town in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

North West River (sometimes spelled Northwest River) is a small town of 560 (in 2021) settled by Europeans in 1743 as a fur trading post in Labrador, about 40 km (25 mi) northeast of Happy Valley-Goose Bay (HVGB). The town sits on the western foreshore of Lake Melville, which is connected to the open ocean via Hamilton Inlet.

Understand

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History

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An engraving of the old HBC North West River Post

What is now a tiny town, founded in 1743 as a French fur trade post, is the oldest community in central Labrador (Cartwright was settled in 1775; Goose Bay and Churchill Falls, founded as a wartime air base and a generating station, are relative newcomers.). Before European settlement, what is now North West River was settled by the Indigenous Innu and the Maritime Archaic peoples for 7,000 years.

When Labrador became a British territory, the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) was established in North West River in 1836, superceding the earlier French fur trading post. HBC had basically maintained a monopoly on fur trade until the Second World War when the industry collapsed. Many trappers then worked for the air force in Goose Bay.

The International Grenfell Association operated a hospital and a boarding school in the community from 1915-1981. There's one local craft shop and a convenience store; local outfitters offer guided tours and scenic walking trails lead through forests, along the waterfront, and up to the top of "Sunday Hill" with a panoramic view of Lake Melville, the Mealy Mountains, Grand Lake and Little Lake.

Geography

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North West River is surrounded by Lake Melville to its east and Little Lake to its west. To the town's south is a small narrow strip of water connecting Little Lake and Lake Melville, leaving the mountainous north as the only direct land passage making NW River a small sandy peninsula. However, due to the mountainous terrain to the north, in addition to the lack of major settlements, the only road that leads to NW River crosses Little Lake towards Sheshatshiu, an Innu reserve. This road then continues southwest to Happy Valley-Goose Bay via a small strip of relatively flat land.

Climate

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North West River generally has cold winters and mild summers with winter temperatures averaging between −10 and −15 °C (14 and 5 °F) (between November and April), while summer temperatures average in the tens (i.e. 10 to 20 °C (50 to 68 °F)), though temperature extremes occasionally happen and can either plummet to −30 °C (−22 °F) or be as high as 30 °C (86 °F). The rainest month is July, with the town averaging 480 mm (19 in) per year, while the snowiest months are between December and March, averaging 400 cm (160 in) a year.

Local information

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Get in

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North West River is approximately 40 km northeast of Goose Bay on Route 520 across the river from Sheshatshiu, an Innu community. It's been the most north-eastern accessible point on North America's main road network since the river was bridged in 1980. Onward travel beyond North West River in winter is by snowmobile trails north to Mulligan and Postville; there's also a seasonal trail from Mulligan to Rigolet. These trails are groomed but include some dangerous ice crossings.

The Labrador Coastal Ferry Service does not stop by North West River, but instead stops at Goose Bay, from where you'll need to take Route 520 northeast to visit North West River.

Get around

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Map of North West River

Either on foot or by car. The town is small enough to be navigable on foot, but it may be easier and more convenient to take your car out to the town's two main POIs.

See and do

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Museums and cultural centres

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  • 1 Labrador Heritage Museum, River Rd (on main road, just across the bridge), +1 709 497-8858, . Jun–Sep: daily 9AM–5PM. Contains the restored 1923 Hudson's Bay trading post with various artefacts relating to the fur trade, exploration, the Grenfell Mission and local Labrador history. Labrador Heritage Craft Shop (+1 709 497-8282) and tea room. $2/person.
  • 2 Labrador Interpretation Centre, 2 Portage Rd, +1 709 497-8566. Late Apr-early Oct: M–Sa 9AM–4:30PM, Su noon–4:30PM. A comprehensive view into the history and culture of Labrador. Aboriginal history; discover the founding peoples of Labrador – Innu, Inuit, Metis and settlers. Art gallery, temporary exhibit space and a small theatre. The permanent exhibition "The Past is Where We Come From" presents works of art and artefacts from each culture in Inuktitut, Innu-aimun and English. Onsite parking available. Free.

Parks

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  • 3 Lester Burry Memorial Park, River Rd. Not an important park by any means, but it contains the Trapper's Monument, as well as some nice southerly foreshore views of the lake.
  • 4 Sunday Hill Park, Sunday Hill Rd. May 21–Oct 31. This park contains Sunday Hill Lookout, the highest point in town, which gives you a great view of Labrador scenery without having to venture off the beaten track. The park also has a few other walking trails, too.

Town festival

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  • North West River Beach Festival, North West River waterfront. Two days, last weekend in July. Labrador's biggest summer music festival. Local performers playing traditional Labrador music, crafts, food and games.

There isn't much to buy in North West River – if you can't get something, then your best bet is to travel 40 km southwest to Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

  • 1 CRB Supermarket, 10 Sunday Hill Road (corner of Portage and Sunday Hill/River Rds), +1 709-497-3848. M–Su 9AM–9PM. The town's only supermarket, with basic amenities available.
  • There is a craft shop at Labrador Heritage Museum, called the Labrador Heritage Craft Shop.

Eat and drink

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Food is limited in North West River – the closest other food options are in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

  • 1 Riverside Restaurant, 2 River Rd (next to CRB supermarket), +1 709 497-3333. M–Sa 11AM–9PM, Su 11AM–6PM. The only restaurant in town that is not in a hotel, with typical Labrador cuisine.

Sleep

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Accommodation in North West River is limited – if there is no availability, the next closest place with accommodation is Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

  • 1 Motel North, 11 Paddon Rd, +1 709-897-5745, toll-free: +1-709-896-9301. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. This branch of Hotel North (a regional chain) is the only one to be called "Motel North", but it still contains basic amenities and wireless internet. 1- and 2-room bedrooms available.
  • 2 Red Wine Bed & Breakfast, 25 River Rd, +1 709-899-2666, fax: +1 888-990-0466, . A small basic B&B with complimentary breakfast, as you'd expect. Sep–Jun: $100 per suite per night; Jul & Aug: $120 per suite per night.

Connect

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Rogers, Bell, Chatr and Shaw all have extended mobile coverage with the former three having 4G LTE minimum, but the coverage soon fades away in every direction outside town, except southwest towards the Happy Valley-Goose Bay area.

Go next

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Your only option is to go back to Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Routes via North West River
END N   S  Happy Valley-Goose Bay



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