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Introduction

Labrador is the distinct northerly region of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It comprises the mainland portion of the province, separated from the island of Newfoundland by the Strait of Belle Isle. It is the largest and northernmost geographical region in Atlantic Canada.

Labrador occupies the eastern part of the Labrador Peninsula. It is bordered to the west and the south by the Canadian province of Quebec. Labrador also shares a small land border with the Canadian territory of Nunavut on Killiniq Island. Though Labrador's area is over twice that of the island of Newfoundland, it has only 8% of the province's population. The aboriginal peoples of Labrador include the Northern Inuit of Nunatsiavut, the Southern Inuit-Métis of Nunatukavut (NunatuKavut), and the Innu. Many of the non-aboriginal population in Labrador did not permanently settle in Labrador until the natural resource developments of the 1940s and 1950s. Before the 1950s, very few non-aboriginal people lived in Labrador year round. The few European immigrants who worked seasonally for foreign merchants and brought their families were known as Settlers.

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Geography

Labrador has a large, irregular, semi-triangular shape that encompasses the easternmost section of the Canadian Shield, a sweeping geographical region of thin soil and abundant mineral resources. Its western border with Quebec is the drainage divide of the Labrador Peninsula. Lands that drain into the Atlantic Ocean are part of Labrador, while lands that drain into Hudson Bay are part of Quebec. Northern Labrador's climate is classified as polar, while Southern Labrador's climate is classified as subarctic. Labrador can be divided into four geographical regions: the North Coast, Central Labrador, Western Labrador, and the South Coast.

From Cape Chidley to Hamilton Inlet, The long thin northern tip of Labrador holds the Torngat Mountains, named after an Inuit spirit believed to inhabit them. The mountains stretch along the coast from Port Manvers to Cape Chidley, the northernmost point of Labrador. The Torngat Mountain range is also home to Mount Caubvick, the highest point in the province. This area is predominantly Inuit, with the small Innu community of Natuashish being the exception. The north coast is the most isolated region of Labrador, with snowmobiles, boats, and planes being the only modern modes of transportation.

The most populous region of Labrador, Central Labrador extends from the shores of Lake Melville into the interior. It contains the Churchill River, the largest river in Labrador and one of the largest in Canada. The hydroelectric dam at Churchill Falls is the second largest underground power station in the world. Most of the supply is bought by Hydro-Québec under a long-term contract. The Lower Churchill Project will develop the remaining potential of the river and supply it to provincial consumers. Known as "the heart of the Big Land", the area's population comprises people from all groups and regions of Labrador.

The highlands above the Churchill Falls was once an ancient hunting ground for the Innu First Nations and settled trappers of Labrador. After the construction of the hydroelectric dam at Churchill Falls in 1970, the Smallwood Reservoir has flooded much of the old hunting land, and submerged several gravesites and trapping cabins. Western Labrador is also home to the Iron Ore Company of Canada, which operates a large iron ore mine in Labrador City. Together with the small community of Wabush, the two towns are known as “Labrador West”.

From Hamilton Inlet to Cape Charles/St. Lewis, Nunatukavut is the territory of the Central-Southern Labrador Inuit, formerly known as the Labrador Métis. The region is peppered with tiny Inuit fishing communities, of which Cartwright is the largest.

From Cape Charles to the Quebec/Labrador coastal border. Like NunatuKavut, the straits is also known for its Labrador sea grass and the multitude of icebergs that pass by the coast via the Labrador Current. Red Bay is known as one of the best examples of a preserved 16th-century Basque whaling station. It is also the location of four 16th-century Spanish galleons. The lighthouse at Point Amour is the second largest lighthouse in Canada. Passenger Ferry service to the island of Newfoundland is out of Blanc Sablon PQ near the Quebec/Labrador border.

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Towns/Villages

  • Labrador City-Wabush
  • Churchill Falls
  • Happy Valley-Goose Bay
  • Nain, Hopedale and the native villages of Nunatsiavut
  • Cartwright
  • Port Hope Simpson
  • Red Bay and Forteau

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Sights and Activities

  • Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve in Nunatsiavut covers a huge area extending to Québec's Ungava Peninsula; Mount Caubvick stands 1,652 metres or just over a mile high.
  • Mealy Mountains, west of Cartwright, is Labrador's newest national park (as of summer 2015) and includes a 50-kilometre sandy beach known since Viking times as the Wonderstrad.
  • Battle Harbour, once a bustling fishing station, now the site of preserved and restored buildings from three centuries.
  • Red Bay, now a National Historic Site, was the site of Basque whaling in 16th and 17th centuries.

