THE TRANS-LABRADOR HIGHWAY 2010
THE LABRADOR COASTAL DRIVE PART IX - THE END
I left the Labrador Coastal Drive at 145.2 kilometres from Port Hope Simpson. I'm rejoining it at 155.1 kilometres - a difference of 9.9 kilometres spent driving around Point Amour and its lighthouse. Hence my readings along the route will differ by (Casey's tripmeter - (140.7 + 9.9 = 150.6)) in order to keep in the sequence.
I'm still heading southwards towards the ferry over to Newfoundland but this isn't as easy as you might think. There's no coastal path to follow, simply a series of river valleys flowing from the interior into the sea, separated by enormous headlands over which you must slowly inch your way.
The views from the top of these headlands can sometimes be terrific. This is at kilometre 146.6 and you can see L'Anse Amour, the lighthouse just above the village, and a view of Newfoundland away across the Strait.
Now you might remember that when we were out at Point Amour a short while ago we saw a village right across the bay and I wondered what it was. Well, we are now about to find out, because I'm just about to drive into it.
Ahhh yes, Welcome to Forteau. 591 kilometres from the turn-off near Goose Bay, it is. And I reckon that I've done at least half as much again during my perambulations.
The name of the town is deceptive. You've heard me talk about this area being occupied by the French after they were expelled from Newfoundland, and how much that is of French origin dates from the period 1713 - 1763. You are therefore thinking that Forteau is the same, but that is not the case.
In fact the town was established by merchants from the Channel Islands, loyal British subjects to a man but French-speaking all the same. They set up a fishing station, as you might expect around here, in 1774 and within 50 years the town was the largest British settlement on the coast. A church was set up in 1849 and in 1909, the medical missionary Wilfred Grenfell, who we encountered at Mary's Harbour and West St Modeste , opened one of his clinics here.
All kinds of things go on here at Forteau. There's a carpet shop, there's a mountain field academy shop, a car dealership, all that kind of thing. Forteau seems to have everything, and you know what you give the man who has everything don't you?
The population recorded by the census in 2006 was 440 although in the previous census it was 477. And so like most places except L'Anse au Loup, its population is in decline. This is another place where the local information technician has been amongst those to desert. The town's website was last updated in 2006.
The above photo by the way was taken on leaving the town, at kilometre 155.1. I had the sun in my eyes, yet again, on the way in.
There's a road, or rather a track, that turns off the main road towards Buckle Point and so I have five minutes to go for a quick look around. So at 153.6 kilometres from Port Hope Simpson I turn off down the track.
There isn't much to see from here except a part of the town across the Forteau River - a river recognised as one of Labrador's better salmon rivers by the way - and so I don't stay here long. My diversion has added 1.6 kilometres to the distance travelled and so the correction to Casey's tripmeter is now 152.2 kilometres.
I mentioned impressive headlands, didn't I? So how about this one? I'm climbing out of Forteau at kilometre 156.1 and there's probabaly the best view of the lot - not back down into Forteau but way way out across Point Amour and the lighthouse. The village of L'Anse Amour is to the left margin of the photograph and Newfoundland is away out there on the horizon.
You will of course notice the other car in the photograph. The days when I could drive for hours without seeing another vehicle are long gone, unfortunately. You will also notice the condition of the road. We are not out of the woods just yet as far as bad highways go, even though I would trade any section of this road for any section that you like between Manic 5 and Goose Bay.
We still haven't finished with our Anses yet, even though we are still in English-speaking Labrador. This particular Anse is L'Anse au Clair, at kilometre 163.5. It is one of the French post-Treaty-of-Utrecht settlements and founded by a merchant whose name was Monsieur St.Clair - hence the name of the settlement, even though it is popularly thought to be "The Cove of Light".
And just look how clear Newfoundland is across the strait - the Strait of Belle Isle - just here. It goes to show that there can't be any doubt at all but that you can clearly see the one from the other given a decent day.
