A point on Hwy 389, North of Manic Five
and south of the former town of Gagnon
Destination Labrador tourism site
What is said about the trip by highway from
Baie Comeau to Labrador at the Destination
Labrador web site is mostly accurate. The
Road Travel page on the route from Baie Comeau through to Goose Bay,
via highways 389 in Quebec and route 500 in Labrador contains very useful
information on road surfaces, travel times, distances between fueling
points and some accommodation information. However, I have always felt
that the line on the map illustrating this "highway" should be
explained in more detail so that those considering a trip via this route
can understand the uniqueness of this part of Canada and also understand
that this is very unlike a trip to Banff. I hope I am able to do that with
this web page.
A Cyclist takes the
Another great resource for information on
this highway and taking a trip along this route, is the cyclist view on
this highway, from Robert Matzinger of Austria. Robert and his wife
Veronika took this trip took this trip despite the warnings that many
people such as myself gave him on the hardships and unpleasantries one
would expect a cyclist could face in a black fly ridden land having only 3
populated areas in a distance of roughly 1000 KM -much of it including
poor quality gravel roads. People climb mountains despite the hardships,
and Robert and Veronika did the Trans-Labrador route by bicycle (and
without support vehicles).Here
is the web site he has put up documenting the trip, including some
A tourist takes in all of the maritime
provinces, including the Trans-Larbador highway. This is the trip that
many people have contemplated - a ring of travel through Quebec, Labrador,
by ferry to Newfoundland, by ferry to Nova Scotia, and winding back
through the rest of the Altantic provinces.
Wallace is from Northwest River and is very
knowledgable about Labrador and its history. His pages include views of
the Trans-Labrador highway route and many other parts of Labrador, some of
which are accessible only by boat or plane.
For information on Newfoundland tourism in
general, I suggest a visit to the
site (check the tourism links at the bottom). If you are planning
your trip in advance, you should phone the Newfoundland Tourism
department's 1-800-563-NFLD number to ask for the tourism booklet to be
sent to you in the mail. It is a useful resource for locating
I personally made the trip by road and
vehicle to Churchill Falls, via the Baie Comeau (Quebec) route in June of
1997. If you have any corrections or additions you'd like to see added to
this web page, please send me a note at
The Destination Labrador web page states:
This is a combination paved/gravel
road that is open year round and is in good driving condition.
This is not quite true. During most of the
year it is open, but there are storms in the winter that make travel on
this road impossible or very dangerous. Also in the spring there is often
a period where the frost is melting from the road and it is closed for a
few weeks until this drys out. At the Fermont end there is a sign that
flashes yellow lights if the road is closed, but if you are heading north
from Baie Comeau there is no such warning post (at least none that I
noticed). If you are travelling in June-October the road should be open
without question. There is a number you can call if you suspect the road
might be closed:Department of Works, Services and Transportation,
Happy Valley - Goose Bay, Tel: (709) 896-3185/2108 Fax: (709) 896-5513.
Alternately you may want to call this number for the Quebec highway
condition information, however it might require that you speak french:
Quebec Ministry of Transport, Baie Comeau, Quebec Phone: (418)
589-2065/5610 or Fax: (418) 589-6377
section and facilities information
1: Baie Comeau to Manic Five, 214 kilometres
accommodations at Energy Motel at Manic Five. No town here. Gas, snacks,
liquor, and Manic 5 T-shirts are about all that is available. Gas @ 85
cents/litre (June 1997)
larger image of Manic 5 dam:
This is a paved road in very good condition.
There are many hunters, fishers, and others who have camps on this
route. It is difficult to make good travel time along this section due
to the hills and many sharp turns in the road. Manic 5 main hydro dam is
impressive sight. Estimated travel time is 3 hours. SOS phone booths
appear roughly every 20-40 KMs.
2: Manic 5 to Gagnon (ghost town), 175 kilometres
restaurant and accommodations at Motel Relais Gabriel, which is just 100
kilometres past Manic Five and 75 kilometres before the ghost town of
Gagnon. No towns here, just food and gas. I didn't see a "motel"
of the usual standards, only some shacks. It seems this would be
suitable for anyone stranded or needing a rest, or perhaps hunters. Gas
@ 85 cents/litre (June 1997)
|This is a good
condition and highly maintained gravel road. You can make relatively
quick progress along this stretch. Keep to the right at the top of
hills. After Motel Relais Gabriel, the gravel begins to get a little
more rough and you'll likely find a few washboard sections. Estimated
travel time is 2.5 hours.
