Labrador Itinerary: Northern Ranger Cruise

The coastal Inuit communities of Nunatsiavut in Labrador are accessible by coastal boat in summer on a cruise from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Nain and return. This is a unique opportunity to experience authentic Aboriginal culture and breathtaking Arctic scenery. Find yourself in the adventures and mysteries of the Labrador Inuit as you cruise through their homeland.

The Northern Ranger ferry service links these small, remote communities with a 5-day return trip: Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Nain. Passengers have a choice of accommodations ranging from a dormitory bunk to a deluxe cabin with ensuite.

During each community visit you will witness vibrant traditions and culture within modern communities, all under the backdrop of the wild and majestic Subarctic Labrador environment that sets it apart from the rest of the province.

Day 1

Departing Happy Valley-Goose Bay at noon, you will cruise east on Lake Melville with the Mealy Mountains, site of a future national park, towering in the southern skyline. This evening you arrive in Rigolet, the most southerly Inuit community in the world. Keep an eye on the water for minke whales, which the locals call grumpus. Sightings are common as the ferry navigates through the islands near the community. At Rigolet’s Net Loft Museum learn how important this area was for trade in fish, fur, and whales with early European settlers and merchants. The community’s expert craftspeople and artisans produce saltwater grass pieces and sealskin garments.

Day 2

Overnight the boat cruises north and early in the morning arrives in Makkovik. This is an ideal opportunity to awaken your senses with an early morning stroll on the Poet’s Path. Back onboard, the ship heads to Postville. This stop gives you a first opportunity to meet local residents, who are also known for their grasswork. Ask around to see if someone is smoking wild char and salmon with locally harvested blackberry bushes. If you’re lucky, you might get a taste. Be on the lookout for Labrador huskies that are still used for winter transportation.

The next port is Hopedale, named by Moravian missionaries who arrived here in the 18th century. Explore their legacy of historic buildings, artifacts, and museum exhibits from the 18th and 19th centuries. Hopedale Mission is a National Historic Site of Canada and it tells one of the best European-Inuit contact stories on the Labrador coast.

Day 3

At midday today the boat arrives in Nain, a thriving Inuit community where Inuktitut conversations between elders bring old traditions, mysteries, and adventures alive. As you look around, you’ll see the results of recent hunts drying in the sun outside the hunters’ homes. Nain is the largest community in Nunatsiavut and the most northerly community in the province. It’s the administrative capital for the Nunatsiavut Government and the gateway to the Torngat Mountains National Park. Tour the historic Moravian buildings, and fish for Arctic char at the ferry dock. Don’t miss the craft shops and home studios. Collectors the world over of traditional Inuit art made from soapstone and caribou antler have made these artists famous.

Day 4

On the return journey the boat stops again at Hopedale, Postville, and Makkovik. Tour the Nunatsiavut Assembly building in Hopedale, where elected members from all the Inuit communities make the day-to-day decisions. In Makkovik, visit the White Elephant Museum. All three towns have craft shops, the chance to take a community tour, and terrific opportunities to view whales, icebergs, seals, and seabirds.

Day 5

Spend your last morning in Nunatsiavut with a short hike through Rigolet along a portion of the second-longest boardwalk in the world. Or, visit the Strathcona House museum, the restored home of Donald Smith, 1st Baron Strathcona, one of the British Empire's foremost builders and philanthropists, and an iconic Canadian railway builder. Enjoy the remainder of your day sailing back on Lake Melville. Take some time to chat with locals to learn the history of the many “cabin communities” that dot the coastline.