THE TRANS-LABRADOR HIGHWAY 2010
HAPPY VALLEY - GOOSE BAY
Prior to setting off from Baie Comeau, I'd made the odd enquiry or two about motels out here in Goose Bay. They seemed for the most part to be along the street that runs from south to north along the head of the bay. And cruising up and down the street in the pouring driving rain, there was only one that presented itself to me.
It was cheaper than the motel up in Labrador City, that's for sure, but I do have to say that I couldn't do very much with the difference. A bag of chips, perhaps? After all, I was hungry after today's exertions.I enquired of the receptionist if there was anywhere cheaper in the town but she reckoned that all of the motels were pretty much the same price. She gave Strawberry Moose a big smile though, so I suppose that that was something.
The internet connection was pretty dire though and here I put my foot down. It's bad enough having to pay these prices without being shunted off into a far corner. Eventually after some little hassle I blagged my way into a room right opposite the server and there I stayed, merely venturing out for a large portion of local chips and a Subway salad. I have to tighten the belt.
One thing though. At the chippy, while I was sorting out the money, the girl at the cash desk asked me if I had "a loony". Apparently, a looney is the local name for a one-dollar coin. I asked her why that was, but she didn't know. Never mind though, I was to find out later.
They looked at me in a little bewilderment at the Subway when I asked for mustard on my salad. After no little discussion about it they relented and spread it on. And when I returned to my hotel room I scraped it all off and put it all over my chips. Well, they didn't do mustard at the chippy and in any case I had a left-over sachet of spicy sauce from the pizza last night in Labrador City. That went nicely on my salad, no mistake.
Next morning it was still piddling down heavily. There was a different receptionist on duty and I asked her if it ever stops raining in Goose Bay. She thought a little - well, a little more than a little - and replied
"well it doesn't rain when it snows"
As an aside, perhaps I should mention that while the average annual rainfall here may well be only 37.4", the amount of snow per year is round about 180" and only in the months of July and August would a snowfall be considered unusual.
Outside, you can see the hotel. A nissen hut covered in corrugated sheeting. That was it. And there was another motel next door. I don't know how I managed to miss it, except that it can't have had any lights on when I drove past it last night.
Just over the road, in case you are interested, is the local Bargain Shop. I imagine that by this they mean that the articles on sale don't cost an arm and a leg - only the arm.
The good thing about the rain was that it was washing Casey a little. And he needed it too, having been up to his sills in liquid mud at certain times along the trail yesterday. But there's still a long way to go before he is presentable.
No visit to Goose Bay can be complete unless you have been to see the military airfield here. This is the reason for the town's existence. It was surveyed by the Canadian Government (even though Newfoundland and Labrador was not then part of Canada) in 1941 as a site for an airport to protect Canada's eastern seabord, and construction began almost immediately.
It was then used as one of the staging airports for Bennett's "Atlantic Ferry", the unit that arranged for military aircraft purchased in North America by the British to be flown across the Atlantic and once the war had finished it was used by NATO as one of the main defence outposts against any potential threat by the Soviet Union. It is said that the plutonium warheads for nuclear bombs were stored here.
There was almost nothing here prior to the construction of the base, and it was the construction and the servicing of the place that led to the building of the town and the arrival of the population, mainly from scattered rural areas across the province.
In its heyday it was the largest military air base in eastern North America but with the reduction in tension in the world following the opening of the Iron Curtain its importance has declined and the population of the town has likewise declined. It isn't clear whether the ratcheting up of tension in the Middle East, as the United States Government desperately search for oil and for an outlet for their military hardware manufacturers' products, will result in a renaissance of the base.
Strange as it might seem, the closing down of the United States Space Shuttle project will have a negative effect on the base. By pure chance the main runway of the air base at Goose Bay is on the orbital trajectory of the Shuttle and the runway is long and wide enough to handle a landing of the craft if ever the need arises.
On my side of the wire you can already see the decay and dereliction of the air base starting to take effect. There's an abandoned control tower up there and a few derelict hangars that are being used mostly for the storage of rubbish.
There's probably nothing of any aviation interest that has happened around here for a number of years, and no signs, or anything else for that matter, to stop people entering the premises.
Turning back up onto the main road I encounter directly ahead of me what may well be the head of Goose Bay just here. it is a kind of promontory, with the Goose River estuary down to the south and the Churchill River estuary to the north.
What attracted the builders of the air base by the way was the fact that there was a nice level sandy plateau in between the flood plains of the two estuaries, and the sheltered harbour here that could quickly be made into a port for bringing supplies into the base by sea.
