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THE LABRADOR COASTAL DRIVE PART VI to MARY'S HARBOUR

After the most enjoyable drive down to St Lewis, I rejoin the Labrador Coastal Drive with 86.3 kilometres on Casey's tripmeter. I left the drive at 18.5 kilometres and so I shall be knocking (86.3 - 18.5) 67.8 kilometres off Casey's readings in order to keep the continuity, at least until I reach Mary's Harbour, which is just 29 kilometres down the road.

L'Anse aux Loups is 168 kilometres away and Forteau is 180 kilometres away, and the lady who lives in the sat-nav is still having difficulties trying to work out where exactly we are. The road on her map is nowhere near the road upon which I am driving.


st lewis inlet steel girder bridge trans labrador highway labrador coastal drive highway 510 canada october octobre 2010

If you are still here from where I turned off the road an hour or so ago you will remember that I was musing as to how I was going to cross this river, or fjord, or inlet or whatever it was. So wonder no further as all is revealed at kilometre 19.6.

It's apparently the St Lewis Inlet and it really is splendid. Another nice iron girder bridge instead of the more modern but much uglier concrete ones on the newer parts of the highway. This may well suggest that this part of the highway is older than the more recent highway-building activities

Mind you, you wouldn't get your 3-masted barques and schooners going under it. They wouldn't fit. No wonder this area remained relatively unexplored until comparatively recently.


st lewis inlet steel girder bridge causeway trans labrador highway labrador coastal drive highway 510 canada october octobre 2010

The inlet was so picturesque that I stopped at the top of the hill on the other side to take another photograph. This is the view from kilometre 22.3 and you can just about make out the top of the iron bridge from over the rocks at the back of the first inlet, just to right of centre.

The inlet closer to the camera has been filled across and a causeway now runs along the top. I don't suppose that they considered it cost-effective to build a Forth Bridge-type structure across here. Rather a shame really.


moose trans labrador highway labrador coastal drive highway 510 canada october octobre 2010

The light is now starting to fade rapidly, although it's not all that late here (it's probably something to do with how far east I am right now) and so I'm somewhat taken by surprise by a small family of moose loitering in the middle of the road at kilometre 34.7.

I can't emphasise enough about the dangers of encountering moose along the highway in Canada and you should treat them with a considerable amount of respect if you don't want to end up with a large one lying on the roof of your car.


moose trans labrador highway labrador coastal drive highway 510 canada october octobre 2010

Mummy and daughter were delighted to make the acquaintance of their distant cousin Strawberry Moose, who is my travelling companion right now, and he was equally delighted to make their acquaintance. Such a friendly, if not gregarious animal is our Strawberry.

They had quite a long talk and then they moved on. And once the highway was clear of moose we decided that we would move on too.


moose trans labrador highway labrador coastal drive highway 510 canada october octobre 2010

We had actually made it as far as five yards when I brought Casey to a shuddering halt. Another moose took it upon herself to clamber up the bank and leap the crash barrier right onto the highway just a short distance in front of me.

Of course, I had to wait there while she had a chat with Strawberry Moose, and once the highway was clear of moose for a second time, we had another go of going.

Porcupines, moose, bear and now even more moose. You aren't half having your money's worth around here in Labrador with me, aren't you? Mind you, I'm disappointed not to have met Godzilla yet. But not to worry - that's tomorrow.


I haven't quite finished with the moose episode yet. About a kilometre down the road I encountered another vehicle coming my way. It is the custom up here, so I am informed, to flag down other vehicles to give them the details of any moose sightings along the road and so I duly obliged.

But I noted that I hadn't made any notes about any other vehicle on the highway today, and I can't honestly remember if I actually did encounter another one - except one, I recall, that was driving around Charlottetown with a young lady at the helm.


mary's harbour trans labrador highway labrador coastal drive highway 510 canada october octobre 2010

I managed to cover the next 14 or so kilometres without incident - quite a change for me, I know but then again we have had more than enough excitement for one day - and arrived at Mary's Harbour while it was still light (perhaps I ought to mention that this photo was taken next morning).

