A Southern Labrador Coastal Drive

Labrador, the ‘Big Land,’ is still full of beautiful, untouched wilderness, but a new road in the southeastern region has opened up a new stretch of coastline to tourists who could previously only visit by boat. Here you’ll find the oldest funeral monument in North America, a Basque whaling station from the 16th century, and a historic fishing outport captured in time.

Day 1 – Navigating oceans of history

Take the seasonal car ferry from St. Barbe on the Viking Trail Route 430 on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland to Blanc Sablon, a port on the border between Quebec and Labrador. The 90-minute crossing is excellent for seabird watching and, from spring into late summer, there are usually icebergs.

After leaving the community of Blanc Sablon, you’ll come to L'Anse-au-Clair, which was founded by the French in the early 1700s. A restored early 20th-century church now serves as the regional Visitor Information Centre. Drop in for a chat about the area’s attractions.

If you visit during July or August, you can fish for salmon along the Forteau and Pinware rivers, but be aware: the black flies here take no prisoners. There are many and they are hungry. Bring insect repellent and cover up!

The coast here has been a migration route since humans first arrived following the edge of the retreating glaciers 9,000 years ago. People who lived here in those days moved with the seasons - and the food supply. About 7,500 years ago, the Maritime Archaic people, who lived in both Labrador and Newfoundland, buried a 12-year-old boy and built a mound to mark his resting place. It’s the oldest known funeral monument in North America and it’s located at L’Anse Amour.

At nearby Point Amour is the second tallest lighthouse in Canada. Rising 109 feet, it’s been serving mariners since 1858. There’s an interpretation centre here, and an exhibit on the plants of the area at the Labrador Straits Natural Heritage Centre.

While caribou and birds migrate up and down the coast, whales follow timeless trails through the ocean, which is why the Basque people established a whaling station at Red Bay in the 16th century. Red Bay National Historic Site explores this unusual story through exhibits and models.

From Red Bay, the road moves away from the coast towards Mary’s Harbour, the jumping-off point for a one-hour boat ride to Battle Harbour on Battle Island. Here you can sleep in a historic house at a national heritage site, something you can’t do anywhere else in Canada.

Day 2 – Captured in time

Today it’s time to relax and discover this historic outport. Now a National Heritage District, Battle Harbour, which was founded in the 18th century, was once the unofficial capital of Labrador and a major fishing centre. The first hospital was built here and in 1909, Peary used Battle Harbour’s Marconi Station wireless services to announce he had reached the North Pole. A fire in 1930 destroyed the hospital, school and other buildings, prompting many people to move to nearby Mary’s Harbour. By the 1960s it was abandoned, used only as a summer fishing station. The wave of modernization that washed over the province following Confederation with Canada in 1949 bypassed Battle Harbour and thereby preserved – almost intact – a complete, old-fashioned, outport fishing community.

Tours of Battle Harbour and surrounding areas can be arranged, or you can guide yourself. This is how life was 100 years ago – no cars or other machinery, kerosene lanterns for light, and just your neighbours to help you out if you got into trouble. The staff at Battle Harbour Inn recreate this atmosphere in a simple way by gathering everyone to eat at the same table. Spend your day exploring, then spend the evening with your fellow guests. If it’s a clear night, look for the northern lights, which are visible in Labrador about 240 nights a year.

Day 3 – A day for driving

Just north of Mary's Harbour, Labrador Coastal Drive (Route 510) crosses St. Lewis Inlet to Port Hope Simpson, established in the 1930s to take advantage of the large forest. Another new settlement founded because of timber resources here is Charlottetown, which dates from the middle of the 20th century. You can reach it via Route 514. This heavily wooded area contrasts sharply with northern Labrador where wide-open tundra dominates the landscape.

It’s 124 kilometres through the wilderness from the intersection of Routes 510 and 514 to Paradise River. The road ends at Cartwright, 46 km further on. Here you can catch a coastal boat (passengers and freight - no autos) either north to Happy Valley-Goose Bay in central Labrador, or south to Black Tickle. However, most people will drive to Happy Valley-Goose Bay along the recently completed stretch of Route 510 from Cartwright Junction, a distance of 285 km.