And English-speaking Labrador, did I say? One of the interminable border disputes, this one dated 1825, between Labrador and Québec concerned the area just here. The frontier was eventually set at 52°N,
"'Be it therefore enacted that so much of the said Coast as lies to the Westward of a line to be drawn due North and South from the Bay or Harbour of Ance (sic) Sablon, inclusive as far as the 52nd degree of North latitude, with the Island of Anticosti and all other Islands adjacent to such part as last aforesaid of the Coast of Labrador, shall be and the same are hereby re-annexed to and made a part of the said Province of Lower Canada.'"
although because of the peculiar shape of the Bay of Blanc Sablon, L'Anse au Clair remained in the English Possession of Labrador due to it being Eastward of the relevant North-South line.
And if you are confused by all of that, so is everyone else. Even Québec Government Ministers cannot agree on whether they accept the frontier. Henri Dorion publicly announced that Québec has no longer any claim to any part of Labrador whereas two of his colleagues have stated in a press release that
"no Quebec government has ever formally recognized the drawing of the border between Quebec and Newfoundland in the Labrador peninsula according to the opinion rendered by the privy council in 1927. For Quebec, this border has thus never been definitively defined."
But enough of the excitement - back to the town. I am told that there are some remains of the early 18th Century fish-processing facilities, an early-20th Century church in the Gothic Revivalist (read "Victorian Frightful") style and a vegetable farm, amongst the other attractions.
There is also a place close by called "Aunt Mary Jane's Playhouse" and that would have to be a must-see on anyone's itinerary, no matter what the purpose of their visit to the town. All in all, there is plenty for the population of 260-odd to keep themselves thoroughly amused during the summer months.
The above photo, looking northwards into the town, was taken at kilometre 165.2. And so was this one just here.
I've absolutely no idea what that grave or monument up there might be, and ordinarily I would have gone up there for a stoll. But if I don't get a move on I shall be missing my ferry. It's already touch-and-go, what with losing that half-hour this morning due to me not noticing the change of time zone the other day on leaving Cartwright, and being detained as I was at lunchtime - not that I am complaining about that, of course. So if you know what this is all about, please .
And I haven't forgotten that this is the last Anse that I shall encounter along the Labrador coast. In fact once I board the ferry at Blanc Sablon I may well say that I shall be Out On My Anse.
Right. Here we are. Bienvenu au Québec. That down there is the port of Blanc Sablon, the famous White Sands noticed by Jacques Cartier when he arrived here in 1534 although it is unclear whether he was naming the area after the white sands that he saw or whether it was named for the coastal area called Blanc Sablon and its white sands back at home in St Malo.
And unless I am very much mistaken. my ferry is already there at the harbour. I'm going to have to put my skates and get down there rather quickly.
While we are driving down to the harbour, I'll give you an interesting thought to mull over.
There is no doubt whatever that the Norse discovered North America. There is no doubt at all that L'Anse aux Meadows is a Norse settlement. There is however a great deal of dispute and discussion as to whether L'Anse aux Meadows is the Vinland that is referred to in the Norse Sagas, and in fact I'm not so convinced. Many people (although not necessarily Yours Truly) belive that Vinland was much further south.
Prior to sighting Vinland, Thorvald discovered an area of the North American coast that he described as having
"woods stretching almost down to the shore and white sandy beaches".
The things that clearly impressed Cartier here in this spot more than anywhere else that he visited in North America were the white sandy beaches.
Think about it
Here's my ship. The MV Apollo built in 1982.
When I arrived at the ferry terminal I was told that I had half an hour before sailing. That gave me enough time to buy a ticket, drive down to the boat, find out that I had lost my ticket somewhere "only you can do something like that in just 30 seconds" ...ed, go back to the ticket office for a photocopy, and then return to the boat.
The guys who were directing the loading of the cars took one look at Casey
"you look like you've been driving the Trans-Labrador highway with your car looking like that"
and I would have loved to have had the Nikon handy to photograph the look on their faces when I replied
"well as a matter of fact I have"
And so goodbye to Labrador. I don't really know what to say, and it's not very often that I am lost for words. I've been here for - well, I don't know how many days. Labrador City to Goose Bay was one, Goose Bay to Cartwright was two, Cartwright to Mary's Harbour was three, and this is the fourth. And I suppose that Baie Comeau to Labrador City was the fifth, even though I was only 10 miles or so into Labrador that night in the dark and the heavy snow.