I had a little wander around the town in Casey and then headed for the local hotel.They were quiet in there and so I was able to negotiate a price to include bed, breakfast and evening meal - essential seeing as how I hadn't noticed anywhere to eat in the town. It was ... errr ... expensive, shall we say, but the cheapest deal so far since leaving Baie Comeau.


The hotel was quite exciting. The receptionist told me that I could have room 253, which was fair enough, and then gave me the key to room 227.
"Didn't you say room 253?" I enquired.
"Yes. And the key to room 227 opens the door to room 253"
Just my kind of hotel, in fact.

mary's harbour night trans labrador highway labrador coastal drive highway 510 canada october octobre 2010

Once installed and properly fed and watered, I went for a walk round outside in the dark. And just for a change, there was no wind at all - the first time on the coast that I had noticed that, and it was freezing outside. A pleasant cold, though, not a biting wind-driven one.

Just as places look so much better in the sunlight, they can also look so much better in the dark too if there is sufficient light to make a decent contrast. This particular night-time shot of Mary's Harbour has come out quite well. It is the reverse angle shot of the one above, by the way.


mary's harbour trans labrador highway labrador coastal drive highway 510 canada october octobre 2010

Next morning, the view from exactly the same spot on the bridge looked equally attractive. The blue sky helped considerably, of course. You will remember what I said just now about everywhere looking so much better in the sunlight.

The weather was promising me the best day that I would be having so far in Labrador and so I was hoping that it would hold out. And about time too, I reckon. I'm fed up of travelling in the doom and gloom.


st mary's river trans labrador highway labrador coastal drive highway 510 canada october octobre 2010

From the other side of the bridge there were many other interesting things to see but probably the most important was this sheet of solid rock. You might not think that it accounts for very much but it gives you some idea of what the underlying terrain is like around here. Water will always try to find the easiest route downstream and it usually has had many millennia to do so.

You will also have an idea of how thin the soil, or whatever passes for soil around here, is, by looking at the depth of the rock below the surface. The answer here is "almost nothing". You might be surprised by that, with the area having deciduous trees that shed their leaves annually. But the soil has long since been scraped away by glacier after glacier and dumped in the St Lawrence valley and all around the Great Lakes.


But I'm getting ahead of myself a little just here and missing out on some excitement.

beautiful scenery st mary's river harbour mountains forest trans labrador highway labrador coastal drive highway 510 canada october octobre 2010

I was awake quite early and wasn't in any particular rush to have breakfast so I did some transcribing of my notes. When I did eventually go to the breakfast room, I received a couple of strange looks from the staff. A brief glance showed me that my attire was all in correct order and so I paid little regard to the affair.

And while I was waiting for my toast and coffee, I went for a wander out onto the terrace at the back of the hotel and had a chat with one of the locals about this and that. The view from out here was breathtaking, as you can see.

Right at this particular moment an Air Labrador aeroplane landed at the airfield just across the river and so I dashed off to fetch the Nikon D5000.

But woe, woe, woe is me. There was some kind of internal locking mechanism that had jammed the door from the inside. It took me half an hour with a mini-screwdriver, poking my hand through a tiny gap, in order to unscrew the mechanism. But with the screwdriver being found in some kind of strategic storage place, and with the relative ease with which that the screws came out, I can safely say without fear of contradiction that this wasn't the first time that this mechanism had locked up


mary's harbour airport runway airfield trans labrador highway labrador coastal drive highway 510 canada october octobre 2010

And so by the time that I had rescued my camera and returned to the fray, the aeroplane had cleared off. But you can see the drab and orange terminal building - it's to the left of centre in the photograph. The runway is the concrete strip that runs across the centre of the image.

In case you are wondering, the complex of buildings clustered around the end of the runway is actually the local school. The aeroplane taxied to within maybe 50 yards of it during its landing run. Could you just imagine the nanny state that is the UK and what the response from there would be to an aeroplane landing and taxiing so close to a school, what with the climate and the ice and the mountains all against you? Nothing like this could happen anywhere else.



I was talking about the beautiful sky just now. But one thing I ought to mention was that it was absolutely freezing cold and I had to scrape a pile of frost off Casey's windscreen. It's the first frost that I've experienced since I've been in Canada. Even though the weather has quite often been below zero it's usually been accompanied by sleet or snow. It's really winter here on the coast this morning.

