Fall foliage in Labrador, Canada. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Labrador and Home

We were in Fermont, Quebec, only 14 kilometers from the Labrador border, in a wilderness hotel complex for iron ore miners and guests. That morning we looked out of the hotel window to see a snow storm. Now we were concerned about getting home safely. We had two choices: go back the way we came, or take the ferry to Newfoundland. We decided to drive to Labrador City and have breakfast, and then decide whether or not to go east to Goose Bay.

In the snow storm, we set out slowly for Labrador City and Wabush, and as we crossed the border, route 389 ended and the same road became route 500 in Labrador. There was not much to see in Labrador City. It was the first snow storm of the season, but the people were prepared for winter. The ponds had a thin coat of ice forming on them; fishing season had passed. However, it was hunting season, and we did see a hunter with a big bull moose. The forests are filled with moose, bear, and deer, and further north, caribou and polar bear. I was reminded by my husband that we started out to see the fall foliage, and the shortest distance back was the way we came, so we decided to turn the Jeep Commander around and head home. We stocked up with water and supplies and filled the gas tank in town. We did not want to be stranded or have the car break down. We headed back on the only road: Route 389.

It was slow traveling for the first hour or two, with slippery roads and the low visibility of the snow storm. As we worked our way onward and south, we left behind the slippery road, and snow turned to rain and fog; by late morning, there was an overcast sky and a clear road. We headed toward the ferry at Baie-Comeau, which would make our return trip significantly shorter than driving all the way back.

But taking the ferry would not be easy: the service was going on strike the next day, there was only one ferry that day at 5 pm, and we had no reservations! Catching the ferry, checking the gas gage, and staying safe on the wilderness highway were our priorities as we drove on, hour after hour. The scenery was beautiful. There were geese and several bald eagles in flight, and a partridge ran in front of our vehicle. More than once on this long drive I thought, as our earth is filled with people and everything to do with populations, being in a vast wilderness even for a short time is a memorable experience.

As we drove back, we passed the few places we recognized: the many places to cross the railroad tracks near Fermont, the sidewalk of the burned down town, the vast remains of the forest fire, the mining camps, and the two dams miles apart. When we reached the final dam and the road became pavement for the final time, we checked the time: if our luck prevailed, we might just make the ferry terminal at Baie-Comeau.

We pulled into the ferry terminal at 4:32pm, two minutes after the half-hour deadline for the ferry departure. The attendant gave us the last tickets, smiled, put the closed sign in the window, got up from her seat, locked the door, and left the booth. We were assigned line nine, and we were the last vehicle to get on the full-to-capacity ferry. It was a happy moment for us!

After the two-hour ferry crossing it was late, and we stayed at a motel in the small community of Matane, Quebec. In the morning, we drove by the ferry terminal: the strikers, carrying their signs, were in the empty lot. We headed south. It was a sunny fall day, and as we drove by, when the rays of sun hit the colored leaves and the water on the ponds, it made our trip very memorable. We stopped and crossed the three covered bridges we had seen earlier; in a field by one of the covered bridges was what looked like a horse. Suddenly I realized that was a moose! It looked up as if to say, “I came out just to please you and make your day.”

As we crossed into northern Maine, we drove through Aroostook County, which is known for growing potatoes. It was once recognized as the Potato Capital of the World—or at least the United States. We passed fields and fields, all empty, as the potatoes had recently been picked. Some schools still close for three weeks for picking season! We stopped at a farm and bought a large bag of new potatoes, on one of our last stops on our way home.

Seeking out the fall foliage in Labrador: what a great place for an adventure if you truly want to see a rare place on earth, still left mostly untouched by humans. No airplanes flying overhead, no pollution, no rows of houses—it is a getaway place where nature is in full command. It was a once in a lifetime adventure.

(posted November 17, 2015)