How times and the weather have changed.
But Labrador is beautiful - it is gorgeous. It's the nicest place on earth. The interior is magnificent and the coastline is stunning, and if I keep on going like this I will run out of adjectives and superlatives before I finish describing it.
But driving the Trans-Labrador Highway was the adventure to end all adventures. It was something that I had wanted to do ever since I read books like The Land God Gave to Cain when I was a kid.
And it was all thanks to a promise made to my dear departed friend Liz that I would look after her daughter if ever she went to Canada, and thanks to Katherine for being awarded a place at a Canadian University, that finally brought me here. The Lord, if such a being exists, Moves in Mysterious Ways indeed.
But back to more practical matters, as I leave the province of Québec behind me.
This part of Québec keeps a different time to the rest of the province. It's on Atlantic Standard time, which is the same as New Brunswick, Cape Breton and most of Labrador except for the bit south of Cartwright. In other words, it's 30 minutes behind the time that I am displaying.
But don't be misled into thinking that you have another 30 minutes on your hands because the ferry, subsidised by the Newfoundland and Labrador Government, keeps Newfoundland time throughout, and this is surely enough to confuse everyone.
And subsidised it is. A sailing of about 90 minutes or so costs a mere $33 and a bit - eat your hearts out, Europeans, who have to pay 10 times this to cross the English Channel.
As well as Casey the Hire Car, I am also accompanied on my travels by the One And Only Strawberry Moose - it's a long story that I won't go into right now "Thank God!" ...ed.
It is said that pets and animals are not allowed on the passenger deck of the ferry but Epic Hall waived the rules (of course the fully-fledged Superhero Strawberry Moose would be horrified at being classed as a pet or animal) and now Strawberry Moose rules the waves.
For the benefit of the doubters, of which there are many, here is a photo giving positive proof.
And so back to the plot. Blanc Sablon as we all know is in the Province of Québec and so in the ferry terminal I spkoe to the ticket clerk in French. She was unable to reply to me, much to my surprise, and used hand signals and a piece of paper to communicate.
Now I know that I speak real and proper European French and I have a reasonable accent, and so I thought that it can't be me. And it wasn't. As it happens, and surprisingly enough, the ticket clerk was an English-speaker, so we spoke in English.
Blanc Sablon, although slap bang in a militant Francophone province next to a hotly-disputed border, has more than 70% of its population as primary-English and that's quite an astonishing amount for here. And I bet that most of those are quite able to hold a conversation in both languages. So why would the ferry company employ an English-only speaker at its ticket office in Québec? That's probably more bizarre than anything else I have encountered while I've been on the Trans-Labrador Highway.
So Casey, Strawberry Moose and I disappear into the sunset - and what a glorious sunset it was - on the Apollo and prepare ourselves for the next leg of our adventure.
The next time that we shall see daylight will be at the top of Newfoundland, as near to L'Anse au Meadows as possible, because our next stop will be the Norse ruins. No point in coming all this way and missing them, is there?
But I am really sorry to be leaving Labrador after the good time that I have had. I shall have to come back. "And won't that threat contribute to a further exodus of inhabitants?" ...ed. But seriously, I was all emotional about leaving the place
There is also another worrying thought that has been going through my head for the last few days. And that is that now that I have successfully accomplished my lifetime's ambition, whatever am I going to do next?
In a situation like this, I am reminded of course of the words of the legendary TS McPhee in his famous "Ship On The Ocean" off the Thank Christ For The Bomb album
"I've done everything that I've ever set out to do"
"I become so well known that they've put me in who's who"
"But I've reached the limit and I don't know what to do"
"If I can't go no further I'll have to go back.....to being poor"
What I'll do instead is to leave you with the parting words of Judge William Malone as he took his leave from Dillon Wallace after their trip into the Labrador wilderness to visit the place of death of Leonidas Hubbard
"I'm leaving the country though with a feeling of profound regret. I wish I were just going in with you instead of going home. I never had that feeling before on leaving the wilderness, but this country has exerted a peculiar fascination upon me. I understand what it was now that drew you and Hubbard on and would not let you turn back. I have learned what you meant when you called it "The Lure of the Labrador Wild"!"