But having said that, I'm just wearing a tee shirt and fleece, and the latter is open all the way down the front. It might be freezing cold but with the brilliant sunshine it doesn't seem like it and apart from the frost you would never ever tell. It's definitely one of those Alpine weather days


shell sea urchin trans labrador highway labrador coastal drive highway 510 canada october octobre 2010

While I was strolling around, I found an unusual and spiky object lying in the roadway here. I accordingly buttonholed one of the guys down at the harbour and asked him about it. Apparently it is a sea urchin, or rather the shell of one of that ilk, so I was informed.

I'm learning new things all the time while I'm around here, aren't I? But than again, isn't that the whole point of coming on an adventure like this?


mary's harbour fishing boats trans labrador highway labrador coastal drive highway 510 canada october octobre 2010

Like anywhere else around here, with perhaps the possible exception of Port Hope Simpson, the fortunes of the place are all tied up with the sea. But the origins of the settlement at Mary's Harbour tie in with a disaster that overwhelmed another community not too far from here.

Although there had been a salmon fishery here for many years, the principal permanent community in the region had been established on nearby Battle Harbour, an island just off the coast, in the latter half of the 17th Century. So much so that there were those who claimed that Battle Harbour was "the Capital of the Labrador Coast"

Nevertheless, Mary's Harbour was one of the ports of call for the "Alphabet Boats" - the provisioning ships that plied up and down the Labrador coast in the days before there were any roads here, and many fishermen and their families would arrive here on the Alphabet Boats to take up their seasonal residences during the fishing season.


In 1914 a medical missionary by the name of Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, originally from Parkgate on the Wirral in Cheshire (scene of many of my own more exciting adventures in 1972-73-74, so small is the world) created an organisation called "The International Grenfell Association", of which the aim was to provide Health Care, Religious Instruction and Education to the fishing communities along the Labrador coast. This Association was based at Battle Harbour where it ran a hospital and school.

mary's harbour trans labrador highway labrador coastal drive highway 510 canada october octobre 2010

However in 1930, a disastrous fire totally destroyed the Association's premises and the decision was made to rebuild them on the mainland at Mary's Harbour. This was probably the most important event that led to the creation of the permanent settlement here. As an aside, I noted that the general store in the village is called Acreman's Store, and Acreman was the surname of one of the original 9 families to have been resettled here in 1930.

The settlement here was originally called St Mary's River but in 1951 when a Post Office was established here, the name was changed in order to avoid confusion with a settlement called St Mary's on Newfoundland. This was of course in the days before postcodes. You will have noticed already that "Harbour" is spelt correctly, by the way.

9 families settled here in 1930 and in 1963 the village expanded again. The Government had decided upom some kind of resettlement programme along the coast with the aim of moving people out of isolated fishing settlements and bringing them into larger communities with all mod cons and the comforts of civilisation. Mary's Harbour was one of the settlements that was chosen to be a permanent community.

battle harbour ferry trans labrador highway labrador coastal drive highway 510 canada october octobre 2010

The permanent community at Mary's Harbour contributed to the decline of Battle Harbour and nowadays it is merely a tourist attraction. You can see in this photo the ferry boat that during the season takes the tourists out there.

Not that it's of any interest to me of course - I'm always out of season, even if I were to arrive here on a glorious midsummer weekend. There would likely be a power failure.


While I'm on the subject of tourist attractions, I perhaps ought to mention something quite important. These places like Mary's Harbour, Cartwright and many of the other places that I have passed through along the route, they are full of little tourist attractions. But the purpose of my notes is not really to do with many of them.

I could quite happily spend a whole day or even two days in a few of these places, just wandering around the tourist attractions, but that isn't really much of an option. So realistically I have several choices - either
 i.... stay around here as long as it takes to see them all, regardless of budget and my agenda.
 ii... scrounge someone else's notes and reports and pass them off as mine (and I've seen that done so many times as well)
 iii.. only discuss the route, the sights, the sites and attractions that hold a special interest to me, and let you come here and track down everything else for yourself.

And so in deference to a well-known politician whose name shall never be mentioned in anything that I ever write, except in the most derogatory terms, I shall be following the Third Way.



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