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An unhurried, relaxed jaunt through Quebec and Labrador in pictures

Bil Bowden


"The Long and Winding Road", "The Road Not Taken", "Every Road Leads Back to You".  After a few hundred miles of dust, these lines and the songs/poems that accompany them keep flooding the brain.   It's hard to fathom how truckers do this day after day after day.

But, as I drive along Quebec Highway 389 behind one of those stone-throwing truckers, I keep reminding myself that there is a reward at the other end of the road-- the freighter/passenger ship Northern Ranger.  And this ship will take me somewhere that has been my mind's elusive pot of gold for years. Nain, Labrador, a 1,400-person Inuit town stuck on the northeast coast is so far removed from 'civilization' (my word, not the Inuits'), that there are no roads leading there. Or, for that matter, the other five towns along the Ranger's route.

ID=87362040Like many trips, this journey became as important as the destination. The Ranger was expected to take its first seasonal run on June 20, so I left York June 14 to make the 1600 mile drive, only to find that heavy ice would prevent the transport/icebreaker from reaching Nain. The first run wouldn't leave Nain until June 27.

Now, I had a week to 'blow'.  Instead of racing to Goose Bay, I had a unusual problem--all this time and no plans.

Many years ago, good friend Paul Kuehnel returned from a vacation on the Gaspe Peninsula.  Paul is not the excitable type, low key one might say, but the Gaspe got his attention in a big way, so that became my first destination.

Wandered through Vermont and then New Hampshire, stopping at the Connecticut Lakes, and then hopped into Quebec.  Drove along route 132 through Riviere-du Loup, Matane, and all the tiny towns along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. The highway is well paved, but take the town streets through neighborhoods. Photographed beautiful, huge churches in towns that seemed too small to support them, brightly colored barns and lighthouses by the dozens.ID=87362042

At one of these lighthouses, I asked permission to park the van in a private driveway for a few minutes. Two hours later, I had met the father, a 90-something year old who was proud of his woodworking tools museum in the back of his house, his wife of 70-something years and the rest of the family. Quebec folks are wonderful people, and their English is usually much stronger than my French. It makes for some interesting conversations, like when the van needed a repair and no one spoke enough English to explain why a certain part needed replacing.

Along a quiet waterfront, I drove past a beautiful statue of an elderly couple reading a garden book. Again, I stopped to shoot it (I had that kind of time), and hear the story of this large, obviously expensive statue sitting in the front yard. It seemed entirely out of place. Unfortunately, no one at the house was able to tell me its story except in French.

ID=87362048I buzzed past-- and then turned around-- to photograph one man sitting quietly on a beached log, his lawnmower and half-mowed lawn awaiting him as he absorbed the St. Lawrence River view.

At the far eastern end of the Gaspe Peninsula is Perce and the Perce Rock  and Bonaventure Island National Park (it sounds so much better in French-- Parc national de l'Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé) with its hiking trails, boat rides and thousands of beautiful gannets. About 120,000 gannets nest here and have so little fear of people that visitors can sit within 10 feet of the birds. It's tough to keep something this impressive a secret, therefore Perce is the tourist center of the Gaspe with its hotels, motels and restaurants.

Whales are usually not seen near the Gaspe until it warms up, but did see a few spouts near New Carlisle. And a seal.

Made the Gaspe tour, then headed back to Matane, where the ferry crossed the 10-mile wide St. Lawrence to Baie-Comeau. Here, it looked more like one of the Great Lakes than a river.

In Baie-Comeau, northbound drivers fill up tanks. In fact, for the next 700 miles, car drivers fill up at every fuel station-- there are too few to gamble not making it to the next one.  The road is winding and pretty to the huge power plants, but from there, drivers are on their own. Some of the road is dirt, some is paved. Some, although paved, is a minefield of potholes so big, a dirt road would be preferable.

At one gas station, the converted price (liters in Canada) was a whopping $6.52 a gallon.  Driving a gas tanker truck here is rough work, but traffic is almost non-existent.  During one 200-mile stretch, maybe 30 cars passed the other direction. Many vehicles are Hydro-Quebec Company cars. Be sure to wave-- everyone waves.ID=87362052

Once in Labrador City, language instantly changes to English, the roads are superbly paved and life is good-- for the next 310 miles-- to Goose Bay. The speed limit is 70 km an hour, or 48 miles MPH, but this highway is often straight, smoother than most of Route 30 and there is no one to injure but yourself in a crash. Driving this road at 48 MPH would be sheer torture. You can't help but notice the huge electric towers that parallel the highway to the highly controversial Muskrat Falls power station.  In this land of rolling hills, forests and lakes, it's a different kind of landscape.

Isolation is so severe here, the provincial government provides satellite phones programmed to area police in case of an emergency. Once safely at the other wind, the phones are returned.

Goose Bay and the icy trip north on the Northern Ranger has been covered in a previous blog post, and won't bore anyone with more details.

For those looking for a quiet trip, one away from the hurried crowds of Disney tourists, consider this area. The Gaspe is about 900 miles from York, or about the same distance away as Memphis, Tennessee.

It's worth seeing.