The Big Land

Photograph and Blog by Holly Lake


Growing up in Churchill Falls, Labrador, people often referred to our part of the world as the Big Land.

It was a fitting descriptor. A vast expanse of water, rock and trees, I have often described Labrador as beautiful, rugged and untouched to those who’ve yet to have the good fortune of visiting. You could walk for days here and not see another soul if you didn’t want to.

And the brilliant blue skies on a bright, cold winter day? They’re stunningly big as well, so we’ve always called those ‘large Labrador days’.

But until I climbed aboard the MV Polar Prince in Nain a few days ago to sail north along the coast on leg six of the C3 expedition, I truly didn’t appreciate just how big this beautiful land is.

Waking up in Torngat Mountains National Park after a night of sailing and peeking out the door in my pyjamas to find we’d anchored in the North Arm of Saglek Fjord is not a moment I’ll soon forget.

There was initially no sky to be seen from the side deck, only walls of giant sloping rock that surrounded us on port and starboard. Their top was only visible once I leaned out over the rail and looked up. I can’t remember many occasions where I’ve felt smaller.

Some of the rock in this park is almost four billion years old — making them the second oldest rock formations on the planet. It’s humbling to be near them, as they certainly put your own significance in the big scheme of things in perspective.

As we took to the zodiac to head to North Arm beach, heads on a swivel, awed doesn’t aptly describe the feeling. On shore, we hiked into the clearest glacial lake, nestled among — and dwarfed by — rock walls, as the smell of Labrador tea hung heavy in the air. Even a black bear stopped by to take in the scene.

When it was time to sail away, I stood glued to the bow of the ship as we left the fjord, camera in hand the entire way, snapping seemingly endless layers of magnificent peaks and slopes as they rolled into view. I was parked in the same spot as we sailed away from the park’s base camp later that night after a bonfire on the beach, watching the stars appear one at a time, the sky not yet fully dark even after midnight.

I don’t know how many photos and panoramic videos I took throughout the day trying to capture what my eyes were taking in. While there are some good shots, none of them truly do the scene justice.

It’s been the same every day we’ve sailed. We’ve visited the abandoned community of Hebron, where residents were forced to resettle elsewhere, gone ashore in Ramah for a concert on the beach and hopped in helicopters to visit the chert quarries in the soaring hills above. The view on the way down, as we flew over the ridge and the turquoise sea came into view, with three gorgeous bergs glistening in the sun below, is a scene I will carry with me for a long time.

Geoff Green, head of the C3 expedition, remarked yesterday that what we’ve seen takes your breath and your words away. It’s so true. The generally chatty folks from this province aren’t often left speechless, but admittedly I have been. Trying to find a way to describe what we’ve been fortunate enough to see and experience has been a challenge. So many on board, including other writers, are finding themselves in the same boat.

Vast and wild and alive, this Big Land isn’t about to be easily pinned down. But I’m content to try and feel small in its glorious presence in the process.