After a short stop on Mary’s Harbour to provision and get water and fuel we were on to Cartwright and then further to Hopedale. We were determined to get as far north as possible as quickly as possible as the nature is more rugged and the chance of seeing a polar bear is significantly higher with every latitudinal degree. The further north we went the more rugged the nature indeed became but our progress was slow with little wind, too much motor sailing and a daily push against the Labrador current.
Hopedale is a community of about 700 people and it felt good to us immediately. It is a lovely harbour town with colourful houses grouped at various levels on the hills around the bay. There we experienced a new culture, a lively village with lots of young people, a buzz of activity, an interested welcome and friendly people. On our first evening we took a twilight walk and were greeted by many quads buzzing by (best mode of travel in summer), by people working around and outside their houses. Emma saw her first huskies and we chatted to the dog sled driver who runs two teams at the moment. These are gorgeous dogs with penetrating eyes, but we were carefully warned not to stray too close to them.
Northern Labrador has many interesting geological wonders and this brings geologists and students doing field work, very cool stuff. These geologist also need a great deal of data and we went on a short trip to the local Labradorite quarry with Etienne, who is using drones (among other things) to map the geological lay of the land in the region and working with the geologists to determine the best way to gather, store and access the data he collects. Labradorite is a wonderful stone that when dry is a boring gray but when wet or polished reveals glowing blue flashing secrets embedded in the stone. Gorgeous stuff.
Hopedale is the legislative capital of the Nunasiavut Inuit Nation who have been self-governing in the region since 2005. We wandered over the the legislative building across the harbour to get some information about our next stops up the coast. Upon arrival we were given an explanation of the assembly and a tour of the stunning legislative building centred around a huge wooden dome with floors paved in Labradorite stone. We were invited by the minister of Education and Economic Development to listen in on the open house, a quarterly meeting where community members are given information and give feedback on issues that they face. The minister (and her staff) had prepared a meal for the participants and we were invited to partake. You could tell that she was quite chuffed when one of the elders complimented her delicious fish’n’brewis (mixture of cod fish and hard tack, very yummy).
Most places dread the winter, fight it off and shut it out, barely enduring the dark months until spring.
Here the winter is embraced.
There are no roads in Hopedale so in the summer the community is more shut off and limited and full of bugs (really, there are an amazing amount of bugs). In the winter the waterways ice over and become perfect natural flat roads that enable extensive and rapid travel, there are no bugs and travel to cottages, to Goose Bay etc. for provisions is easy and hunting and trapping grounds become more accessible. Plus everything is covered in a clean blanket of bright white snow. It must be magical (and cold).
Greg and Ruth Flowers live on the hill above the wharf and we spent an evening at their lovely house overlooking the harbour. They are a wonderful, welcoming couple who shrug off experiences that we find fascinating (traveling 10 hours through the snow on snowmobile to Goose Bay, heading out in a blizzard to help lost hunters etc.). They are active community members and Greg had just finished an 8 year stint in the Nunasiavut government. We each marvelled at the details of each others’ incredibly different lifestyles and experiences but shared strong similarities in life philosophy – and we laughed a lot. At the end of the evening we left feeling as if we had been friends for years. They have offered to share the fun of winter in Labrador with us so we plan to come back to Hopedale, but not with our sailboat in the winter.