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Weather

Labrador is one of the most unspoiled parts of Canada, with rugged coasts, a largely unexplored interior and an invigorating climate, that is more Arctic than Atlantic. On the eastern side of the continent, it experiences strong seasonal contrasts.

Winters are cold, with typical daytime temperatures for January between -10 °C and -15 °C. Summers are short and cool along the coast because of the cold Labrador Current. In July average temperatures are from 8 °C to 10 °C along the coast but are 3 °C to 5 °C warmer in the interior. The ground is snow-covered for eight months in the far north and for six months in the south.

The Labrador Interior has a continental climate. The region has long, cold winters with deep snow cover and weather patterns are relatively more settled. The Upper Lake Melville area has relatively shorter winters and warmer, sunnier summers.

Coastal Labrador is exposed to stormy and unsettled weather from the Labrador Sea. The area south of Groswater Bay usually has the heaviest precipitation. At times the region experiences extremes of temperature during offshore wind directions during both summer and winter.

Northern Labrador, north of Nain, has a tundra climate. Summers are short and too cool to support full tree growth with a precipitation decrease toward the north. The mountains and fjords of the Torngat region create locally variable weather conditions.

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Getting There

By Plane

Flying to Labrador requires a good deal of change and an affinity for small aircraft. Outside Goose Bay and Labrador West, informal is the best way to describe Labrador airports.

You can get to Labrador from any Atlantic province or Quebec. Major airports with direct flights to Labrador include Montreal (YUL), Halifax (YHZ) and St. John's (YYT). You will be likely be dealing with Air Canada or Provincial Airlines from out-of-province. Air Labrador does short-run flights in Labrador, the Quebec North Shore and St. Anthony. These flights are expensive. Unless booked well in advance, a flight is upwards of 700 dollars, one way.

By Car

The only overland road from Quebec to Labrador is a very long and difficult highway heading north from Baie-Comeau. Beyond the Manic 5 dam, the road is mostly unpaved; on a long stretch leading to the border at Fermont/Labrador City, there are no services and no fuel (except for one stop at tiny "Relais Gabriel", which has fuel and lodging). Gagnon, Québec is a ghost town, dismantled in 1985. Winding gravel roads with single-lane bridges are common in this largely-unpopulated sector.

The road from Labrador City-Wabush to Goose Bay (Route 500) was completely paved by mid-2015. The highway continues just outside of Goose Bay as a gravel road (Route 510) to the coast. The 2009 gravel portion between Goose Bay and Cartwright Junction (no services) is over 300 kilometres, plus another 100 kilometres to the next fuel station in either Cartwright or Port Hope Simpson. (That's a 410-kilometre gap between filling stations.) The road is paved again past Red Bay until its terminus at Blanc Sablon, where ferries cross to Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula. Beyond Blanc Sablon, the road soon reaches an impasse (or dead end) at Vieux-Fort.

It is not possible to continue overland to Sept-Îles as a road simply does not exist from Vieux-Fort to Kegashka (450km westward). The few villages in that section are supplied by outport ferry or small aircraft.

By Boat

From the south travel to Labrador is by ferry from St. Barbe, Newfoundland to Blanc Sablon, Quebec. It is then approx 5 kilometres east to the Labrador border. The winter ferry service takes a longer path, weather permitting, Blanc Sablon - Corner Brook instead of landing in St. Barbe on Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula.

By Train

Since the narrow-gauge "Newfie Bullet" line was removed in the 1980s, Labrador is the only point in the province with any rail service. A train from Sept-Îles to Schefferville crosses briefly into Labrador then back into Québec.

The line ends at a seaport in Sept-Îles with no connection to the rest of the North American rail network. (Onward freight is carried more than 200km by railcar ferry to Matane on the St. Lawrence south shore; the closest mainline passenger station is in Rimouski.) Service is limited. The passenger train no longer stops in Labrador City, although freight trains still carry iron ore from Wabush. Instead, they flag stop at a place they call Emeril Junction which is in the middle of nowhere: on the Trans-Labrador Highway, but a 45-minute drive from the city. There is no cell phone signal, no populated place at this location and no services. Unless someone is waiting for you, it is completely useless.

The native train still runs because, quite simply, there is no other way in or out of Schefferville overland. There is no road.

