Hikes in the Big Land

Walk through history in Southern Labrador. Labrador is huge – more than 285,000 sq km of wilderness, dotted in only a few dozen places by towns and villages. Aboriginal people have lived here for thousands of years, and have used cairns and Inukshuks to signpost their travelways. In other words, it's easy to get lost if you stray off the trail. On this trip, we'll spend two days in Southeastern Labrador visiting the historic sites.

Day 1 – Visit the oldest burial mound in North America

Take the seasonal car ferry from St. Barbe on Newfoundland's Viking Trail to Blanc Sablon on the Quebec/Labrador border and drive a few minutes to L'Anse au Claire, the first community on the Labrador Coastal Drive. Drop by the Gateway to Labrador Visitor Centre for a quick look at the history of the area, and to get information on attractions in the area. To stretch your legs, visit the ruins of stone buildings at the Jersey Rooms, where fishermen from Jersey in the British Isles fished in the 1700s.

The next community on Route 510 is Forteau where we'll take a walk on the 3.4 km (there and back) Overfall Brook Trail. The trailhead is at the end of the first road to the right in Forteau. This trail is rated moderate. Along the way you'll see blue irises alongside beach pea and other beach vegetation, and remember to look for the marmots that make their homes among the rockfalls. The trail follows the shoreline and ends at a stunning waterfall.

Our next stop is at a National Historic Site: the oldest known burial monument in North America, near Point Amour. It dates back about 7,500 years when the Maritime Archaic people buried an adolescent here and covered the grave with a large mound of rocks. Just why they constructed, what was for that time, an elaborate funeral mound is not known. Some archaeologists speculate it was related to a time of climate change that threatened the food supply.

Before doing more walking, we'll stop at Point Amour Lighthouse, the second-tallest in Canada. Built in the 1850s, it was automated only a decade ago. The lightkeeper's house next door has been converted into a natural heritage centre with displays of plants from the area. It also stages a play based on the wreck of the HMS Raleigh, which we are now going to see by taking the Raleigh Trail from the lighthouse down to the coast. The Raleigh, which was only three years old, and HMS Lily, two British warships, ran aground at Point Amour in 1922 on their way to drop off sailors who were going on a salmon fishing shore excursion. They didn't make it, but salmon still draw anglers today to the Pinware River, just a bit further north on Route 510. The Trail follows the shoreline and is an excellent place to watch for whales, icebergs, seabirds and seals, as well as see an interesting variety of arctic plants. Also, witness the natural phenomena of the St. Lawrence and Labrador currents meeting.

We overnight in the area.

Day 2 – Whaling in the 16th century

This morning, we drive a few minutes along the highway to L'Anse au Loup for a 7.6-km return trek on the moderate Schooner Cove Trail. This trail goes through several different mircozones of the Labrador coast, providing excellent opportunities to examine a variety of local flora. Schooner Cove, at trail's end, was first occupied by the Maritime Archaic people thousands of years ago. During the last 400 years it has been home to a variety of European and Labradorian whalers and fisherman. Large iron boilers and other bits of machinery scattered along the beach are the remains of a whaling factory established there in the early 1900s.

Back on the highway, we head to the end of the pavement at Red Bay. Basque whalers established the first great industrial enterprise in North America here in the 16th century. Red Bay National Historic Site tells the story of the hard and often dangerous life of the whaler, and the cemetery at Saddle Island, accessible via a short boat ride, is where the unfortunate and unlucky ended their days, far from their homes on the Iberian Peninsula. The whale oil they rendered from "right" whales lit the lamps of late-medieval Europe. A real, if somewhat battered, example of a chaloupe, a small boat from which they hunted, is one of the prime displays.

For a panoramic view of Red Bay, take Tracey Hill Trail, an easy to moderate walking trail and 689-step boardwalk with descriptive panels, rest stops and two coin-operated telescopes.

For information on more trails in Southern Labrador check out www.labradorcoastaldrive.com

We return to Blanc Sablon and catch the ferry back to Newfoundland, doing some birdwatching on the crossing.