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  • July 31, 1997

    Peter Brewster writes:

    PETER BREWSTER   ABOARD THE QUEBEC AND LABRADOR NORTH SHORE RAILWAY (somewhere south of Labrador City): This is clearly going to be much more than a trip down memory lane.

     Fourteen years ago, Michael and Geoffrey Peake, Peter Scott and I travelled this train from Sept Isles to Schefferville through the rain of a cool July night.

     Today, in bright sunshine, we are here again, now with David, yet another Peake brother, and teacher Tom Stevens as we head for the George River and a 17-day canoe trip to Ungava Bay ... On line .

     Shovelling our mountains of gear out of the truck at Sept, Isles station, the large waterproof boxes that hold this laptop, a satellite phone, digital camera, solar panels, battery pack and charging meter stick out like sore thumbs.

     Last time we were here, we didn't even have a radio.

     I suspect that Mina Hubbard, the woman whose footsteps still echo in books and articles about Labrador and northern Quebec, would have found even the 1983 expedition far too puzzling in its technicalities.

     Would she have seen the irony in today's venture - a techno-trip across the rugged tract of country her husband Leonidas died trying to explore in 1903?

     After the tragedy, Mina enlisted the help of George Elson, who had helped guide her husband's ill-fated adventure, to race Dillon Wallace, another member of the group, to Ungava and prevent him from claiming the glory of travelling the George to its meeting with the ocean.

     You will meet that storied trio often as we report on our journey, but today the sights and sounds of the QNS&L train as it rattles alongside the Moisie River up and away from the North Shore of the St. Lawrence are our immediate distraction.

     The cast of characters on board are likely normal for the 10-hour, 680 km. run: kids swinging from overhead luggage racks built industrial-strength to carry the essential clutter of the north; two lean, pony-tailed Quebecers with the taciturn demeanor of experienced northerners...calmly ignoring the milling kids and Defense de Fume signs while pouring beer into Styrofoam cups.

     Definitely not normal travellers are a delightful couple heading to Labrador City. Cecil and Eileen Dumaresque are very much a part of the new Labrador, and desperately proud of it. They grew up east of here, on the north shore in the tiny fishing communities that are a part of the mainland but fiercely integral to what binds Newfoundland and Labrador.

     When the fish-plant work dried up at Lac Ste. Claire with the decline of the cod, they didn't wait around to face the economic uncertainty and soul-sapping dole. As others in their community of 200 laughed at them for leaving, they re-located themselves and two kids to booming Labrador City, a vital town on the recent road that runs to Goose Bay and future staging point for the economic explosion on the Labrador coast that is Voisey Bay.

     Two years later, they both have steady, well-paying jobs, he with a moving and garbage company, she with Pizza Delight. They move into a new duplex they bought next week. The kids got Christmas presents this year. The gamble has paid off. Cecil talks glowingly of the steady work, the chances for the children. Eileen beams at the 'new' man before her, down from 290 pounds to a hard 190 and eager for life.

     Sure, it's bitterly cold in central Labrador, and old friends and family are in St. Anthony, Lac Ste. Claire and Goose Bay. But it's the new Labrador. What he misses most is the cod... to eat!

     The late Stan Rogers would have written a song about these people.

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