Thursday, 29 August 2013

Labrador City, Ugly To The Bone

Have you ever been in a place that was so nasty, so ugly, so unwelcoming that you got up early in the morning just so you could get out of town sooner? If not, come to Labrador City. This has to be the ugliest place I have ever been. It is definitely not a tourist town. While the people may be nice one-on-one, as a group their main message seems to be that they want to get out of town as quickly as possible, and so should I.

As you arrive in Labrador City, you get a sense of the town by its main architectural feature, the mine. Built in the 1960's by the Iron Ore Company, whose most famous president was Brian Mulroney who later went on to become Prime Minister of Canada, the town takes the industrial architecture of the mine and stamps it on virtually every other building in town. Tin and concrete warehouse looking structures house everything here, from the schools to the hospitals and even the shopping malls. I'll bet you Brian never actually lived here.

The housing is equally stamped out in square, small, yardless utilitarianism although some credit must go to those few locals who have typical family homes with yards. At least they try, or rather some of them do. The rest have given up to the ever present dust in summer and snow in winter.The predominant colours are grey and greyer. The roads have all the planning of a battlefield and the idea that someone in a wheelchair might one day come to town seems to have completely escaped the good burghers of this dirt-encrusted encampment.

On arriving at the hotel here, aptly named "The Two Seasons", for there is nothing in this town between summer and winter except an afternoon where the wind blows the leaves from the trees at the autumnal end and another afternoon where the trees leap to leaf again in the spring, one parades past a barrage of posters and pages on the wall with the litany of hotel rules, the most oft repeated being the demand that guests "CLEAN YOUR FOOTWARE AT THE FRONT DOOR". Dirt from the mine seems to be the key issue here, not guest comfort or service.

The mall here is equally bad, a tin-clad box enlivened only by the signs from Wal-Mart and Canadian Tire, the cornerstone tenants; it hosts the Tim Hortons too, along with the only place in town serving draught beer, all with doors that open only on the interior of the mall. The ramp is not unreasonable and there is handicapped parking, I will give them that. When you get to the entry doors, aside from the lack of a wheelchair opening button, the doors are all 32 inches wide, making entry with a 30 inch wheelchair a knuckle-scraping squeeze. And there are two sets of doors, the better to keep out the dust and snow, along with several yards of "mud mat", deeply set rubber mats that make progress all the more difficult.

Buying gasoline here is well nigh impossible. The sign on the station says "Full Service" and prices are at a premium. However full service here does not really mean full service. It means they pump your gas buy you must get out of your vehicle and go inside the store to pay if you have a credit card. If you have cash, the attendant will carry it inside for you. The problem with going inside is once again the ever present fear of snow and dirt; all the gas stations have 8" curbs and no wheelchair access. So I cannot get inside to pay, unless I get cash from the nearby ATM, the one inside the mall with the impossibly narrow doors.

This morning I plan on taking a different approach. I am going to let the attendant fill my gas tank, then present my credit card. When he says "You have to come in to pay", I will show him my wheelchair and ask him what he might suggest. Most likely, given that even those with the weakest intelligence can work in the mine here rather that as an attendant at the gas station, he will look at me blankly and simply say, once again, "you have to go inside". It will be interesting to watch.


  1. PS. I wrote this blog entry fast so I could get out of town faster. Please forgive any typographical errors. I will fix them tomorrow in the second ugliest town so far, Baie-Comeau. Brian Mulroney was born there. Is this a trend?

  2. Definitely looks a bit bleak from the Google Earth pictures of it. Did you ever get to see the Mistaken Point area in Newfoundland? Near St. John's I think. In the rocks there are the remains of the earliest multicellular life, some 600 million years old. I studied similar in England during my PhD. Carol

  3. LOL. I sure won't go there.

  4. You seem like such a great person. And a wordsmith too! My biggest regret is that we didn't cross paths. Our desolate little community is better for your visit, even if for only the brief time you graced us with your enlightened presence.

    Happy travels.

    Labrador City Xox