Section 3: Gagnon to Fire Lake, 89 kilometres
Gagnon is a
ghost town with nothing but old pavement left behind. Fire Lake is an
open pit mine that is no longer active. No gas, towns, stores or any
other facilities along this section.
for larger image of former Gagnon main street:
but very old pavement (over 12 years old), and getting more deteriorated
each year. There is patchwork done on this road but it doesn't prevent
one's suspension from getting hammered periodically. The pavement will
make you want to go about 80 - 100 KM/H, but this is not kind to your
vehicle when you encounter the rough spots. Look out for the fresh
looking patches - they tend to have the bumps. Estimated travel time is
1 hour, but I'd take it a little slower than that.
4: Fire Lake to Mount Wright, 63 kilometres
Going from one
inactive open pit mine to an active open pit mine (Mount Wright). No
gas, towns, stores or any other facilities along this section.
for a larger image of a twisty section of "the trail", where
the road goes around rather than through any water or rock outcrop:
Twisting gravel road made without dynamite or
much cost. Rumour has it that this was built by striking workers, and it
looks it. Any place there is water, the road goes around rather than
over it. Any place there is a rocky hill the road goes around rather
than through it. At one point they steal the gravel base of the railway
track to carve a wedge in that and call it a road. This section crosses
the railway tracks about 8 times and so you must stop to look out for an
iron ore train. Locals call it "the trail". Estimated travel
time is 1.5 hours.
5: Mount Wright to Labrador City/Wabush, 40 kilometres
kilometres from Mount Wright you will encounter Fermont - the mining
community associated with Mount Wright. Fermont is a small town with all
basic services, including gas, food, and a hotel. Gas @ 72 cents/litre
Click for larger image of Mount Wright mine
road in good condition. Estimated travel time is 30 minutes.
6: Labrador City to Churchill Falls, 238 kilometres
plenty of facilities available in Labrador City. There are no gas
stations, towns, stores or other facilities enroute to Churchill Falls.
Churchill Falls has some facilities but be aware that this is largely a
"company town", meaning there is very little in the way of
private enterprises. There is one hotel, one gas station, one grocery
store, one convenience store. There is a "B&B" as well,
which was for sale when I was there. The Black Spruce Lodge is a former
guest trailer complex and is much cheaper than the local hotel. In
Churchill Falls, Gas @ 75 cents/litre (June 1997)
Click for a larger
image of road between Labrador City and Churchill Falls, and the town of
well made gravel road, with plenty of straight and level sections. The
temptation will be there to drive at about 100 KM/H (summertime speeds,
that is), however this is something that can only be done when the
conditions are right. The gravel on this road is more coarse (contrasted
with that on the Quebec side just north of Manic 5), and for this reason
one must be careful not to surf on the gravel and off the road on turns.
The sections near Labrador City and Churchill Falls see more traffic and
are more prone to washboard conditions.
7: Churchill Falls to Happy Valley - Goose Bay, 288 kilometres
No gas stations, stores, towns, or other facilities along this route
until Goose Bay. Plenty of facilities available in Happy Valley - Goose
Bay. From here it is possible to take a ferry to the island of
Newfoundland (reservations in advance are recommended).
|This section I
have not travelled. It is said to be the worst section of this highway,
but it is currently being upgraded. In the spring it is sometimes better
to cross this stretch in a 4x4 due to washouts. Extra caution is
required if this section continues to lack road signs. If heading east,
take the fork to the right just after you pass the Churchill Falls
switchyard (where the local pavement ends). There is a sign there
indicating which way to take to Goose Bay, but (if you missed it) the
left fork brings one to a spillway control structure (Orma) which is
about 6 - 8 hours drive, and there is diddly squat on that route. I add
this warning due to the lack of road route signs. Speeds average 40 - 50
KM/H. Estimated travel time is 6 - 8 hours.
given are assuming travel by vehicle (car, van, truck, RV).
There are hazards to driving this road that
are possibly new to one's experience, even for those with many years
- Keep to the right at the top of a hill
on gravel roads.
- Without thinking about it, it is natural
to find yourself following the path of least resistance on a gravel
road, and that typically is a pair of smooth tire paths in the center of
the road. This is fine most of the time as you'll encounter very little
traffic. However there is a hazard on the top of a hill when you can't
see an oncoming car or truck doing the same thing. On the gravel road to
Esker in the late 70's there was a head on collision caused by this
phenomenon, which was fatal to all. On the highway around Churchill
Falls you'll see signs posted "Danger - Hill / Keep Right" -
it is very good advice.
