Happy Valley-Goose Bay -- More than meets the eye
Even though I knew that Happy Valley Goose Bay was the hub of Labrador, I was surprised to find a town of 7,500+ people with stores, restaurants, pubs, fast food outlets, churches, recreational facilities, building supply outlets, hotels—ad infinitum. Bit of a shock after driving long stretches without seeing neither man nor beast. (Remember those long, long, very long and straight dirt roads I was talking about?)
Mind you I have to say that the highway across Labrador is very good. Truly. We’d heard horror stories about giant potholes, broken windshields, flat tires and folks getting stranded. Not our experience. In fact, aside from the fact that the highway had recently been graded and was like driving on marbles, the road is much better than the dirt road we live on in Nova Scotia. And it’s four times the width.
Back to Happy Valley Goose Bay. Don’t you love the name? It comes from amalgamating the town of Happy Valley and the region surrounding Canadian Forces Base Goose Bay (now a tactical flight training centre for the German, British, and Dutch Air Forces.)
After a late arrival at the Royal Inn and Suites, (welcoming, spacious, comfy) we managed to find a pub that was still open, had a mediocre meal, and called it a night. Then almost every hour on the hour I woke up to the thump thump thump sound of a base and what some people would call “music.” I assumed that it came from a pub or lounge, and that it would eventually close. Not so. At 5:30 a.m. the music was still pounding away so I got dressed and headed out to find the source. I was both miffed and intrigued by the notion of an all night saloon in the neighbourhood.
Relay for Life in Goose Bay
Getting closer to the where the music was coming from, I could see lots of people milling around a field full of trailers. Eventually I could see folks of all ages walking a circular path in front of a bandstand. Once I struck up a conversation it became evident … this was the annual “Relay for Life,” an all-night affair to raise money to fight cancer. So I was happy to park my grumpiness at the curb then talk with some of the participants.
When I returned to the hotel, I started assembling my gear for the day only to discover that I had left the battery pack to my camera behind—likely in Baie Comeau. Can you imagine being a travel writer who’s livelihood depends on writing and photography, and you can’t take photos because your camera’s run out of juice? The chances of getting that battery pack back while on this trip were nil, Ditto the chances of buying a matching pack in the middle of Labrador. But at least one store sold Canon products. Although it didn’t have the battery pack I needed, it did have a decent camera and I waltzed out of the shop with new camera in hand, and a big dent in my pocket book. In spite of my stupidity, the day unfolded in delightful ways.
Inuit art featured at the Birches Gallery
First stop, The Birches Gallery. Owner Herb Brown (educator, art collector/promoter and organic farmer) has an extraordinary collection of Innu, Inuit and Metis fine art carved from soapstone, serpentine, labradorite, antler and whale bone. Every piece of art made me drool. He’s also a very funny guy. It would take several pages to recount how Herb floated a log cabin hen house from Paradise River to Nain to here … if you visit, be sure to ask. It’s hilarious.
By the way, the Innu traditionally lived inland and the Inuit were coastal peoples. Now it’s not as distinct and we learned a lot about these cultures (and the Metis and Settlers) when we visited North West River, a small community about 33 km away.
Back in 1743, French fur trader Louis Fornel established a trading post at North West River; the Hudson Bay Company set up shop in 1836. This was also the starting point for Leonidas Hubbard’s ill fated trip with Dillon Wallace (they hoped to arrive at the mouth of the George River) although in 1905 Mina Benson Hubbard successfully completed her husband's trek.
Perry Michelin of North West River
While visiting the Labrador Heritage Museum (original Hudson Bay Company store built in 1923) we met Perry Michelin who shared wonderful stories about trapping and fishing. Luckily, he also shared his favourite recipe: salmon stew. Take a big piece of salmon, place in a pot with a small amount of water—about an inch. “Don’t drown it by using too much water,” says Perry. Add some chopped onion, chunks of potato, a little salt and pepper and simmer for about 15 minutes. (I’ve since tried this; it’s divine.)
Our next visit was at the Labrador Interpretation Centre, a hop-skip-jump away. I was mesmerized by the permanent exhibit titled “The Past is Where We Come From.” It’s full of artifacts and interactive stations where you can hear stories presented in Inuktitut, Innu-aimun and English. I was especially drawn to the “shaking tent” – a place that foretold of things to come, for example: if people were going to find food that season. We also learned some myths, including how the wolverine created the world and traditional beliefs in animal masters such as Papakassiku, master of the caribou.
Display at the Labrador Interpretation Centre
Along the way, we were introduced to Dr. Robin McGrath, a friend and colleague of Elizabeth Penashue, an elder in Sheshatshui. Dr. McGrath made arrangements for us to meet Mrs. Penashue at her tent, (summer place) a short way from North West River and offered to accompany us. Alas, something came up at the last minute and our rendezvous didn’t take place.
A social activist and environmentalist, Mrs. Penashue’s spent a lifetime working to preserve Innu identity, culture and lifestyle. For years she’s also conducted an annual canoe trip and spring snowshoe walk in support of her goals. I have high hopes of being able to join Mrs. Penashue on a 10-day Mista-Shipu (Churchill River) paddle this coming summer. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, we were facing a 367-kilometer drive to Cartwright and darkness was approaching. We bid North West River goodbye. And, yes, we had a full tank of gas and extra food “in case.”
* Before the post date of this blog Perry Michelin had sadly passed. We at Destination Labrador, along with writer Sandra Phinney, would like to extend our condolences to Mr.Michelin's family and friends.