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Posted on Sep 20, 2015 | 8 comments

A Strange Evening in Cartwright

A Strange Evening in Cartwright

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 8_FotorAt the end of the last post we were heading up the Trans-Lab highway towards Cartwright.

We had been riding in a cold wet drizzle which turned into a pretty steady rain prior to Port Hope Simpson, where we took a break, dried out, warmed up, and decided to continue on to Cartwright.

The weather cleared a little on the way, and in some spots the pot-hole laden, washboard surfaced Trans-Lab actually became smooth and fast.

Jeff and I found ourselves exceeding the speed limit by a factor of 2, and I gotta admit, 160 kmh on a gravel surface is an adrenaline shot all of it’s own (just kidding, we weren’t really speeding πŸ˜‰ )

Trans Lab Highway Maintaining that pace was not an option, and the road quickly slowed us back down to a less intense, and therefore colder, pace. When your blood’s up, you just don’t feel the cold as much, but 70 kmh on the Trans-Lab does not quite create the same adrenaline boost.

The temperature continued to hover around 7 degrees Celsius, and more rain began to fall just outside of Cartwright. We pulled into town at about 6:00 pm and made our way over to the only motel in town – a small affair offering 6 rooms, with a small restaurant/community hall attached.

We made our way into the restaurant, barely able to walk, our muscles and joints so stiff from the cold, and it was at this point that we kind of knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

There were 2 people in front of us waiting to pay a cheque at the bar, and it appeared that the cashier/cook/waitress/hostess was also the front desk person for the motel, so we waited quietly, hoping to be enjoying a hot shower in mere minutes.

A full 15 minutes later, she still had not even acknowledged our presence in her fine establishment.

Jeff, Mike and I were exchanging glances with each other, the universal language of what-the-fuck expressed on our faces, and I began to listen intently for the sound of banjo music playing nearby.

I eventually took my boots off, lay my jacket, helmet and gloves across an unused table near the pool table, and proceeded to sit-out the wait.

That took another 5 minutes, and then, lo and behold, the less than jovial lady behind the cash deigned to glance in our direction.

“Got any rooms? We would like 2 if possible” Jeff asked with a hopeful smile.

“No, we’re full up” she said.

Full up?

In Cartwright?

This is a town of 500 people on a good day. With absolutely nothing – zero – nada – to attract visitors except for the fact that once you’ve been there, you can say you’ve been there. It was originally settled in 1775 as a fishing and fur-trading post and has struggled to eke out an existence ever since. It survives now mainly as a shipping port for the receiving and distribution of goods to the north Labrador coast.

Cartwright Hudson Bay Post ca 1900

Cartwright Hudson Bay Post ca. 1900 (Photo Credit:

There is no cell-phone service to be had, and there is literally nothing β€˜touristy’ to do here. Well, except maybe fish, or go out sea-kayaking, that does remind me, I would like to get a new kayak from I just haven’t got round to it yet. But anyway, you sure as heck don’t have to come to Cartwright to do either of those things!

Which begged the question “what the sam hell was going on in Cartwright that caused enough people ‘from away’ to converge on this tiny little Atlantic outpost that there was not a single vacant room to be had?!?!?” – even if that only meant a handful of people!

Well, it seems that we had picked a poor weekend to arrive in Cartwright.

The worst in 25 years, to be exact.

Because we happened to show up on the day of the big 25th anniversary of the Henry Gordon Academy – Cartwright’s one and only school.

Which, in and of itself, is probably a big event for Cartwright and on any other occasion, I too may have been kind of excited by the notion. Instead, I was cold, hungry, tired and without prospects for a good night’s sleep in town.

We decided to order some food and weigh our options.

And then, in walked a road-weary couple, taking seats at the table next to ours.

Being tired and weary ourselves, we were less than subtle about how our current situation had left us feeling. I mean, we had been riding for 8 hours or so – most of that in a cold, energy-sapping rain. We were stiff, sore, and without a warm place to stay. Setting up our tents and sleeping in the rain was not #1 on our list of favourite things to ponder at this point, however we had resigned ourselves to doing just that.

The couple at the next table simply chimed in.

