When we first thought about returning to the Canadian Maritime provinces, Labrador was of primary interest because we had never been there. It's connected to Quebec so when I looked at a map and researched the route, I began to understand how isolated this province really is. The Canadians are working hard to connect the province by road - the infamous Trans Labrador Highway, but the last three hundred miles are still unpaved and there are few if any services along the way. Labrador was populated from the sea and that still is the best way to approach. However, I'm guessing that no cruise ships will be stopping here in my life time. The ferry connection to Newfoundland must be heavily subsidized by the government to keep the Labradorians less isolated. Our fare for the ninety minute ride was $6.60 and we could have brought the motor home for less than $100. If we had come here on our own we probably would have tried to do so. That might have been a mistake, although there was a full service campground near the ferry dock. When we first booked this trip, it included an overnight in a hotel and we were sorry to see that this option had been removed from the itinerary. But now that we have spent a very full day in Labrador, we understand that there really is not much there there. If we had a boat and could travel along the coast further north, there might be more to see, but for people like us, Labrador is not anywhere near to development as a tourist destination. Two of our fellow caravaners were here in 2001 and they told us that they saw even less than we did today, even with the overnight option. However, there is money to be made there. In development is a massive project to export hydroelectric power as far south as New England and mining prospects and natural gas projections are also high.
Despite what I see as major drawbacks, everyone we met who lives there is glad that they do. Many of the homes we saw appeared prosperous and comfortable on a Decembery summer day. Folks who live here like the small town chumminess where everyone not only knows your name, but knew your grandfather. They have to go the bigger cities like St. John's for their education and serious health care, but the traffic gets to them and they are happy to come home again. However, our tour bus driver/guide did admit that they got thirteen feet of snow last year and the kids had to miss almost a month of school, a more challenging winter than usual.
The driver/tour guide met us with one of two tour buses he owns at the ferry dock, which actually is in Blanc Sabon, Quebec and is in the time zone ninety minutes behind NFLD. But a short drive finally brought us into Labrador and the main focus of our visit was the Red Bay National Historic Visitor Center run by Parks Canada. For much of the 1500’s Red Bay was the home of whaling stations harvesting the large local population of right whales to fill markets for oil in Europe. The Basque people, long renowned for their maritime tradition, made a unique enterprise in Labrador that shows that there was more than cod along this province’s shores. The whales got their name because they were the "right" whales in terms of oil content. One of the Basque ships was anchored just off shore and sunk in a storm in 1565. As it went down it filleted and split in two and was quickly covered by the muck stirred up by the storm. The muck and the cold water prevented sea life from devouring all the biodegradables and when divers discovered the wreck, it gave them amazing insights into a time long forgotten. Some of the Basque activities here could also be verified by written records back in Spain. Thinking about people coming all this way into this challenging climate, chasing whales in tiny rowboats and harpooning them, boggles my mind. Now that they knew what to look for, archeologists found evidence of the oil rendering facilities and cooperages that were part of the process. The San Juan was so well preserved, clothing remnants, wooden barrel staves and woven mats were still intact.
We stopped at yet another light house at Point Amour and climbed to the top for a view of not all that much. There is still a large iceberg looming near Red Bay, but with a population of 194, Red Bay doesn't have much else to see. The light house was built so solidly built 157 years ago, it has hardly needed any repairs. Nearby an odd pile of stones made archeologists excavate what is thought to be the earliest known human burial spot dated 7,500 years ago long before the Egyptians started building their tombs. The youth of indeterminate gender was buried oddly with a huge boulder on its back. Various artifacts were discovered buried with the remains of the child including a walrus tusk, harpoon head, painted stones and a bone whistle. No one knows what it all was about.
Since Newfoundland and Labrador are considered one province, the Labradorians have had to fight hard for their own identity and their unique flag was prominently displayed even though the Canadian government has been against that. We craved souvenirs that just said "Labrador" and this small population was glad to comply. We stopped at more gift shops today than we have on the whole trip (a slight exaggeration).
This touring day was much longer than it needed to be because there was something wrong with the ferry and it could not sail at full speed. There is only one and if it is taken out of service, no one can go back and forth. So our scheduled arrival time to 9:30 ended up being a long closer to 11pm.