home of Donald Smith (later Lord Strathcona), the Hudson Bay Chief Factor in Lake Melville who went on to become a driving force in the company and earned distinction for his part as mediator in the Canadian Riel uprising. The present road through the community follows the horse trail Smith constructed to court his wife during Sunday afternoon carriage drives.

In North West River you'll find the Labrador Heritage Society Museum, which, among other fascinating stories of life in Labrador, tells an unusual tale about a remarkable woman, Mina Hubbard. To meet her requires a trip back in time to the dawn of the 20th century, to 1903, when American adventure travel writer Leonides Hubbard and two companions tried to walk across Labrador from North West River to the George River for the annual Naskaupi caribou hunt.

Mina Hubbard's Incredible Journey

With Hubbard were Dillon Wallace, a New York lawyer and adventurer, and George Elson, a Métis guide from Ontario. Unfortunately, the three took the wrong route and Hubbard died of starvation while the other two barely made it back. Wallace published a book, Lure of the Labrador Wild, about the expedition, and that's where Mina Hubbard comes into the picture. Mina was Leonides' wife, and she was livid when Wallace's book blamed her dead husband for the expedition's failure. Determined to complete his quest and vindicate his name, she set out from North West River in 1905 – at the same time Wallace was trying to complete the journey he had had to abandon two years earlier.

So, here was a late-Victorian nurse, who was born in Ontario but moved to the U.S., dressed in long skirts and other regalia of the era and with little wilderness experience leading an expedition through Labrador, accompanied by Elson. Not only did she succeed, but she beat Wallace by six weeks. On her return to New York she wrote a magazine article that she later expanded to a book, A Woman's Way Through Unknown Labrador. Wallace also wrote a popular book on his second expedition, and became a well-known writer and lecturer, but Mina's book was considered more valuable because of the observation of plants and animals she recorded, and her detailed account of the caribou migration and the people who hunted them. She remarried and moved to England, where she was killed in 1956 when she walked in front of an oncoming train.

Today, North West River is home to the descendants of the English, French and Scots who first made a living here as hunters and trappers. Sheshatshui is home to the Montagnais Innu, descendants of Labrador's once nomadic interior caribou hunters. In late July the town holds the North West River Beach Festival, a two-day celebration featuring music and other attractions.