First Nations HistoryThe second half, more or less, of the Translabrador Highway runs east and a bit south to Goose Bay - Happy Valley, another special-purpose community. After hundreds of years of being the home of several aboriginal bands, this part of Labrador, including North West River, was targeted first by the Moravian Church and later by Sir Wilfred Grenfell and thus began to come to the attention of Europeans and Americans ("Americans" being an unsatisfactory but universally used term to distinguish residents of the Lower 48 from their Canadian neighbors).
The missionaries provided education and basic health care, but learned, at least haltingly, the aboriginal languages and accepted the hunting and trapping and fishing culture; the fact that the biggest contributor to the economy through the 1930s was the Hudson's Bay Company didn't hurt. However, in 1941 the Canadian military created an air base at Goose Bay.
Our visit seemed like returning to Ridgecrest. Military planes crisscrossed the sky, men in flight suits appeared in Tim Horton's; Italian and German could be heard, because these days the major business of the base is low-altitude flight training for NATO nations. This business, sadly for Goose Bay, has been diminishing during the past decades and will go into a steeper decline now that the German Air Force has concluded its contracts.
Goose Bay and Happy Valley are joined together by the local hospital and Tim Horton's. Most of the Loading a lumber barge business is located in Happy Valley, where we happily discovered that the laundromat shared quarters with the yarn and knitting store.
We spent a few more days here than we had originally expected, because the ferry trip which is the only way to the Labrador coast was fully booked by the time we arrived; we immediately reserved space on the next trip, six days later. We had comfortable quarters in a small newish hotel and spent much of the time doing data entry, partly because the August Labrador temperatures require winter jackets and woolen sweaters.
North West River is still the center of First Nations life in this region, consisting of Innu and Inuit and Metis and Montagnais cultures. The Metis are the descendants of unions of French trappers and First Nations women; the Montagnais are least numerous and, to us, least known. The Inuit are those known as Eskimos who live near the coasts across the north, surviving by hunting fish and sea mammals. The Innu tend to live farther inland, trapping land animals, following the caribou herds. Locals talk of seeing nomadic bands as recently as the 1950s, when they would come into North West River to trade, setting up their tents near the mouth of the bay, Replica of trapper's tilt holding dances and singing songs.
Although Newfoundland and Labrador are governmentally one united province, don't try to tell that to the Labradorians. They have designed their own flag -- three bands of color: white for the snow, blue for the water, green for the forests, with a spruce bough in bold green on the white band. The branches of the bough represent the four indigenous cultures and this flag is seen everywhere: on flagpoles at people's homes, in front of businesses and public buildings, and even painted on trash cans. The official red and white Newfoundland-Labrador flag is generally ignored.
Part of this energy derives from the observation, over a century or more, that Labrador is the source of mineral and forest wealth for Newfoundland and Quebec, who provide nothing to Labrador in return. There's a small but energetic movement to pull Labrador away from its big brother, although nobody has been talking about what it would do as a province by itself.
We visited the two new museums in North West River. The first, a Regional Interpretation Center, is housed in a brand-new building and is just getting underway. Funding is coming from the provincial government (meaning that Labrador has had to wait till the curator, in Newfoundland, finishes the upgrade to the Newfoundland museum); the exhibits are first-rate and cover the lives of the four First Nations plus the impact of the settlers. Sunrise from the ferry Archaeological excavations, many of them recent, have revealed tools and toys and house styles which are imaginatively displayed. We watched -- by accident, because the staff member on duty started it instead of the travelog he intended to show -- a video originally made for television, called Return to Cutthroat. Cutthroat is a small, extremely desolate island in the waters off northern Labrador. The Canadian government displaced the inhabitants, moving them farther south along the coast, because getting medical care and other services to Cutthroat was prohibitively expensive. But these Innu families, refusing to give up the habits and customs of generations, make the journey back every summer.
The second museum, smaller yet charming, is sponsored by the North West River historical society, and is located in the old Hudson's Bay general store. Among the shelves holding typical store goods, visitors can study customs and objects from life in the old days of 19th and 20th century Labrador. We found, for example, a full-scale model of a tilt, a log shelter which dots the winter landscape; trappers set them out so that there is at least one for each day's journey, and they are marked along snowmobile trails as well. (Although we BELIEVE that the little signs that say TILT, which we passed quite often on the TLH, really mean that the machine itself will tilt as it bumps along over snowcovered obstacles. ) Other exhibits include tapes of old-timers singing songs and telling stories.
The major exhibit in both museums is the subject of the local Centennial Observance: the Mina Hubbard Expedition. In 1903, Mina's husband Leonidas came into his inheritance and organized an adventure. He would explore and map the part of Labrador which stretched away from the coast. Unfortunately his group got lost. Our hotel in Cartwright Although the others managed to reach safety, Leonidas Hubbard died from starvation while waiting for rescue. Mina engaged Dillon Wallace, her husband's friend and colleague on the expedition to write their story, intending that he would celebrate his friend's courage and fortitude. When his words didn't meet her expectations, she set out herself, to recreate the trip. She provided some of the first maps of the area, and made news, rather like the stories about Amelia Earhart and other female explorers; of course, in 1905 the idea of women traveling alone was big news.
Our ferry journey from Goose Bay to Cartwright was a twelve-hour affair. We boarded in late afternoon, entertained during the time we spent waiting in line by watching a barge being loaded with lumber. After the iron mines we feel we've seen most of the major industries -- at least their effects. The ferry holds approximately 200 vehicles -- approximately, because some of them are RVs of mammoth dimensions, or commercial trucks. Each vehicle drives in, then turns around and backs into its designated lane (there are helpers, we understand, for those with trailers, or for the faint of heart). This is because when we dock at Cartwright, the ferry turns around and backs itself in. As we waited for the ferry to get under way, we noticed a small dinghy with two men in coveralls circling our ship. At a signal from the captain, the dinghy sped to a large circular platform, one man clambered aboard and released the mooring line (this process would be repeated when we backed into the dock at Cartwright, with the captain using the circular platform as a kind of pivot point to send the ship in the proper alignment to the small dock) We slept in bunks as the boat made its way down the long passage to the ocean and into the bay at Cartwright. It was a gentle, smooth journey, and the sunrise this morning was a dramatic delight. Rene LeBlanc the singer
Cartwright has 650 people. Everybody waves. Driving the dirt roads of town, maneuvering through potholes, we find ourselves continually returning waves -- from other drivers, from people walking along the edge of the road, from women standing on their front porches. And it's not just our Texas licence plate, either -- Everybody waves to each other, and they hug a lot when they meet, as well. The Cartwright Hotel features homemade jam from local wild berries. When the ferry comes and goes the Hotel is busy; otherwise quiet. We were the only guests staying three nights.
One of our fellow hotel guests, Rene LeBlanc, was a Quebec City man who travels the roads we have just journeyed, from Sept-Iles to Baie Comeau up through Central Labrador and over to Cartrwright, on his regular route selling frozen meat to restaurants. His truck is rigged as a freezer, which he plugs in to the outdoor electric outlets found everywhere in Labrador towns. Rene has given us sightseeing tips and restaurant suggestions. He's a former entertainer thinking of taking a job on a Canadian cruise ship -- since he's a singer, and knows both French and English songs, he should have no trouble.