Labrador

Overview

Introduction

"The Labrador" or "the Mainland" is far colder and more isolated than the island portion of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. John James Audubon called it "the most extensive and dreariest wilderness I have ever beheld," but some find this strange area enchanting.

We don't recommend Labrador for the casual tourist—getting there requires substantial effort, and the scenery is just as impressive on Newfoundland island. The southeast coast of Labrador is 335 mi/539 km northwest of St. John's.

If you do make the trip, you will see a thinly-settled coast, forbidding cliffs sheering straight down into the sea and just possibly an exceptional sight prevalent in parts of Labrador—polar bears. They live year-round in the northern parts of the region, though the subarctic area is seldom visited by tourists.

A much more accessible, and less dangerous, attraction is the Red Bay National Historic Site. It's located at the village of Red Bay on the Strait of Belle Isle, which separates Labrador and the island of Newfoundland. In 1565, the Spanish galleon San Juan sank off Saddle Island in Red Bay Harbour—the oldest known shipwreck north of the Caribbean. The ice-cold water has preserved this ship, and slowly, piece by piece, researchers and divers have been resurrecting this vessel.

Nearby, on Saddle Island, archaeologists have unearthed remnants of an entire whaling station that operated between 1550 and 1600. The Red Bay Visitor Centre exhibits the remains of the station and describes the work being carried on at the site by researchers from Memorial University. The site is Canada's earliest known industrial complex.

If you travel to Red Bay, you'll find few formal accommodations, but it's often possible to stay in the homes of villagers. This usually leads to a storytelling session around the kitchen table, which may prove to be the best part of your stay. This is the ideal spot to charter a tour boat and go whale-watching or bird-watching, or just to view icebergs. Most of Labrador's larger settlements are located inland and are either mining, hydroelectric or military centers.

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