“You need a place to stay?”

“Actually yes, we do” came the unified response.

“We came in yesterday afternoon and had the same problem. Town’s all booked up – all 6 rooms, hahaha!”

We explained that we had been made aware of our unfortunate timing of coming to Cartwright by the uber-pleasant lady at the cash.

Yeah, not as friendly here, we noticed that too. My name is Paul, this is my wife Rolly and Chiclet is in the trailer.”

We exchanged introductions, and explained that we were on a lengthy motorcycle tour of Canada’s east coast which we were just wrapping up by riding the Trans-Labrador Highway while making our way home to Ottawa.

“Oh, we just left the Ottawa area ourselves. Rolly has family in Chesterville, so we stopped to visit along the way”.

“Really?” I said. “My sister lives in Chesterville.”

“Oh, well maybe you know my sister, Joan?” Rolly offered. “She works in the kitchen of the retirement home.”

The world just got a hell of a lot smaller.

“Oh my god, Joanie, at Garden Villas” I exclaimed. “Of course I know Joanie!”

I then went on to explain about breaking both of my ankles in a collision with a left turning motorist in May of last year, and how I was sent to respite care for 12 weeks at Garden Villa Retirement Residence in Chesterville.

Paul and Rolly in turn regaled us with tales of their travelling adventures. They had been all over the place, it seemed, covering the entire USA and Canada from behind the windshield of their minivan with their little Shih Tzu, Chiclet.

Cartwright google maps

Photo Credit: Google Maps

And so it came to be that by the time that we had ordered and eaten our food, we not only found ourselves warming up and in better spirits – but we also had a place to stay!

It seems that Paul and Rolly had been directed to the local gallery owner/recreational excursions planner/fishing guide the previous evening.

Pete (the unofficial Minister of Tourism) – and her husband – operate the local arts and crafts gallery, run a fishing guide service, and also offer lodgings in a couple of old camper trailers as well as the kayak shed, or tent spaceszed or ular S the area, thereheds Unlimited can do their best to accommodate your requiremente able to tell you where to get the best fishing lures from. It makes me wonder if they know where to get any ice fishing lures from as my friend was talking about them just the other day. I only wish we had got the chance to ask, but we didn’t even know about them.

Why the nice lady behind the register had not mentioned this to us, I do not know.

The point is, Paul and Rolly did, and in short order we had all of our gear back on and were following their minivan down a well-beaten and pot-hole strewn road towards the edge of the bay.

We parked our bikes and walked into what we presumed to be the gallery, where we met Pete.

Now, I try to never offend anyone – and I am going to continue that effort here – but I gotta tell you, Pete kinda frightened me.

She stands all of 5 feet tall. Has a twinkle in her eye that could resemble that of Santa or Gollum at the same time, and left me convinced that she was in-fact a practicing witch.

Maybe not an evil one. But a witch just the same.

The large hairy mole on her chin did nothing to allay my discomfort.

And of course, she was the most pleasant person that we had met this side of St. John’s, offering us coffee, tea and snacks in her one room cabin as she threw some wood in the stove to warm our bones, and belly fat . . .

Very much right out of the Brothers Grimm, I was convinced. She even had a familiar, in the form of a cat that was far too intelligent looking – and friendly – for its species. Seeming to understand her every word, this creature left me with no doubt whatsoever – we were being prepped for β€˜from away’ pies.

My first sip of coffee nearly choked me. The taste of iron in the cup – though probably from the water – had me convinced that we had just swallowed some tincture of herbs and roots that would leave us paralyzed and defenseless in mere moments.

All the while, Pete was entertaining us with stories of the town of Cartwright – it’s history, it’s people, and the tourists that come to visit (and never leave, I found myself thinking).

Pete's Place in Cartwright NL

Pete’s Place in Cartwright

Before too long, Pete pointed to the loft above the small closet that she used for a bedroom, separated from the dining/kitchen area by a bed sheet.

“You three can pile up there – it’ll be a might cozy, but you won’t be getting wet or shiverin’ o’ the cold” she said.

