North West River

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"Northwest River" redirects here. For the river in New Brunswick, see Northwest Miramichi River.
North West River
Northwest River
View from Sunday Hill of sunset over Little Lake.
View from Sunday Hill of sunset over Little Lake.
Coordinates: 53°31′31.32″N 60°08′41.80″W / 53.5253667°N 60.1449444°W / 53.5253667; -60.1449444Coordinates: 53°31′31.32″N 60°08′41.80″W / 53.5253667°N 60.1449444°W / 53.5253667; -60.1449444
Country  Canada
Province  Newfoundland and Labrador
Census division 10
Settled 1743
 • Mayor Arthur Williams
 • Total 5 km2 (2 sq mi)
 • Total 551 [1]
Time zone Atlantic Time (UTC−4:00)
 • Summer (DST) Atlantic Daylight (UTC−3:00)
Postal code span A0P 1M0
Area code(s) 709
Website Town of North West River Official Website

North West River is a small town located in central Labrador. Established in 1743 as a trading post by French Fur Trader Louis Fornel, the community later went on to become a hub for the Hudson's Bay Company and home to a hospital and school serving the needs of coastal Labrador. North West River is the oldest community in central Labrador.


Central Labrador has been inhabited by aboriginal groups (Innu and Inuit) for over 6000 years due to its bountiful wildlife. In 1743 French fur trader Louis Fornel was the first European to establish a year-long settlement at the present site of North West River.[1] The site was primarily used to trade furs with the local aboriginals for European goods.


French settlers from Quebec moved to the area surrounding North West River to work as voyageurs and trappers (known as Coureur des bois in Quebec). Many took on Inuit wives creating a unique population of Métis[2] trappers and traders. Traders would also do business trading goods with the nomadic Naskapi Innu.

European fur traders relied on the knowledge of the land possessed by the trappers and the Innu to provide them with furs. Trappers living in and around North West River would come to the trading post to exchange furs for flour, raisins, canvas tents, axes, guns and other goods Valuable furs from beavers, mink, martins, seals, foxes, bears and many other fur baring animals. Trappers maintained traplines inherited from relatives throughout central Labrador.

The fur trade collapsed after the Second World War. Many trappers abandoned their traplines to work at the new air force Base at nearby Goose Bay.

Hudson's Bay Company[edit]

With the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763) Labrador was passed from the French to the British. With the arrival of the British came the Hudson's Bay Company in 1836[3] who would enjoy a trade monopoly over central Labrador's Furs for more than 100 years. The newest of the Hudson's Bay Trading posts was constructed in 1923 and still remains as museum run and maintained by the Labrador Heritage Society.[4]

Grenfell Mission[edit]

In 1893 British doctor Wilfred Grenfell began traveling the Labrador coast providing medical services to fishermen and the aboriginals living in Labrador. In 1914 the International Grenfell Association was formed. The mission took doctors and nurses from the United Kingdom, and a handful of Commonwealth countries, to serve the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. One of these doctors was Dr. Harry L. Paddon, who in 1915 established a hospital in North West River which would eventually serve the entire coast of Labrador.

In 1981 the International Grenfell Association dissolved, leaving all properties to the Grenfell Regional Health Services Board, a locally run board, no longer relying on the support of missionaries. The hospital in North West River was closed by the provincial government in 1983.

Hubbard expeditions[edit]

On July 15, 1903, Leonidas Hubbard with his two companions departed North West River for his tragic canoe expedition.

On June 27, 1905, Mina Benson Hubbard departed North West River to complete her husband's failed mission of 1903.

Watkins expedition[edit]

In July, 1928, Gino Watkins used North West River as the base for an expedition in which he and Jamie Scott explored the area on foot, by canoe and with dog sledge.[5] They were initially accompanied by Lionel Leslie.[6] In nine months the pair travelled about 800 miles by canoe and 1500 miles by dog sledge.

Present day[edit]

Although North West River has remained small in size over the last 250 years, it remains a lively place full of history. The town offers scenic walking trails along the waterfront, through the forest or to the top of "Sunday Hill" where hikers can see a panoramic view of Lake Melville, the Mealy Mountains, Grand Lake and Little Lake[disambiguation needed].

A modern bridge connects North West River to the rest of the continent which was constructed in 1980. Before that a cable car spanned the river for 19 years. Before that the river was only passable by boat. The town is the most northeastern point of North America that is accessible by the main road network.


North West River is home to one convenience store as well as a craft shop selling local handmade crafts. Guided tours are offered by local outfitters.

Museums and information[edit]

The Labrador Heritage Foundation operates a museum in the restored Hudson's Bay trading post. Various artifacts relating to the fur trade and Labrador history are cataloged and on display. The museum keeps regular hours in the Summer and can offer tours if booked ahead of time in the Winter.

The Labrador Interpretation Center, located on Sunday Hill Road, is designed to provide a comprehensive view into the history and culture of Labrador. The center features an art gallery, temporary exhibit space and a small theatre.

North West River Beach Festival[edit]

Held on the North West River Beach the last weekend of July, The North West River Beach Festival is in its 25th year. The two-day event is Labrador's largest music festival.[7] Locals, travelers and ex-pats gather at the festival to socialize and watch local performers play traditional Labrador music. There are also crafts, foods and games.

In 2007, the Beach Festival was moved to the North West River Waterfront instead of its traditional location on the beach.

Climate and terrain[edit]

North West River experiences generally mild Summers with cold winters. Winters usually begin in mid November and last until mid April and Summers begin in June and end in early September. The temperature generally ranges from about −30°C at its coldest in the winters to about +30°C in the summers.[8]

The town is located on a hill dividing Little Lake from the larger Lake Melville. A small band of water (North West River) connects the two. The area of North West River is located on a sandy plain surrounded by mountains. The sand and gravel forming this plain was deposited by glaciers during the last Ice Age.


  1. ^ Town of North West River History
  2. ^ Labrador Métis Nation: About Us, Our Heritage, Our Home
  3. ^ Our Labrador: North West River
  4. ^ Town of North West River: Museums
  5. ^ Scott, J.M., (1933). The land that God gave Cain. Chatto and Windus, London.
  6. ^ Leslie, L.A.D., (1931). Wilderness trails in three continents. Heath Cranton, London.
  7. ^ Town of North West River: North West River Beach Festival
  8. ^ Town of North West River: Facts and Figures

External links[edit]