Eastern Canada road trip - Churchill Falls to Blanc Sablon

There is almost 1000km of road from Churchill Falls to the ferry crossing to Newfoundland at Blanc Sablon, most of which is dirt packed.  A lot of focus was placed on road conditions during this part of the trip - for good reason. Driving on winding gravel roads is a challenge and not for the faint of heart!

Trucks rush past at more than 100 km/hour, sending enormous rocks flying in all directions. Stones as large as small mountains stick out of the ground, just waiting to puncture the tires. Gigantic potholes the size of small lakes rattle the car and the nerves. Gravel that seems to think it knows where you want to go, desperately grips your tires and pulls the car towards enormous cliffs on both sides of the road.

A couple of tips we picked up along the way:

  1. Drive fast. Seems counterintuitive but it works (somewhat). The car seems to fly over the rocks and holes instead of taking air over each stone and crashing through each pothole.
  2. Slow down when a truck approaches, especially in Quebec where they seem to drive extra fast, in order to lessen the impact of the rocks hitting the windshield.
  3. Don't try to speed up too much on an uphill as the gravel becomes especially tenacious and grippy.
  4. Don't many too many sound effects. The passengers almost certainly feel like they are on a roller coaster ride that just might go off the tracks and discomforting sounds from the driver are likely to add a heightened sense of danger.


The most beautiful stretch of road in all of Labrador

North West River

At the Labrador Interpretation Centre in North West River we learned about the Innu and Inuit aboriginals, who have resided in Labrador for over 6000 years. In 1743, fur trader Louis Fornel established the Northwest River settlement. This was the beginning of the fur trade between Europeans and aboriginals in the area and it encouraged new settlers and Métis to populate the region.

Beautiful scenery at a lookout in North West River

North West River Beach

Happy Valley-Goose Bay

We spent the night in a campground in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, where the kind landlady warned us of wandering bears. Her advice for what to do if a bear started sniffing around? Get into the car and lean on the horn. Yes, we thought, but first you have to get from the tent to the car, past the hungry bear. Needless to say, we didn't sleep too well that night.

The scenery between Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Blanc Sablon changed dramatically as we drove south along the coast. From a sea of trees, the landscape changed to include open fields of grasses and later to undulating hills of green. The ocean began to appear in brief glimpses. The first iceberg we'd ever seen drifted slowly in the current.

Red Bay

A storm began to roll in as we entered Red Bay, an historic whaling community where Basque whalers returned year after year to exploit the abundance of whale oil, a source of light in Europe at the time.

A shipwreck, the ‘San Juan’, a Basque whaling ship, can be seen off the coast of Red Bay. At the Red Bay National Historic Site, artifacts from the shipwreck and the whaling community prove that Basque whalers did live and work in Canada at one time.

Blanc Sablon

Although the sun was shining by the time we left Red Bay, we followed the storm south to Blanc Sablon. We managed to catch the last ferry of the day to Newfoundland. A good thing too - the weather was so bad the next few days that all ferry crossings were canceled.

Read part one, part two, part three and part four of our trip.

Eastern Canada road trip - Churchill Falls, Labrador

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 falls prior to the diversion of the water Image  source

The falls prior to the diversion of the water Image source

The falls prior to the diversion of the water  Image  source

The falls prior to the diversion of the water
Image source

Smallwood Reservoir

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.