'T' is for Trans Labrador Highway

Written by Dr. Ron Sparkes, former Labrador Associate, Labrador Institute


Once a mere dream, and on occasion referenced as “The Freedom Road,” the Trans Labrador Highway (TLH) is now all but complete, connecting western, central and southern Labrador. Should a northern route emerge, the bridge to North West River provides a critical first link in that direction.

The east-to-west portion began as a meager vehicular track, following the path of least resistance. Often this meant traversing the levelled tops of eskers, with resulting twists and turns so pronounced that weary drivers would claim they could actually see their own tail lights in front of them! Dust, mud, rocks, ice quarries, and rickety bridges were the traveller’s companions. The terrain’s natural phenomena kept drivers alert and were enough to test the mettle (and metal) of the best undercarriages and suspension systems the automotive industry could offer.

The planning, construction, and routing of the southern portion of the highway presented both political and engineering challenges. Connecting routes from the main highway to individual towns required additional funding, and the rock cuts along the initial route between Red Bay and Lodge Bay required later modification because of drifting snow. Both sections of the highway have undergone numerous phases of development and upgrading, from tote road status through to a now nearly fully-paved highway.

There are as many gripping tales of travel experiences along the TLH as there are twists and turns on its 1149 km route from west to east and on to the south. The highway enables far more personal travel for visits and shopping and permits the regular movement of goods to and from the region by transport truck. Services along the routes are limited to points where the highway passes through communities; thus there are several stretches of the route where travellers must prepare to drive between 240 km and 400 km where the sole washroom option is “au naturel” – a circumstance wherein mosquitos, stouts, and/or weather conditions can dominate the experience!

Lest those travelling the highway presume they are among the first to pass over or engage with the land along the route, the First Peoples of the region lived on and traversed the land and its waters long before surveyors and engineers plotted a vehicular routing. The completion of both major portions of the highway presents opportunities for Indigenous organizations, archaeologists, historians, governments, tourism development organizations, and others to bring the history of the region alive by accessing, documenting, and interpreting the living history and attractions of this wondrous Big Land.

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