New tourists, meet old Labrador

Jonathan Russell
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Businesses along the Labrador coast are adapting to newfangled tourism demands to give visitors the experience of the distant past.

SmartLabrador's Coastal Heritage Experience, having begun in the fall with the collection of oral histories of the area, is moving into its next phase to transport tourists to 18th-century life.

Valerie OBrien, owner of Labrador Culture craft shop in West St. Modeste, demonstrates rug-hooking. Labrador Culture along with businesses Northern Light Inn, Seaview Restaurant, Labrador Adventures, Oceanview Resort and Whalers Restaurant has become pa

Businesses along the Labrador coast are adapting to newfangled tourism demands to give visitors the experience of the distant past.

SmartLabrador's Coastal Heritage Experience, having begun in the fall with the collection of oral histories of the area, is moving into its next phase to transport tourists to 18th-century life.

Six businesses from L'Anse au Clair to Red Bay are onboard: Northern Light Inn, Seaview Restaurant, Labrador Adventures, Oceanview Resort, Labrador Culture and Whaler's Restaurant.

Guests will learn about the life of a midwife who cared for more than 500 babies in her time, and how to cook Labrador's wild berries.

"Tourism is changing, and what we've been told is that tourists no longer want to just look and see, they want to experience and learn something, they want to understand and learn about how you lived, your everyday lifestyle - and experience it, not just see it in a museum," said Shirley Letto, part owner of L'Anse au Clair's Northern Light Inn.

The hotel decided to offer tourists a look at L'Anse au Clair which has almost faded, highlighting historic sites and buildings with an evening walking tour through the community, home to less than 300 souls.

The tour, which has a tentative start date of July 17 and will run through July and August on Mondays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., begins with the history of the Northern Light Inn.

Then it's on to the Gateway to Labrador Visitor Centre, a restored early 20th-century church styled in Gothic Revival architecture.

The trot will take visitors along Doctor's Path, a meandering path that has (mostly) survived since the late 1800s, when it was used by physician Dr. Marcoux, who built a house which still stands.

Down along the lower path, a log house facing the beach was inhabited by a Ranger who, before Confederation, protected the boarder from Hudson Bay smugglers.

The tour concludes with a history of how the community was first settled and a living demonstration of gardening the infertile land by a L'Anse au Clair man who will show how food was grown in the past.

Following the tour, visitors will relax with tea and tea buns served in Aunt Jessie's old-fashioned kitchen.

"We get a lot of business in the evening time and there's very little for people to do, and we thought we would put together a walking tour, to go through the community and explain the different things about the community, and then we end up with a mug-up in the kitchen," Letto said.

Tourists will gain a whole other experience farther down the line (and along the way) in West St. Modeste.

Since July 2, Valerie O'Brien, owner of Labrador Culture craft shop, has been offering an evening of crafts and old remedies - such as using kerosene in molasses candy to remedy a sore throat, for instance - running Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7-8 p.m. through July and August.

O'Brien weaves old-fashioned mats using T-shirt cotton and a frame, instead of the traditional, 100-year-old mat frame on display.

Although she does many crafts, after a demonstration O'Brien will offer visitors a chance to rug hook. The finished product used to be used to keep people's feet warm on the wood floor during cold days.

"Anything that I do, I put something of Labrador into it, anything that is connected with Labrador," O'Brien said.

"Over time, if you don't (preserve Labrador culture), it will be lost. And as I pass it down, I'm hoping that some other young person will pick it up and say, 'Oh my, we need to keep this alive, and keep it going.'"

Organizations: Northern Light Inn, Doctor's

Geographic location: Labrador, L'Anse, Red Bay Seaview Hudson Bay West St. Modeste

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