The last few days have been pretty much devoid of people, if you don’t count the hundred or so on board the ship. Today we will visit Nain, the most northern, permanent settlement in Newfoundland and Labrador. Established in 1771 by Jans Haven and his missionary brothers, it is now a predominately Inuit community of just over a thousand people including some who were relocated from Hebron when that Mission was closed by the government in 1959.
In the early years, Nain was a trading post, a stopping off place for hunters, trappers and fishermen who used traditional seasonal migration routes. Moravian missionaries ran the store until it was taken over by the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Nain is located 1573 miles from Ottawa and 370 k by air from Happy Valley. The sea is the highway. There is no road out or in.
Today, we slip through Strathcona Run, a fifty mile journey from the ocean, and weigh anchor on the north side of Unity Bay just off Nain. The climate here is very close to polar due to the impact of the Labrador current. This means lots of rain and lots of snow. Today, low lying clouds cloak the tops of the hills and creep through the valleys. I dig for my rain gear.
In 2005, as the result of the ratification of the Inuit Lands Claims Agreement Act, Nain became the administrative capital of the autonomous region of Nunatsiavut. This Act, gave limited self-rule to Northern Labrador and northeastern Quebec and granted land title and aboriginal rights. The Labrador Inuit Settlement deals with an area of 72,000 square kilometers. The Inuit do not own this vast expanse but they have special rights related to traditional land use. They do own 15,000 square kilometers.
I walk the village. It is small. Houses are of wood. Lots of things sit around cluttering the landscape but perhaps they are waiting for their turn to be useful again. One enterprising individual has used tail pipes to fence their yard. Another has the largest collection of license plates one can imagine for a town with no major roads.
I leave a happy band of puppies that have been following me and enter the church. It is immaculate, clearly cared for through the centuries by loving hands. I sit on the white wooden pews and think of all that has gone on here. I’m oh so tempted to ring the church bell as I leave.
The drizzle continues as our band of modern day want-to-be explorers heads for the school gym to compete with some of the residents in an indoor game of soccer. I wander past the post office and other government offices. To the newcomers eye, fishing and government services appear to be the main occupations.
I wish there was time to follow the paths and learn more about the vegetation. The landscape is rugged but at the same time draws me in. The tamarack outside the school are golden, and saturated by the rain.
As the game is winding down, I start out in a heavy downpour so I have time to circle past the cemetery on the way back to the shore. Old tombstones similar to those at Hebron dot the fenced graveyard. In the newer part, graves are cared for and decorated with colourful plastic bouquets. Gone but not forgotten. As I read the inscriptions, it is clear that life can be hard here and that too many have been lost too soon.
Back on board my 5:00 am wakeup to see the non-existent sunrise is beginning to wear on me. I decide to warm up with a shower and a change of clothes before supper. Some time later, after recovering from the fatal error of lying down on my bunk, I make my way to the dining room.
Before folks begin to disperse after a good meal, our expedition leader tells us that it looks like a hurricane is working its way towards Labrador. NOt great news as we head out to the open sea. Before bed, I put the clock ahead an hour and hang the rain gear so it will be ready for Hopedale in the morning. Then I pull the covers up high and will myself to fall asleep before we start to rock and roll.
( References: The Story of Labrador by Bill Romkey; Wikipedia;Thecanadianencyclopedia .ca)