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First - and lasting - impressions of Labrador

Typical breakfast, Labrador-style, with toutons
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By Sandra Phinney


When the Trans Labrador Highway opened up—making it possible to drive 1126km from Labrador City all the way across the province to L’Anse-au-Clair, my husband, Barrie Macgregor and I decided to make the loop from our home in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Four provinces and 5673 kilometers later, we were still talking to each other and 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.


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.


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.)


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 Newfoundland 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 jokingly said, “Only to be polite.”


Before long, 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. After breakfast, we accompanied 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, the first place we pulled over, 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 geocashing 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.

Now, dear reader, this was only the first 24 hours in Labrador, and we haven’t left the region around Lab City yet. Stay tuned for more stories about this amazing “big land.”