HVGB is at the end of the road – or now that there are two ways to enter (from the west and south), it is now at the end of two roads. From this point one may still access the remaining labrador ferry an old hulk that crawls up to Nain and back, hitting more fishing communities and fjords along the way (this trip is in the works but only to go even further north – on to the Torngat mountains).
For those planning a trip to HVGB let this author save you several days, some gas, and a fair amount of funds by saying – don’t go here.
Once a US military base the village of HVGB is a dismal suburb stuck in the woods and it’s hard to know what to make of this place, why so many are here.
With the surrounding wilderness so close and the sandy banks of the river so promising, it is shocking how work-a-day the buildings are and how haphazard the layout of the community. Even the restaurant on the banks of the river did not seem to take advantage of the view. Most of the space was given over to gambling machines, darts, and TeeVees all in the darkness of a bar. Those joining in for supper also seemed to a a cross section of very inactive society – the heft of Americans being shared with those of the Americas and not just citizens of the United States. The village is a single strip with the airport seeming to straddle the entire community and it seems uncertain if this facility is coming or going, another victim of the end of the Cold War and the abject failure to come up with a collective state actor to replace our old SOVIET enemies.
I had been here before. In another life, another experience, explored the region of HVGB. I had, for reasons far too complex to explore in this space, driven a 1981 red CJ 7 named Nelly Bell with two young men.
I am not certain how we found our way into the woods, but I think we followed a road that seemed to leave the hamlet and go towards the river. This road petered out and became but a sandy trail which was OK since we were driving a Jeep. The trail became ever more rustic, certainly used only by similar machines as ours. Except that was all that was rustic. The area was one of those unclaimed wastelands that accompany suburbia. When I was growing up in Long Island, New York this was a several acre “bird sanctuary” owned, it was rumored by a wealthy bird lover now living in LA. The several acres to a small child seemed like a endless woods, but these woods were crisscrossed by paths, many made by dirtbikes as well as places the neighborhood dumped lawn trimmings, yard waste of all sorts, tyres, and all manner of evidence that Zoe and Heather had gotten into Daddy’s beer fridge out in the garage when he forgot to lock it Thursday night since they called him back to a second shift and went to party in the woods with everyone working on the homecoming planning committee. So too was the woods about HVGB. Except on a grander scale of craptasticness. Rusted out car bodies, roof shingles, buckets and bags of trash, it was even worse than the city dump we camped in where Trevor was almost eaten by a bear.
We had traveled so far and through such wild areas only to find that the road terminated not in some grand and poetic vista, but with a barricade and a pile of trash. This was humanity and the work of our clever monkey brains at its finest. A pile of beer cans in the woods where we retreated in order to get fucked up.
So it was with older eyes and a new journey that I approached HBGB. We had secured lodgings beforehand at a B&B – the only one that had a presence online and for which we saw an old advertisement on the ferry over from Newfoundland to Quebec. While the standards of lodging in Canada – unless you are paying through the nose – run from crappy truck stop to one star on Yelp, this author was very excited about the Larry Inn and the prospect that having a more mature lodging than camping at the side of the road and blundering around the woods, and a BnB no less, that I would get a new view on HVGB, one that was deeper that I was not returning to a shithole that had disappointed my younger self and much younger companions but was to explore new aspects of the place at the End of The Road, to discover perhaps an old house with a small walk to the dock where several canoes were parked, to do that whole standing at the end of the dock looking at the water as one sees in so many catalogs for Dockers, Land’s End, L.L. Bean, and sometimes J. C. Penny when they get the right photographer.
We searched for the B&B by asking a kid at the gas station. No good neighborhood starts with the directions, “take a left at the first light at the hospital.” We found not the place we had expected. It was a house, like the others, with all manner of equipment in the yard, like the others, and even more blown out crap in the back, just like most of the other houses. Out in the yard was a old sign, but added to this sign was the word “Happy” covering “Larry Inn” with Bed and Breakfast remaining. I assumed that Larry had run off, leaving the yard a mess in the meantime and his old lady, mad at him for taking off with a floozy, changed the name of the establishment. As a matter of fact, I created and acted out an entire story to amuse my fellow expeditionary companion.
The interior of the BnB matched the exterior. The only thing that separated the space from being just a private and disheveled home was the stickers saying that major credit cards were accepted, and a pay phone on the other side of the door. On the steps, and this was my favorite feature, were some hand scales as those from a century back, but the presense of the screwdriver told me this was a project, and that it remained there for the remainder of our visit spoke to the arc of this particular project and that this project would not be completed for a very, very long time.
Peggy, the older lady who was running the establishment was friendly but we could see that the second B that is, breakfast, was to be toast and cereal and not some clever omelet reflecting the complex palate of the northern climes and the advantage of fresh produce of an alpine variety gathered in the short but long days of Canadian summertide and eggs produced by chickens free ranging out in the yard. Nope. Nothing like that. Peggy told us about her place and that there were renovations going on since she had restarted the B&B after several years, having lost two family members – her husband, for which the place had formerly been named and her daughter who had left her to raise two grandchildren now in their late teens. It was sad tale and we did not delve further. I was privately mortified that my play act had identified the absence of any “man of the house” but was not the comical manner I had described. Peggy, a gray yet trim lady of perhaps late 60s with green-gray eyes and spoke in a quiet resigned tone decorated with flourishes of a Newfoundland accent, then went on to talk about how wonderful route 510 was and told us about how she used to have to wait for the ferry in order to return home, to Newfoundland to visit her mother. The ride was 36-48 hours in those days. When the road was being put in, there was a year where the two building teams had almost reached one another, but were to quit for the long winter and there would be a stretch of 60 kilometers unfinished. The communities came together and entreated them to “at least push the trees out of the way and we would figure out the rest.” There was a very different way of looking at the road, and the wilderness up here, at least for many of the people we came in to contact with. Peggy had driven down to see her mother and gotten stuck waiting for the Apollo to cross to Newfoundland. Rather than return she lived in her car for several days, even refusing the offer of a local to come stay at their house. We listened for a while to other stories, and to the frightening tales of travelers who had car trouble, since we were in a place where needing a new tyre could set one back six days wait let alone a real issue with one’s car. “The roads are hard here,” she told us. There is no one about to help and even if they help, they’ll never have the part you need.
We walked to the local bar to have a few rounds and some dinner in order to pass the time and plan our next stage. The next day we had our toast, packed up our belongings. And removed ourselves from Happy Valley Goose Bay since it is put a point on the map along a long and dusty road.
Editor’s note: You should really stay at Peggy’s place since she needs the money but all names have been changed since this is not a review or recommendation but a meditation on travel.