- Slow down on turns while driving on
- This is especially important to remember
on the Labrador City - Churchill Falls route. The straight and level
sections will entice one to go a little faster, but you've got to
remember to slow down for any hint of a turn or you can find yourself
riding atop the gravel like hundreds of marbles under your tires and
then you could be off the road. This is even worse with rear wheel drive
vehicles, such as trucks and older model cars which are prone to
fishtailing if there is also some washboard bumps along the turns. On my
trip we passed an older model Dodge car that had left the road on a very
slight turn immediately following a long straight stretch. The telltale
of what had happened was that his rear end was further off the shoulder
than the front end - which likely indicates a combination fishtail and
sliding on gravel loss of control. Just remember that you can't lean
into those turns like you can on pavement.
- Watch out for Porcupines
- I saw about 20 porcupines on the highway
on my return trip in the evening. They come to the roadside because of
the types of vegetation growing around disturbed areas. They are slow
movers and are not afraid of people or vehicles, however striking one
could lead to loss of control (and is not nice to porcupines).
Fortunately the people in this part of Canada
are very good about being concerned for other travellers on this road. It
is sometimes difficult to stop and take a photograph of something along
the highway without someone stopping to ask if everything is OK.
On my trip I encountered only two vehicles on
the route from Labrador City to Churchill Falls, which was the thinnest
for traffic activity. There are many transport trucks using this route and
if anything goes wrong that is most likely who you are going to encounter
first. But the first thing on a trucker's mind is making good time and so
you'll actually have to flag them down to get attention. There are many
private cabins along all of these roads and there is a high likelihood of
encountering fishing types and others getting away from the telephone and
While the people are good, the access to
services is not as good due to the vast distances between towns having
hospitals, garages, airports, etc., and the lack of fully equipped service
stations between towns en route. If for some reason you need a tow, it
could possibly take over 200 kilometers to reach a garage. It might also
take more time to get parts than what you are used to in the south.
You should be aware that not all dots on the
map having a place-name actually have anyone or anything there. Some
places are ghost towns, some are simply major infrastructures such as
railway junctions, mining sites, or hydro power structures. The main towns
in Labrador along this route are Labrador City/Wabush, Churchill Falls and
Goose Bay/Happy Valley. In Quebec, along the 389 the only towns are
Fermont and Baie Comeau, which are basically the start and end points of
I don't know a good answer for this question,
but people have been considering this trip (somewhat naively, I often
believe) ever since this route appeared in the Newfoundland tourism guide.
This is partly why I have felt compelled into making this page - to settle
the questions and various bits of poor information that have made their
way into the previous Trans-Labrador Highway page at the rec.travel
My personal connection to this part of the
world was growing up in Churchill Falls from the age of 10 to the end of
high school. Labrador generally draws two types of people: those seeking
hunting and fishing, or other outdoor sports, and those wanting to get
away from the buzz of civilization.
The main draw backs of this region are two
very powerful and potentially overwhelming forces of nature: cold winters,
and summers of continuous and unrelenting black flies. In the north, black
flies do not go away in June, they arrive in June and stay up to late
September, when snow is just around the corner again. The huge areas of
bog and ponds together with little pollution ensure that the black flies
breed in high quantities in Labrador. I missed the black flies by arriving
in the brief period of two weeks (early June) after the snow is mostly
gone and the flies are yet to hatch. The highs in early June average 10 to
14 - the lows near 1 to 4 Celsius. Because of the black flies, I liked the
winters in Labrador better than the summers. Don't underestimate the fly
factor - take a look at Robert Matzinger's fly
bites and description of what they thought of it. And these people were
prepared with the best fly repellent!
berry plants (berries from previous fall)
Jay eats left over scrambled (chicken) eggs
growing on large rock
dike near Churchill Falls (early June)
brother sits on an "erratic"
River (click to see "Elmo") by Brinco bridge and just above
section of the Churchill river, just above the
falls,was once the
most savage rapids on
Earth (click for enlargement)
the bottom of the Churchill river in same area.
This section would
have normally been under 30-40
feet of water and in a turbid
condition that no fish
could possibly survive (click to see
porcipine is starting to tire of the attention.
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