Getting Around

Options are limited. The only major road for anything other than local traffic is the Trans-Labrador Highway through Labrador City (food, fuel and repairs, lodging, shopping mall, airport) and Churchill Falls (company town with food, fuel, lodging, no repairs) to Goose Bay (food, fuel and repairs, lodging, air and sea ports); the road then continues south to Port Hope Simpson (fuel and repairs, lodging) with a 90-kilometre branch leading to Cartwright (food, fuel, campground, no bank, no roadside assistance). The main road follows the coast through Red Bay (national historic site, small inn with restaurant, no fuel or grocer) to Forteau (food, fuel, lodging) and Blanc Sablon (ferry to Newfoundland island).

The other options are ships (coastal ferries) and small bush planes. Many coastal communities, including all of Nunatsiavut, have no road. Their supplies arrive by a seasonal coastal ferry from Goose Bay or Lewisporte, the Nunatsiavut Marine "Northern Ranger", to be stockpiled for the long, bitterly-cold sub-Arctic Labrador winter.

Harbours are often blocked by ice until late spring or even the first few days of summer, leaving very tiny, very loud Twin Otters as the only year-round way into many isolated Labrador communities. Provincial Airlines or Air Labrador operate scheduled services up and down the coast, which are not inexpensive and often just as costly as the initial flight into the province from some distant region.

Local taxis and airport hire cars are only likely to be available in the largest towns, Labrador City-Wabush and Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Within the smallest villages (such as Cartwright or Port Hope Simpson) it is possible to reach most locations on foot.

On the open road? Expect hundreds of kilometres of uninhabited territory, wilderness and open space along the Trans-Labrador Highway with no towns and no services. Keep a full tank of fuel, a full-size spare tyre and tools and enough supplies to survive for several hours or more if stranded in sub-Arctic conditions. It's often hundreds of kilometres to the next town and the only way to call for roadside assistance may well be by satellite telephone.

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Eat

Labrador City, as the largest community in Labrador, has a mix of well-known regional and international chains, as well as a few independent or family-operated restaurants. There's a McDonald's, there's a shopping mall, much like other communities closer to the beaten path.

Churchill Falls is a company town with most services concentrated in the one main community centre building. The Midway Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as fast-food fare. There's also a well-stocked market.

Happy Valley-Goose Bay: KFC, Burger King, A&W, Mary Brown's, Pizza Delight, as well as standard bar/grill fare at the bar/grills. There is a co-op market as well as a second supermarket offering surprisingly fresh produce, great cuts of meat, and standard pre-prepared food. Compared to the rest of the country, they are both small and expensive but you will find most of what you are looking for.

Towns other than these have limited options, usually either a small grocer or general store, a modest restaurant attached to some other business (such as cabins or a country inn), a small takeaway or a tiny liquor store operated as a sideline in some other local business. Forteau has a grocer and bakery.

There are some local foods which are specific to the province or region; these may include wild game (such as caribou), local seafood, berries (such as "bakeapples" or cloudberries) and desserts or baked goods prepared with local ingredients. Native peoples will have their own traditions for local foodstuffs.

There is little or no agriculture in Labrador due to rocky soil and an impractically short growing season; this leaves many foodstuffs and supplies to be imported great distances from other regions, often leading to limited selection and inflated prices - a problem that only worsens as one heads further northward beyond the end of the road network and toward the Arctic.

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Drink

In the few major towns, roadhouses with hard liquors, Molson or Labatt beer and plenty of country music are common. In smaller coastal outports, a free-standing bar or pub is rare; the bar usually operates as a sideline to a travel-oriented business such as a hotel or eatery.

Beer and spirits for takeaway are usually available, as the province will designate an existing local merchant as an "agency" to sell bottled spirits as a sideline (alongside other merchandise, from groceries to snowmobiles) where a village is too small to support a free-standing provincial liquor store.

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Sleep

There are hotels in Labrador City, Churchill Falls, Goose Bay, Port Hope Simpson and Forteau; most of these are small, local independents with no substantial presence from the major international chains. Each of the five active Nunatsiavut villages has a small inn, lodge or accommodation of some form, although space tends to be limited. A few small villages on the highway may have camping or RV/caravan facilities; these are highly seasonal in Labrador's harsh climate. The peak season runs from mid-June to the end of August.

One lone innkeeper with some token accommodation (such as five or six rooms) may often be the only option in the smallest villages, if there's anything. Be sure to have your lodging already planned and reserved before you leave, as it may be a long drive to the next town if the lodge is not open, or is full.

Outfitters or tour operators may bundle accommodations with various multi-day activities; a half-dozen outfitters camps offer fishing trips to off-the-grid locations on the Eagle River, west of Cartwright. These are usually fly-in (by float plane) or reachable by small watercraft.

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This is version 3. Last edited at 9:07 on Mar 8, 16 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

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