I naturally reacted in the manner dictated by self-preservation and survival – “Wow, that is really nice of you Pete, thank you. I am sure we will make something work – thanks again.” All the while thinking that there was no way that I was sleeping up there in that loft – and not just because my ankles make climbing a ladder rather cumbersome, but because I did not like the way that damned cat was eyeballing me . . .

“I think maybe I’ll go check out Paul and Rolly’s trailer” offered Jeff. “They mentioned that they had a couple of bunk beds, and that might be a little more comfortable.”

I wanted to reach over and hug him. “Hey, that’s a good idea. My ankles won’t do the ladder very well in here anyway” I stated.

“And what about you?” Pete asked, looking at Mike.

“I can’t climb that ladder either Pete, and I prefer to sleep alone” he replied (Mike was in a pretty horrific motorcycle accident a few years ago, and his left leg had been crushed, broken in several places).

“Well, I can set you up in the kayak shack, you’ll be fine there. My son uses it when he comes to visit.”

After a few more pleasantries and cautious sips of coffee, we all headed outside – Jeff and I to the little camper trailer out back, while Mike and Pete ambled off towards the water’s edge behind the gallery.

I couldn’t see the cat anywhere.

Paul invited Jeff and I into the camper and within minutes we had been set up on the 2 bunk beds.

Both Paul and Rolly appeared overjoyed to have us stay in their trailer with them, and I got the feeling that it was a combination of their good nature, and the satisfaction of having some company.

Pete's trailer in Cartwright

Throughout the evening we shared tales of our adventures, our feelings about the overall strangeness of Cartwright, and after some discussion we all agreed that Pete probably wasn’t a witch at all, she was just somewhat eccentric and given to misunderstanding.

No offence to the locals, but after spending a lifetime in Cartwright, I believe I’d be pretty eccentric and misunderstood too!

The door banged open and in came Pete, a load of blankets and pillows in her arms. “Just wanted to make sure you all had everything ya’ need. I’ll be serving breakfast at 0700 sharp – bacon, eggs and toutons all around, oh and coffee too I expect”

“No, no – we have the coffee all figured out” offered Paul. God bless him.

I was starting to feel more and more guilty of my earlier interpretations of Pete. An uber-friendly, do anything for you kind of person who worked really hard at trying to preserve that which had all but disappeared: serving travelers who had made their way to Cartwright.

Pete spent long, long periods alone – I cannot recall what kept her husband on the road, but he was away often – and I am certain that it was the loneliness more than anything that lent itself to her eccentricities.

In truth, Pete is very much Labrador’s (or at the least, Cartwright’s) version of Da Murph back in St. John’s.

After a few hours of camaraderie with Paul and Rolly, and the requisite chin and ear scratches for Chiclet, we all decided to turn in.

A few minutes after turning out the lights, I realized that it had been a couple of hours since we had last seen or heard from Mike . . . but my bunk was warm and comfy, and I slipped into a deep sleep before giving much concern.

The morning came cold and wet. Five degrees and rain.

Needless to say, Jeff and I did not feel the need to rush.

True to her word, Pete banged on the door at 0645 to let us know that breakfast would be ready in 15 minutes.

Jeff and I busied ourselves with packing up our gear, thanking Paul and Rolly again for their hospitality and expressing just how grateful we were.

I still found it hard to believe that our lives had crossed paths – in a fashion – long before we had ever met. And just when we needed them, they were there.

I love the way the universe works.

Jeff and I went to the cabin to have breakfast with Pete. After having had a good night’s sleep I had to admit to myself that my earlier perceptions of Pete were way off the mark, and certainly induced by fatigue.

Breakfast was great, and within a short time we began to hear rustlings coming from the direction of the kayak shack – Mike had survived as well!

I went outside to bid farewell to our new friends, Paul and Rolly, grabbing this pic to send to Rolly’s sister Joan in Chesterville.

Joe and Paul in Cartwright

Joe and Paul in Cartwright

We agreed to stay in touch on Facebook, and they piled into the van, Chiclet staring out the window from Rolly’s lap, and just like that they were off, and out of our adventures . . .

Mike, Jeff and I all agreed that while we were in no rush, there was nothing to be gained by delaying our own departure.

