A fine standard to follow

Michael
Michael Johansen
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Blind Hill is no more.

Blind Hill was not a town. It played little or no part in the rich history of Labrador. It was not an old community resettled for economic or administrative purposes. It was not a significant place name of any kind. It was just a hill. Actually, to be more accurate, it wasn't even that: it was just one spot on one slope of a river valley. This spot, which had its very own sign, won't be missed - and for very good reason.

Blind Hill was dangerous, a tight corner on Route 520 that twisted down from the west into the Goose River flood plain. The sign was a warning for people driving from Sheshatshiu and North West River. When speeding up the curve they could not always see if any cars were approaching the highway from two side roads hidden by the crest of the hill, or, sometimes, if there was another vehicle about to come down the road straight at them. Bad luck, bad weather conditions, bad road ice and a fair amount of driver carelessness made Blind Hill the scene of more than one bad car crash.

Blind Hill is no more.

Blind Hill was not a town. It played little or no part in the rich history of Labrador. It was not an old community resettled for economic or administrative purposes. It was not a significant place name of any kind. It was just a hill. Actually, to be more accurate, it wasn't even that: it was just one spot on one slope of a river valley. This spot, which had its very own sign, won't be missed - and for very good reason.

Blind Hill was dangerous, a tight corner on Route 520 that twisted down from the west into the Goose River flood plain. The sign was a warning for people driving from Sheshatshiu and North West River. When speeding up the curve they could not always see if any cars were approaching the highway from two side roads hidden by the crest of the hill, or, sometimes, if there was another vehicle about to come down the road straight at them. Bad luck, bad weather conditions, bad road ice and a fair amount of driver carelessness made Blind Hill the scene of more than one bad car crash.

But now the sign is gone, no longer needed. Last summer, the provincial government spent about $700,000 upgrading the spot, sending workers to clear a new route through the trees to straighten both the curve and the grade. They laid a firm foundation of broken stone, solid enough to carry heavy traffic between the hilltop and the bottom land and they redesigned the hill and the intersection so now everybody can see everybody else.

To finish, they repaved the whole new stretch and now there are hardly any bumps. The double yellow lines are noticeably wavy at times, but otherwise the project looks to be a success. It was much needed and quickly executed. It was a job well done and one the government will, no doubt, live to regret.

Until Blind Hill, the standard for repairs on Route 520 - which is used by hundreds of people a day, who commute from both directions back and forth between Happy Valley-Goose Bay, North West River and Sheshatshiu, or who carry heavy loads of gravel, garbage, trade goods and logs - has usually been set at a much lower level.

Often, the simple fact that repairs are necessary has not been sufficient reason to undertake them. Something else was needed, like an election. As if by a miracle, fresh pavement appeared almost every time a provincial writ was dropped. No matter which party happened to be in power, the thinking was likely the same: fewer bumps equals more votes.

Other reasons to pave the road included visits by high dignitaries. For example, when Queen Elizabeth II last came to Labrador, she had plans to meet with the Innu in Sheshatshiu and to dedicate the opening of the beautiful new Labrador Interpretation Centre in North West River.

The only way she could get to these events from the Goose Bay Airport, aside from taking a speedboat around Lake Melville or flying by helicopter, was by driving down Route 520. The entire highway was quickly made perfectly smooth for Her Majesty's motorcade - as was only proper.

Unfortunately, those kinds of repairs always turn out to be temporary fixes. They mask the heaving earth beneath the road, instead of settling it down. They hide the bumps instead of removing them, so the bumps emerge again in the first springtime thaw as the ice clears from the roadway. Regular drivers, who've known the same bumps for years, curse as their cars pass over them and bounce on their way. The election pavement usually only lasts for about as long as a political promise and what was laid for the Queen was only laid, if you think about it, for one day's use.

As long as people only saw poor repair work done on the highway, that was all they came to expect. Now the bar is sitting much higher. The government has shown it can do a proper job when it sets its mind to it, so now drivers will be less likely to accept the usual second-rate work.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador

Organizations: Labrador Interpretation Centre, Goose Bay Airport

Geographic location: Labrador, Sheshatshiu, North West River Goose River Happy Valley Goose Bay Lake Melville

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