This week, we saw the end of an era. The Trans Labrador Highway, for years the destination for adventure riding on Canada’s east coast, is now fully paved. You can ride on tarmac all the way from Labrador City to the Blanc-Sablon ferry terminal.
The 1,149-kilometer road (actually a combination of Route 500 and Route 510) took more than a decade to finish paving, coming in under a budget of a billion dollars. Actually, if you count for inflation and realize the route’s beginnings came in the early 1980s, the price of this road from the Quebec border to the Strait of Belle Isle would probably be over that billion-dollar mark.
From the road’s beginnings, and even before it officially opened, it was on adventure riders’ radar, with some daring souls venturing up north in the early 1980s to check it out even before the road was fully cut through. Through the 1990s and early 2000s, the Trans-Lab was considered a must-do for the east coast ADV community, either by doing a complete circle route (Quebec-Labrador-Newfoundland-Nova Scotia, or the reverse order), or by riding in from one end and then turning around when you hit the end of the highway, retracing your steps.
When I was a young motorcyclist, I was certainly aware of guys who had done the route, almost always on middleweight or small-cc bikes, and held them in high regard. It was a challenge. If you search the CMG archives, you’ll see we had our own adventures up there; Gimpy Jimpy earned his nickname when he crashed up there, riding on an aborted trip with Editor ‘Arris. Later that summer, we had an excellent write-up of the trip from Chris Landers, who succeeded where ‘Arris and Jim Vernon had turned around. After that, Mark Richardson totally wimped out and did the route in a Jeep, hauling a rider’s luggage as part of a convoy. And then, I rode there in 2019, braving a plague of insects the whole way.
So, I think it’s worth noting this big change. The Trans Lab will remain a destination, and a challenging one at that—there are billions of black flies up there, and awful weather, and a complete lack of services along that highway for hours. But, it won’t be the same as the days when you need knobbies to complete the trip.
Still, there will be plenty of opportunity to explore on the side roads there; the road to Cartwright is still unpaved, along with many others. And, to get to Labrador from Quebec, you’ve got to ride up Route 389, which is also unpaved, and will remain so for the near future. The adventure up north is really about getting off the main drag anyway, and this change now opens up the area to many, many more motorcyclists, as it’s 100 percent reachable by pavement now, if you come from the Newfoundland end. This is good news for Labrador and for motorcyclists—it just means the adventure is changing.