North to Labrador!

After leaving Deer Lake we were able to savour the Gros Morne mountains once again as we followed the coast road up onto the Northern Peninsula. The Tuckamores grew shorter and more bent the further north we traveled as they cowered away from the powerful onshore winds that batter the peninsula. We stayed overnight in a foggy, wet Saint Barbe at the Dockside Motel which incorporates the only hotel, bar, restaurant and ferry terminal – one convenient but captive audience – however we had a charming view of the bay from our original 1970’s decor room. And Nettie loves the way all accommodation over here includes deep baths.

The fog lay heavy in the morning and we could barely see the ferry arrive from Labrador to pick us up. The weather report declares days like this as having 100% humidity. We crossed the shrouded Strait of Belle Isles where many a ship has been lost due to fog, storm, icebergs and pack ice over the past 600 years.  The ferry only runs in the summer months after the pack ice has melted away. The much touted Minke and Humpback whales that may have accompanied our voyage could have been twenty metres away but we would never have known as our ship, the SS Apollo, with foghorn blasting, steamed forward through an endless white wall.

Landing in Labrador 2 hours later we could have been anywhere. How unsettling it can be. So we drove out of Blanc Sablon towards the little village of L’Anse du Claire and saw enough signs to reassure us that we had indeed landed on the right shore. Yet the fog had a magical quality and seemed appropriate as the rocky landscape emerged from its misty tendrils.

Not sure what else to do we turned south and cautiously followed the white line down into Northern Quebec. Little villages tucked into coastal coves appeared out of the mists with names like Brador, Lourdes du Blanc Sablon, with barely a soul to be seen. We went as far as the bitumen lasted to Middle Bay (Middle Earth). The fog parted periodically to a sub artic landscape – the ever present rocks surrounded with dense coverage of lichens and berries, prostrate spruce and stunted conifers and always the junipers leaning towards the sea.

It was strange walking in the evening on a soft sandy beach after the pebbled shores of Newfoundland. The fog was still thick and warm and in the twilight we could just make out the small breakers coming in from the Strait. The grey of the water melded into the sky and there was no horizon. The herring gulls seemed to fly into oblivion as they headed east away from the shore.  It felt like we were standing on the edge of the world.

According to the Flat Earth Society of centuries ago – the Island of Newfoundland was one of the four corners of the world. According to archeologists and anthropologists, Labrador is the meeting place of the many peoples, our prehistoric ancestors, who all began their journeys in Africa, some traveling eastward and others to the west. Over the centuries this has included the Archaic Maritime tribes, Paleo Eskimos, the Beothuk and even the Miqmak from Nova Scotia meeting up with the Norse from Scandanavia, the Basque whalers, the Irish, English and Scottish as they traveled from the east.

While we are on the ‘according to’s’, apparently God created Labrador in six days and on the seventh ‘he’ threw rocks at it….

Many museums and historical sites dot the Labrador Coastal Drive, mostly chronicling the exploits, travails and triumphs of the non-Aboriginal peoples including the Basque whalers who were the first to harvest whale oil for the lamps of Europe in the 1600’s. There are still roof tiles about that they transported from their country. The Aboriginal peoples seem to have left little trace in this area as they have tended to consolidate further north. However there was a 7,500 year old burial mound found near the L’Anse Amour Cove –(‘cove of love’ name changed from ‘cove of the dead’)- artifacts found buried with the red ochre covered 12 year old child indicate a person of special significance but there is no story left to tell. We visited the lighthouse there and came across groundhogs unperturbed by the eerie foghorn emanating from the lighthouse about every 30 seconds as no light could be seen through the dense white.

The photos on this post includes the furthest point north on the map, at Red Bay, Labrador, that we will venture to this summer in the northern hemisphere. And it was an idyllic destination lying in the late summer sun that had finally burned the fog away. We were grateful to experience both moods of the land as the mist finally gave way to sparkling blue rivers and oceans and gave full colour to the plants and rocks.

The Europeans talk about fairies amongst the rocks and we understood the magical quality they felt. But the earlier Aboriginal dwellers experienced the spirits of the rocks and ponds and marshes as the animal energies with which they shared the land, and who’s gift of life enabled their very survival. This was the primal energy we too felt most strongly. Ahh that profound draw to deep wilderness is a powerful yearning…

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