Bikes all loaded up, we settled our bill with Pete and prepared to hit the road.

Pete took me aside: “If Happy-Valley is all booked up – and my husband says it is – go see this woman in North West River. Tell her I sent you, and she’ll give you the keys to a cabin.”

I am certain I blushed in shame as I thanked Pete for her kind gesture.

Books and covers, and all that . . .

We hit the road, turning our heated grips on immediately in an attempt to stave off the cold, and headed to the local gas station. We topped up our bikes with regular (there is very little super-unleaded fuel to be had in Labrador), and hit the road.

We took it easy as, riding around the speed limit, as the cold and rain took some of the excitement out of the adventure. I stopped once to grab a picture that I had wanted to take on the way up, but had not bothered to stop for.

Trans Lab Highway

Trans Labrador Highway

The morning was passing beneath our tires at a steady pace, our minds all locked into what the Trans-Labrador highway would challenge us with next, when – about 50 kilometres into the days ride, we came across a wreck.

Trans Lab Highway rollover 1

Paul, Rolly and Chiclet had been in an accident, the van rolling into the deep, rocky ditch.

We pulled over and jumped from our bikes, quickly getting down into the ditch to offer any help that we could.

Thank God, no one was injured. Chiclet was a little out of sorts, the accident jarring her senses a little more than she would have liked, and the van was a write off, but miraculously, no one had been hurt.

Trans Lab Highway rollover

Another passerby had arrived moments before we did and was already assisting Paul and Rolly with getting their necessities from the van.

I removed both licence plates and gave them to Paul, and Jeff, Mike and I confirmed that though shaken, there were no injuries and also that there was a plan in place.

The gentleman who had stopped, Norman, told us that he had already called the RCMP, who were on route, and then told us that he would drive our friends to Happy Valley Goose Bay and make sure that they were settled.

Paul and Rolly have since referred to this man as an angel, and I have no doubt.

I have been in touch with Paul recently. They purchased a new minivan in Happy Valley and in true adventurer fashion, continued on their journey.

Likewise we three merry men continued on our way to Happy Valley Goose Bay, stopping for rest and snack breaks as needed, this little guy trying to steal my energy bar right from my hand:

Trans Lab bird fotor

But the Trans-Lab was not done with us yet.

Up next . . . Wiping Out On The Trans-Lab


Β Β Β Joe



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8 years ago

I found your story to be amusing! Very rude and stupid if I’m honest! Surely anyone undertaking such a long journey as yours would research the possibilities of where you would stop for the night… Isn’t it a shame that a very small community would have a small hotel/motel especially if there is nothing to do around there!!! Also, how can anyone criticise people who would take in total strangers and put them up for the night… If it was that bad you should have kept riding and not stopped.. You are an embarrassment to the human race and your… Read more Β»

Pete Barrett
8 years ago

Thank you for visiting Cartwright, the gateway to the Mealy Mountain National Park. We do apologize that the weather was nasty and the accommodations were not up to your standards but we do try to keep our guests, expected and unexpected, “warm, dry and fed”. The only thing we had vacant was 3 campsites which did not look very appealing in the cold and rain. We look forward to your planned return visit when you can tour the wonders of the park – the old boreal forest and the amazing “Wunderstrand” with Experience Labrador Adventure Tours and experience the natural… Read more Β»

Vanessa Watkins-Hussey
Vanessa Watkins-Hussey
8 years ago
Reply to  Pete Barrett

Hi Pete. After reading this story, I am wondering if you are the same Pete Barrett that owned a craft/gift store in Lewisporte, NL during the late 1980’s – early 1990’s. The later description of you which the author provided readers as an “user-friendly, do anything kind of person” certainly is characteristic of the Mrs. Barrett I knew.

Pete Barrett
8 years ago

Hello Vanessa. It is indeed the same person. I remember you and your family very well. I trust you have done fantastic things in your life since graduating high school. Thank you for the kind words.

7 years ago
Reply to  Pete Barrett

Ahhh Pete Barret! That’s a name I had almost forgotten! I used to live in lewisporte and remember your craft shop well. I also remember Gertie and Jellico Barret and had always wondered if you guys were related.