First Impressions of the Big Land
I’m still trying to find the right words to describe this journey. The best I can come up with is “memory-making” and “wondrous.”
For starters, it’s a vast hunk of land. Labrador is so huge that the rest of Atlantic Canada (including Newfoundland) could fit quite nicely into it. It’s also a land of mystery and intrigue. The history here has filled scores of books. One of my favourites is The Labradorians, a collection of excerpts from stories originally published in Them Days, a magazine that celebrates and preserves the "old ways and early days."
Touted as one of the world’s last frontiers, Labrador’s beauty is gob-smacking. Even those oh-so-long dirt highways command a certain respect—brought home by signs like the one outside of Churchill Falls: NEXT SERVICE 294 K. CHECK FUEL.
So get used to long stretches of road. Long stretches without seeing homes, lights, cars and other human beings. Miles and miles of long stretches. (Did I say there were some very long stretches of road and nothing but road?) May sound boring but it’s actually quite magical. I can’t imagine any other place in the world where you can drive through so much uncluttered space. Wilderness takes on a new meaning here. For sure it allows for lots of time to think or simply soak up the rugged beauty. (Well, OK, so I slept a lot when my husband was driving—that, also, a treat!)
But beyond these vast stretches of land, the most striking feature of Labrador is her people. Hospitality went far beyond what we could consider “normal.” For example, when working on our itinerary, we discovered that it wasn’t possible to find a room in Labrador City. (The next town with accommodation was over 500 km away—not a good prospect after an eight-hour drive from Baie Comeau.)
Barrie enjoying the lake at Grande Hermine Park
Being prepared for emergencies, we had camp gear and hoped to pitch our tent at the Grande Hermine RV Park about 40 km past Labrador City. A friend called on our behalf but owner Cavel Burke said, “No way! There was ice on the lake last night. They stays with us!” I’m sure Cavel and her husband, Ned, gave up their bed although they’d likely deny this. Shortly after we arrived, we were enjoying Cavel’s peanut butter cheesecake while Ned told us stories about the 45-pound stuffed trout on the wall, the white maple tree lodged smack in the middle of the lodge, and some escapades hunting caribou.
The next morning, Cavel and her friend Jane Walsh made us a typical Newfoundland breakfast. OMG! Bacon, sausage, bologna, (referred to by the locals as Newfoundand steak), beans, eggs, fruit and toutons. Toutons are made from fresh bread dough that’s fried until golden brown and served with molasses. No doubt my cholesterol count shot over the moon but I had seconds—as Barrie said, “Only to be polite.”
By and by Gord Parsons came by. He’s a big bear of a guy with a twinkle in his eye and a beard almost as scruffy as my husband’s. Gord’s also an avid birdwatcher. Before long we were accompanying him on a sightseeing tour on the outskirts of Labrador. One of our missions was to find birds. I barely know the difference between a crow and a robin but I was fascinated to learn there are 247 species of birds in Labrador.
The trick Gord says, is to stop, look and listen. Sure enough, at our first stop we saw two ducks (Common Merganzers), some Gray Jays (Labrador’s official bird) and listened to the distinct voice of a White-throated Sparrow. Later, at other spots we saw a Bald Eagle’s nest, Ospreys, Common Terns and Cliff Swallows.
Turns out that Gord is also a geocaching guru. In fact, he’s set up several hundred throughout Labrador so he sent us off into the bush here and there looking for stashes. Some were hilarious like the one titled “2 cups, no coffee.” (Hint: see photo of Barrie with the geocache can). I still giggle when I think about it. Note: you could spend two solid weeks doing nothing but hunting for geocashes in Labrador; there are upwards of 800.
Ahh. This may sound sentimental or trite, but as I’m writing this I yearn to go back. I can still hear Ned say, “If you ever comes back you’ll know where we’re to.” Tells you a lot about Labrador and her people, eh?
PS: There is so much iron ore mining and road work going on that the few motels or B&Bs in Labrador City tend to be filled with workers so book early. For RV folks, call ahead for space at the Grande Hermine Park 709-282-5369. If you want a buddy to go birdwatching, sight seeing or geocaching, a good choice in Labrador West would be Gordon Parsons.
Next up, Churchill Falls.