A trip to Labrador and the Lower North Shore in Quebec has been on my “bucket list’ for about 50 years!

A trip to Labrador and the Lower North Shore in Quebec has been on my “bucket list’ for about 50 years!  A long time, predates the very idea of a “bucket list”!

The Wells Gray Tours planned trip for August 2017 to Labrador and Western Newfoundland, seems to have been designed especially for us!  My husband and I moved to the small town of Port Cartier in 1967. Port Cartier is 60 km from Sept-Iles on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River and at the time we lived there it was the community for workers at Quebec Cartier Mining Company (QCM), a US Steel-owned iron-ore mining company. The “port” at Port Cartier was a year-round and deep-water port where prairie grains could be stored for loading and shipping to European ports and where iron ore could be shipped to ports on the Great Lakes, like Pittsburgh. Iron ore was brought down to the port from Gagnon via railway.

Now 50 years later, this trip returns us to the area and includes a train trip up the original tracks to the various mine sites of Wabush, Lab City, Fermont. We then see the interior of Quebec and Labrador before exploring the Coast of Labrador. I am especially excited to see Blanc Sablon after hearing it described by our friend so long ago.

The city of Sept-Iles was a key point for connections to the outside world from the fishing villages of the Lower North Shore [Basse Cote Nord]. Along the “Coast” the folks there call themselves “Coasters”. Cargo ships plied the Coast stopping at each village to off-load cargo and take on passengers. Air travel has been available for many years but is very expensive. These villages in 1967 had limited schooling, many went up to grade 7. If children and their brave parents wished further education, they had to “come out” to be boarded at homes in Sept-Iles, Port Cartier or towns on the Gaspe peninsula. Children left home at age 12 to live with strangers.

We housed one of these children in 1967 and had the opportunity to learn about the “Coast life” when one such young girl, I will refer to as FN came to live with us at Port Cartier. It is hard to imagine how she felt at age 12 coming to live with complete strangers, taking her first train ride, an ore train from Port Cartier to Gagnon for a QCM sponsored tour, not to mention a very quick adaptation to all the trappings of “modern” life. 50 years ago, most of these fishing villages along the Quebec Lower North Shore had no road to the outside world, nor electricity, telephones, running water, indoor plumbing.

During this time, fishing was active and life was hard. Transportation between villages in winter was with dog teams, and in the summer by boat. Today snowmobiles have replaced dogsleds, but boats are still very important to folks living on the coast. It has been an amazing transformation for these villages in one generation where the fishing, a mainstay for these people has greatly diminished if not become totally closed to life that has modern utilities and the internet.

Today I can connect on Facebook or by email to our friend but I have not seen her face-to-face in 50 years! Our friend lives today in St Paul’s River [also called Bonne Esperance], a village 58 km from Blanc Sablon.

Because of my personal connection, I have continued to be fascinated with Labrador and have read numerous books, primarily first-person accounts of former life there. If you are planning on joining me and my husband on this wonderful journey, you may be interested in reading a couple of books prior to going. One of my favourites’ is a book about, Mina Hubbard, who in 1905 accompanied by guides explored by canoe the Northwest River on Hamilton inlet, to the George River and up to Ungava Bay. Mina was following the route her husband, Leonidas Hubbard, had taken 2 years previously, but he had died of starvation and had not completed the journey.

Another book of interest is “Woman of Labrador” by Elizabeth Goudie, who was a trapper’s wife. She knew and mentioned Gilbert Blake, a relative, who had been one of Mina Hubbard’s guides. The book is rich with stories of the lives of the Innu, the Inuit, early settlers from Europe and fishing folk from mainland Newfoundland. The population was small and there are many interconnections between the current families descended from these original hardy folks. I have an extra copy which I would be happy to leave at Wells Gray Office in Penticton, if anyone is interested, just let the office know.

Folks on the Coast today call those times “them days”. And “Them Days” is a series of publications started by Doris Saunders–full of local stories.

I realize it’s hard to describe the area and our experience of 50 years ago, as our own pull to the area is so personal. However, I know from these personal connections that anyone who takes this journey will find it delightful and I encourage you come with Wells Gray Tours to explore Labrador & Western Newfoundland.

Written by: Liz Baker

Itinerary from BC Interior

Itinerary from Victoria

Photos courtesy of : Barrett & MacKay Photos

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