Driving east along the trans Labrador highway, we pulled over just before the town of Churchill Falls, to hike out to the falls for which the town is named. In the 1960's, a hydroelectric generating station was commissioned and the water was diverted to a reservoir, which is contained by some 88 dikes. It was the largest civil engineering project of its time in North America.
Before the diversion of water for the generating station, the flow of water was so great it could be heard more than 15km away. Only a small trickle of water remains. Controversy continues to swirl around the project to this day. The majority of the energy is sold to Quebec at a very low price, despite its location in Labrador, due to a 65-year agreement made in 1969, which has resulted in significant tension between Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.
For the Innu of the region, the diversion of water resulted in dramatic changes to the landscape in which they lived and hunted. More than 1,300km² of land was flooded, destroying ancient burial grounds, ancestral territory and habitats.
The town of Churchill Falls was small (650 residents) but inviting. We headed directly to the town office, where we learned about the town’s history and people. The running force of the town was the generating station, which produces an average 34 billion kilowatt-hours of energy each year. Tours of the facility are available but the guide was on holiday during our visit. A disappointment, for sure - it would have been very interesting to see inside the stations.
However, we did get an opportunity to drive on one of the dikes that surrounds the Smallwood Reservoir.
That night we were invited to camp out on a field by the city centre and community church. Many travelers use the field. We were joined by several motorcyclists, who were making the same road trip as us.
The town may be small but it has many modern day facilities available for residents. A single building, the city centre, houses most of the town’s facilities including the school, grocery store, recreation centre, hotel, library, restaurant and more. The people are the friendliest we’ve met. Everyone stopped to say hello and ask about our travels.