Just after here I encountered a petrol station that seemed to be the cheapest in the town, so I went to fuel up. There was an attendant on duty and while I was attending to other matters I let him fuel the car. BIG MISTAKE, and for two reasons too. The consequences of this will be revealed in due course. But I thought that 40 litres to do over 560 kilometres yesterday on those roads was too good to be true.
It was also here that I noticed that I had picked up a slow puncture somewhere along the trail. I thought that the avoidance of any "incidents" along the highway was too good to be true as well. With no air line at this service station, I had to go and track one down.
On my way to track down an air line I encountered this - a static air display honouring personnel of the 95th Strategic Wing Strategic Air Command of the Unites States air Force who aided in the defence of North America while serving at Goose Bay 1957 to 1976.
I did notice that the sign did not mention "the defence of Canada", although it was tactful enough (most unlike the Americans) not to mention "the defence of the United States". Yes, tactful. They are a country that plans to build a huge monument 1776 feet tall and call it the "Freedom Tower", totally oblivious of the huge, offensive insult that they are heaping on their only friend in the whole world. No wonder everyone hates the Americans.
You are probably wondering what an American Air Wing is doing here in Canada. The answer is simple. If a Russian bomber were to head towards the USA with a nuclear weapon, following the Great Circle route, the Americans would shoot it down and the nuclear fall-out would be all over Canada and not all over the USA. Eor the Canadian Government not to notice this simple fact, it really does make you wonder if anything passed underneath the table during the negotiations.
And this isn't idle speculation either. In 1950 an American bomber from the base, in mechanical difficulties, actually jettisoned 3 nuclear bombs over the St Lawrence estuary - something that the Canadian government hushed up for years.
The more I wander around Canada, the more I realise that the often-public disdain that many important Canadian figures promote towards their cousins across the southern border is nothing but a charade.
Across the road from this monument is the town hall of the combined communities of Happy Valley and Goose Bay. The Canadians are fond of combining their communities by the way. But what is going on here? There are heaps of placards about, as if there is some kind of strike or demonstration going on.
"Vicious Anti-Labour Employer" says the yellow placard in the foreground. So it's clearly an industrial despute of some kind. Ordinarily I would go up to someone and enquire about it - usually the only way to increase one's knowledge is to ask the obvious question, and no-one should ever feel intimidated by doing so - but there was no-one around.
And look how "Labour" is spelt. Properly. Not like that lot south of the border.
So having found an airline and having put some air into the tyre (by guesswork as there was no gauge) and having been for a little drive around the town but seen nothing of note, I went to find some food for the next part of the journey.
Much to my astonishment (although I don't know why - up here in the wilderness I ought to be becoming quite used to this sort of thing by now) I found the world's only bakery that doesn't have any bread. And also the world's only food market that has no food. It reminded me of when I was wandering around Slovakia or Poland back in the 1970s.
But not to worry. I've just fund the Co-op and besides everything that you might expect of an isolated supermarket, they also had a huge cinnamon and raisin loaf reduced to $1:99 in the sale. So that's breakfast for the next few days. It will make a change from bagels.
Now here's a thing. Parked up on the industrial estate here at Goose Bay is a Bombardier Skidoo. The guy who owns it reckons that it is at least 40 years old. His father owned it for many years and they used to run round in it a little.
It even had an outing or two during the winter games last year. Probably taking the competitors out for the ice-fishing and bringing back the silver-medallists in the Polar Bear wrestling.
However, it played no part in the other winter sport in which Canadians excel - the Canadian Biathlon. This is where competitors hold a ski race across the ice floes in the Strait of Belle Isle from Labrador to Newfoundland, stopping every 200 metres to club a seal-pup to death.
Anyway, I had a little nosey around it, with kind permission from the owner. The tracks are quite interesting. Each one is a split track with road-going wheels in the middle that give the tracks a ground clearance of a inch or two. This means that it can be used on both road and on snow. There are two side-by-side seats in the front and a U-shaped bench seat in the passenger area behind. This will seat 10 or 12 people, with the stores and supplies carried in the centre of the machine.
Of course, as a kid, I'd heard all about these and I was well-impressed to see one and be given a guided tour. I didn't get a run-out in one though. That would really have been the icing on the cake, but you can't have everything of course.
Once I had organised myself (not an easy task of course) it was time to head out towards the new bit of the Trans-Labrador Highway.
This involves heading back towards Labrador City a short way - or, perhaps I ought better to say "or what passes for a short way for around here" and looking for the turning that I noticed last night.