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Newfoundland and Labrador Votes 2003
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  Main > Reporter's notebook > Reflections on a northern journey
Voting Day October 21, 2003  
Reporter's Notebook

Reflections on a northern journey
Doug Letto | CBC Online News | Oct. 14

We have just left Deer Lake on Air Labrador's new Dash-8 aircraft, on the way to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and then on to Wabush. I'm following Jack Harris on his first trip into Labrador this election campaign.

Labrador Road by Tony Dawson July 2003
Labrador Road  

It's the kind of morning where it's magical to be in the air. Sunlight streams into the cabin. Above the aircraft, the sky is blue. Ribbons of puffy white and grey clouds seem to be suspended like balls of cotton from the sky.

On our left, the famed Tablelands of Gros Morne National Park come into view. This is one of the few places on earth where rocks of this type are exposed to the surface. On the right, I can see the Long Range Mountains on their north-south axis along the Northern Peninsula.

Most of this area is devoid of human settlement. From the air, it looks as if time stands still. Fifteen minutes after leaving Deer Lake, the tip of the Northern Peninsula comes into view. A white surf pounds against the low-lying shoreline that marks the boundary between this peninsula and the Strait of Belle Isle.

Outmigration shows

The communities along this coast - with names like Flower's Cove, Bear Cove, Cook's Harbour - have all been hit hard by the decade-plus cod moratorium.

I know from previous trips that many of the homes are empty. Children who once lived here, are now bringing alive playgrounds in places like Fort McMurray, Edmonton, and Red Deer.

The journey over the Straits is a sentimental one. Just west of the aircraft is L'anse au Clair, an area fished by the French and Quebecois starting in 1706. I grew up in the community, and my parents and three brothers and one sister continue to live here.

Its hills, the sandy beach, the berry barrens, and the cliffs hold strong memories. The coast of southern Labrador is both intensely beautiful and rugged.

South of the famous Basque whaling site at Red Bay, is the island and inlet-dotted coast that once housed summer fishing stations. Farther inland, Labrador spruce crowds the valleys, and shiny lakes and ponds look like diamonds.

The mighty Churchill

The approach to Happy Valley-Goose Bay takes us over the final run of the Churchill River, before it empties into Lake Melville. The Churchill is a creature of great spiritual meaning to the Innu; a symbol of missed opportunity and outright giveaway in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

After a few hours of work and an edit for Canada Now, we’re off to Wabush in a different Aircraft - Provincial Airline’s twin-propeller Saab 340.

Muskrat Falls by Tony Dawson April 2003
  Muskrat Falls

On the ascent from the airport, 30 kilometers from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, we pass over Muskrat Falls, part of the Churchill River. From our height, the Falls look deceptively small, hardly the stuff of so much political intrigue. Yet on closer look, I can see the whitewater fury as millions of gallons of water crash over the first rocky ledge, and then the second.

This is part of the Lower Churchill. Engineers and politicians look at the Falls with visions of a great hydro project. So far, however, the -right-deal has been elusive. The Trans-Labrador Highway snakes along the legendary Churchill, following valleys and the base of tree-covered hills.

This gravel highway, with potholes and tire penetrating rocks, is the lifeline for the region. All three political parties have promised to complete it. There are even whispers of pavement.

Road leads west

Soon, we're over the vast iron deposits of Western Labrador. This ore has sustained Labrador City and Wabush for more than forty years. Incomes are high in this region, but employment from the mines has diminished.

Labrador west mineIn the early prosperous days, the two mines employed about 3,000 workers. Today, about 1,300 people pass through the mine gates each day at Wabush Mines and the Iron Ore Company.

It's early afternoon, as we begin to descend into Wabush airport. As far as the eye can see, the Labrador plateau is a canvas of green, tree-covered hills, and silver lakes and rivers.

If this is indeed the land God gave to Cain, as the French explorer Jacques Cartier exclaimed in 1534 on seeing the coastline of the Strait of Belle Isle, then God was sure in a good mood that day.

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Photos courtesy of Tony Dawson, a CBC VJ based in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

  • Muskrat Falls by Tony Dawson April 2003
  • Labrador Road by Tony Dawson July 2003




Doug Letto Doug Letto is a senior political reporter with CBC Television in St. John's. He participated as a panelist in this election's only debate involving the three party leaders.




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