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CIVILISATION

Well, now I'm completely confused. I've come to a T-junction where I would have expected to turn to the right towards all of the lights that I saw from the top of the plateau. But not so. I need to turn to the left and go that way. Fermont is still about 17 kilometres away, so it seems.

This massive array of lights must be Mont Wright, the huge iron ore mine up here and which is the terminus of the railway line that I have been following for the last I don't know how long. It's called Mont Wright by the way but it is no longer a mountain but a hole in the ground, so much iron ore having been extracted from here over the last 40 years or so. In fact the mining operations have branched off into a couple of nearby mountains.


There's some good and bad news here too. The bad news is that it's blowing an absolute hurricane and blizzard of snow. This could be bad news for tomorrow if it carries on like this. The good news though is that we seem to have a decent metalled road and I can put my foot down, the first time for about 350 kilometres. The temperature outside by the way is -1°C.


And "civilisation" is certainly approaching me. I've just seen a sign for that organisation whose name shall never be mentioned in anything that I ever write and which was said by a British judge to endanger the health of their workers and customers by publishing misleading advertising, to exploit children, to be culpably responsible in the infliction of unnecessary cruelty to animals, to be antipathetic to unionisation, and to pay their workers low wages.

And while I am reflecting on all of this, I come to a turn-off which leads to the town of Fermont. It's at kilometre 564, if I remember correctly. I forgot to make a note of it.

There is one hotel in Fermont as far as I am aware. And so after being turned away from a couple of bed-and-breakfast establishments (no room at the inns, even in mid-October. That is ominous for mid-summer, isn't it?) I duly presented myself at the hotel check-in.


And that was Fermont! I will sleep in the car in a snowstorm before I will pay $114 plus taxes to sleep in a hotel. Do they think that I am made of money? I'm going to head to Labrador City and see if I can't find a cheap motel there. It's only 20-odd kilometres away.

But I did notice that there's a Shell petrol station opposite the hotel and fuel here is only $1:15 too. So if you didn't listen to what I said at the beginning and you have arrived in Fermont on fumes then at least you can get something organised here.


The border between Québec and Labrador is at about 568 kilometres, and this is the end of Highway 389. I'm now on Highway 500, the Trans-Labrador Highway proper. Labrador City is 17 kilometres away and so that makes a drive today of at least 585 kilometres. It's a good paved road now for sure but I have driven as part of today's journey probably 350 kilometres on some of the worst roads that I have ever seen. I can be pleased with the day's travel although I'm still disappointed that I ran out of light, entirely my own fault of course, about an hour from the end of my drive.


So that was Labrador City. I have very bad memories of that place. Nothing went right for me while I was there.

The first disappointment was to do with the living accommodation of the locals. What we had were all kinds of relatively-smart bungalows and the like, with normal cars and pick-ups in the driveways. Here I was, expecting log cabins with dog sleds and the like parked outside. All my childhood illusions disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Many of the cars and trucks had red flags fastened to them on thin poles - these towering a couple of metres above the roof of the vehicle. On the basis that the most stupid question is the one that is never asked, I went and enquired. I as told that these vehicles with flags belong mainly to the mine workers. The roads around the mine are all dips and crests and so it isn't easy to tell if there is another vehicle around until it's too late. The flags have to be a minimum of 4 feet above the roof level and are compulsory for vehicles driving around the mine. They are not an aid or visual signal if your vehicle becomes buried in a snowdrift, which was my initial thought.

But one thing I noticed in Labrador City was that how to deal with the issue with the cold water taps freezing in winter. That is to leave the cold water running until the end of April. Now imagine doing that in Europe.


The name of Labrador City had no special relevance but maybe I ought to point out that it is perhaps some kind of statement of intent by the Government of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The original description of the area of Labrador when it was ceded to Newfoundland was "the Coasts of Labrador" and the boundary with Québec was never defined. It didn't matter in those days as there was no-one up here to express any opinion.

When it became clear that the interior of Canada was of economic importance, a committee sat down to consider the boundary. Of course like most committees, no decision was ever reached. The matter was referred to London (England, not Ontario) as the colonial power in the 1920s and the verdict was that it should be the watershed between the south-flowing rivers and the west-flowing rivers.

