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Canada’s youngest province is named Newfoundland Labrador. Newfoundland is an island, Labrador is the north easternmost part of the Canadian mainland. While quite a few tourists find their way to Newfoundland, only a very small number of them also ventures further north to Labrador. Anyone who has ever travelled with me will know that I am mostly drawn to places where no one else goes. Since time does not allow me to visit the Yukon or North Western Territories let lone Nunavut on this trip, I decided I wanted at least to dip into Labrador for a couple of days.

Broken telephone pole in deserted village of L'Anse au Cotard

Labrador has two highways, one from the Quebec border along the coast up to Cartwright and a second one from Labrador City (again directly on the Quebec border) to Happy Valley / Goose Bay. Between Cartwright and Goose Bay there is a piece of highway missing. It has been under construction for quite a few years now, the locals tell me that they have trouble finding rocks to build it with (for anyone who has seen parts of Labrador, that is a difficult theory to believe in). The Labrador City side of the highway is the only one that has a connection to the mainland highway system. The other part, the one I am on at the moment, can only be reached (and left again) by boat. There are three ferry lines that connect this part of the world with the rest, two from the island of Newfoundland (I took the one from St. Barbe to Blanc Sablon, the other runs from Lewisport to Cartwright) and one from Blanc Sablon to Rimouski.

Actually, Blanc Sablon is already in Quebec, just behind the border. At least now. Historically it belonged to Labrador, the Blanc Sablon River, west of the village, was the traditional borderline. When Newfoundland joined Canada in 1948, this border was redrawn. It now runs along a hilltop east of Blanc Sablon, causing the village to fall over to the officially French speaking province of Quebec. Does anyone around here care? No, not as far as I can tell, everyone I met speaks English around here. There is just one small community named Lourdes de Blanc Sablon, some 7 km along the road, where people are of French origin.

L'Anse au Claire seen from a hilltop

I stayed for two nights at a B&B in L’Anse au Claire, the first village on the Labrador side of the mentioned hilltop. It is run by Gloria and Norm Letto. The Lettos run about everything else in L’Anse au Claire as well, it seems. They have always lived around here and have many stories to tell about the time not so long ago, when official rules and regulations had not reached this remote corner of the world yet. For example, no one of the people who have lived here for more than 20 years has ever purchased land. There is virtually no privately owned land. People just built their houses wherever they wanted, making sure that the neighbours agreed with their choice and that was it.

A family from Nova Scotia who stayed in the same B&B offered me to ride with them up to Red Bay and back. Red Bay is where the paved part of the road ends and a 400 km gravel road to Cartwright starts. It is pretty much the end of the world for most tourists who come up here. Only very adventurous tourists would dare to go further. Only very stupid hitchhikers would even think about trying to go up there.

Even down here in the south, where the road is good, Labrador is a pretty barren, almost hostile place. I was surprised how much colder it is here than it has been in Newfoundland. After all, the island’s north tip is just 100 km south of the Labrador coast. There are hardly any trees at all here, only in some protected valleys you might find some small fir or spruce trees, not higher than two or three meter. The rest of the land is covered with moss, berry bushes and wildflowers.

Gloria and Norm told me that the foundations of their house were built from wood from a shipwreck that washed ashore in 1954. I totally don’t understand why people don’t build stone houses here. There surely are more stones than wood around.

So, that is Labrador as I experienced it: a harsh landscape, friendly people (yet They are very patriotic, the Labradorians ...not as humorous as the Newfies from the island, grimmer and darker) and awful wheather.

This morning I took a last walk along the coastline, up to a broken cliff that the locals call „the ugly place“ and the wind had finally stopped. That made a world of difference, the land suddenly seemed only half as bad to me, once I was able to keep my eyes open and the hair out of my face. Then a swarm of blackflies closed in and started nibbeling tiny pieces of flesh out of my ears, my neck and my face. Could I get the wind back, please?

Travelling to Labrador is a little bit like Bungee Jumping. You do it once, just to prove that you can. There should be a T-shirt: „I did it … Labrador“ or something like that. I am glad that I was here, it was interesting to see and all that, now I am definitely glad to go somewhere else.

The Ugly Place

August 2008