Nunatsiavut government welcomes most recent step towards road project 

An areal view of Nunatsiavut. The region is served by flights and, when ports are ice free, also marine transport. Now, the authorities in the region have the their sights set on connecting the coastal communities to the Trans-Labrador Highway. (Eilis Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

The Nunatsiavut government is applauding the pre-feasibility study funding announcement this week that will examine connecting their communities to the southern Labrador road system. 

“We’ve been lobbying for this project for at least ten years, so the announcement this week was very welcome,” First Minister Melva Williams told Eye on the Arctic in a phone interview.

“Now that the paving on the highway is completed, we’re happy to see the government turning their attention to the north coast,” First Minister Melva Williams says. (Nunatsiavut Government)

“Our department will be happy to be involved and help in any way we can to support the ongoing work of the study.”

Ottawa and the government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced the $400,000 in funding on Tuesday that will go towards the pre-feasibility study on connecting communities in northern Labrador to the Trans-Labrador Highway.

Canada’s Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra made the announcement along with Elvis Loveless, the Atlantic Canadian province’s minister of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Each level of government will contribute $200,000.

Weather impacts on air, marine travel

Paving of the 1,100 km Trans-Labrador Highway, the only one in Labrador, was completed in July 2022. But the artery does not connect with any of the five communities in Nunatsiavut, the Inuit region of Labrador, or the Innu community of Natuashish.

At present, the communities in northern Labrador are reachable only by air, or, when the ports are ice-free, by boat. 

The remote location, huge distances and frequent transportation weather delays, has significant impacts on residents of the region including an exceptionally high cost of life compared to elsewhere in the province, logistical challenges for things like maintenance and repair, and presents numerous barriers to economic development. 

Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Labrador. The potential start to the extension project north into Nunatsiavut would be in the Happy Valley-Goose Bay/North West  River area. (Eilis Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

In the province’s Oct. 28 Request for Proposals, Road into Northern Labrador Pre-Feasibility Study document, the government outlined the challenges the limited transportation options present for the region’s communities, even during the sealift season. 

“During the marine  services operational season, the significant amount of time required to travel the north coast  places limitations on both freight and passenger travel. A one-way sailing from Goose Bay to Nain covers a distance of 877 km and requires 36 hours of total sailing time, not including time spent  loading and unloading at dockside. The route is serviced by a single ferry which completes one  return trip per week.”

Williams said weather patterns have become increasingly unpredictable in her lifetime, causing not just flight delays but also marine service interruptions. 

“As we speak, the ferry is on a weather hold today in our community of Makkovik and can’t get further North because of the winds, sea levels and swells in the ocean,” she said. “And it appears, to me at least, that we’re seeing this more and more. 

“We’ve also been trying to travel for a number of times now, ironically for transportation meetings, but we haven’t been able to attend because the flights are not moving.” 

Impacts on costs, food quality 

The government document also outlined how lack of transportation infrastructure in the winter ups costs for residents and impedes economic development in the region. 

“Long shipping times for food and other goods, coupled with the unavailability of marine services during the winter months, result in significantly higher costs than in other areas of the province. Greater amounts of spoilage for fresh produce and other foods also impacts food costs and  availability. Travel constraints impact not only the delivery of freight and travel by residents, but  also tourism and other transportation in and out of north coast communities.”

Williams said this can be a frequent frustration for residents.

“We’ve seen a community can run low on food supply when there’s delays, the delays also affect food quality,” she said. “But at the stage when we get the road, some of these issues can be addressed.”

The Northern store in the Nunatsiavut community of Rigolet. The huge distances food and goods need to travel to get to communities like this one contribute to the high cost of living in the region. (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

The potential start to the extension project would be in the Happy Valley-Goose Bay/North West  River area and go as far north as the Nunatsiavut community of Nain and include access roads to Postville, Makkovik, Hopedale, Rigolet and Natuashish. 

Maintenance, environmental and cultural impacts to be examined

The pre-feasibility study will also look at the range of issues that would need to be considered if undertaking the project. It would also identify areas that would need further study before going ahead.

Some of the items outlined in the Request for Proposals  include establishing the potential routes, the road maintenance needs once the project was completed; impacts on land use by Inuit and Innu subsistence hunters; wildlife and environmental impacts as well as other socio-economic considerations such as advantages and disadvantages for residents of greater access in and out of their communities.

“Engagement in this process will be as robust as possible,” Williams said. “With our communities and our community governments, we want our residents to know this is a priority and we’ll be engaged to see if they have concerns about impact on culture or our traditionally harvested animals or berries or whatever the case may be. 

“We want to make sure that all those considerations are taken into account, documented and followed through on.”

Economic building block, easier travel between communities

Rigolet, Labrador. One of the communities that may be connected in future to the road system in the rest of Labrador. (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

Williams said the Nunatsiavut Government contributed comments and input to the pre-feasibility study announced this week and will continue to engage throughout the process.

“Now that the paving on the highway is completed, we’re happy to see the government turning their attention to the north coast,” she said.

“I know our residents in the region have been asking for a connection to the highway for years and the eventual road connection has the potential to aid the economy and development of the region and facilitate transportation within the region between our own communities.”

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Potential Canadian Northern Corridor would present unique security challenges and opportunities, say researchers, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Finnish drivers less likely to receive compensation for damages occurred on Arctic roads, Yle News

Norway: Norwegian military vehicles take new transit corridor via Finnish Lapland, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Roads deadly for reindeer in Arctic Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States: Workers in southcentral Alaska fixing damaged roads and utilities after powerful earthquake, Alaska Public Media

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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