Consequently this area was allocated to Labrador by a Treaty of 1927, but Québec, certainly up until quite recently and maybe still today for all I know, points out at every available opportunity that it
"never ratified the Treaty of 1927"
in a magnificent gesture of sabre-rattling. Therefore one can easily picture the delight of the Newfoundland and Labrador Government in provoking the Québecois when it was necessary to find a name for the settlement that grew up here.


motel labrador city canada october octobre 2010

And after an aimless driving around for an hour or so looking for one of four motels and hotels that I was assured existed in Labrador City, this is where I stayed the night. The only accommodation in the place, so I was assured by the young guy in the petrol station. Maybe he was on commission. I dunno.

And having sworn blind that I would rather sleep in the car than pay $114 plus taxes or whatever it was at Fermont, I ended up having to pay $128 plus sales tax in this place. Talk is cheap of course, and so am I, but the accommodation in Labrador City certainly isn't. It would have been cheaper to have spent the night with a lady of ill repute, and I shall have to bear that in mind if I ever come here again.

There was a classy four-star restaurant in the place too, and I reckoned that I could have just about managed to afford one steamed potato so it was a case of nipping down the road to the pizza parlour and smuggling a steaming hot vegetarian minus cheese into my hotel room. That wasn't cheap either but then again when you think of the cost of shipping ingredients up to this remote spot and then the wages that you have to pay to encourage your staff to hang around and not desert to Montreal, then it's not a surprise.


Just in case you are wondering, which I am sure you are not, after paying a month's wages to stay here in this hotel, breakfast was not included in the price. So ... back to the bagels. There's always a supply of them in the car.

And to add insult to injury the Scotia Bank has swallowed my one remaining cashcard. This journey is going to be more expensive than I imagined.


Learning on the lessons of yesterday, I was up with the cock. But enough of my personal habits, I made a really-early start and prepared myself for a long journey, because today will be long and there isn't really much option about this. First job was to go back to Fermont and take some photos of what I didn't see yesterday. Although I said that I was going back into the mountains to take some photos, that was before I realised just how much further I had to travel to reach Labrador City and so it was not going to be possible to do that.


Glancing over my shoulder as I left Labrador City for Fermont, I noticed a sign advertising "quality affordable accommodation". Now where the heck was all of that when I needed it last night?

The highway between Fermont and Labrador City is known as the Nichols-Adams Highway. These people were medallists for Canada at the 2006 Olympics. I believe that Nichols won the gold medal in the light-heavyweight Polar-Bear wrestling with a narrow victory over a 320-kg monster and that Adams came third in the 50-kilomtre open team husky-racing. The huskies of course came first and second.


The first thing that you notice on arriving at Fermont is the absolutely enormous dumper truck parked as an exhibit at the side of the road. I'm 175cms and I didn't come up to the centre hub of one of the wheels. You may remember me commenting last night on the huge tyres that I saw lying around - well now I know where they came from.

The second thing that you notice is the central - well, building I suppose. It's like a huge wall shaped like a boomerang, probably 10 or so storeys high (I didn't count them) with the apex right in front of where you arrive and stretching for quite some distance. In this wall is almost everything relating to the town - shops, the hotel, loads of apartments, that kind of thing. The petrol station is off to the left and I took advantage of the reasonably-priced (well, for up here, anyway) fuel to load up the car. Up here in the wilderness, you can't ever have too much fuel on board.


From here it was back up to the main highway - about 3 kilometres away - and then down the road back to Labrador City. At about kilometre 568 you cross into Labrador and the road becomes Highway 500. The kilometre markers are now 5 kilometres apart rather than every 2 kilometres and so this is now all going to be confusing. I really ought to have brought a secretary with me to keep notes - rather like the early football commentaries on the BBC where the listeners were furnished with maps of the pitch in their "Radio Times" and while the commentator was talking about the match there would be someone in the background calling "A3" or "C5" - that sort of thing. Where is Percy Penguin just when you need her?

At about kilometre 7.5 we rediscover the railway. I'm not certain whether this is an extension of the Cartier Railway from Mont Wright or an extension of the Québec and North Shore Railway that runs to Schefferville via Labrador City. It might even be this very new Bloom Lake railway extension, this new line that they have built following the discovery of iron ore up there. But anyway, whatever it is, it is a railway.


Now, you have noted that have mentioned that I took a few photos in Labrador City and Fermont earlier this morning. And you are probably wondering where they are. The truth is that when I left my hotel it was quite dark, as well as being wet and miserable, and so what I did was to switch the imaging over to ISO2500 to make the most of whatever light that there was as dawn was breaking. And then, Brain of Britain that I am, I forgot to switch it back to ISO400 as the day became lighter. Consequently all of today's images up to here are overexposed beyond redemption.

I told you that I was having a bad day in Labrador City, didn't I?



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