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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 modern settlement in Labrador.

North West River
Northwest River
View from Sunday Hill of sunset over Little Lake.
View from Sunday Hill of sunset over Little Lake.
North West River is located in Newfoundland and Labrador
North West River
North West River
Location of North West River in Newfoundland and Labrador
Coordinates: 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
Region NunatuKavut (unofficial)
Settled 1743
 • Mayor Derek Montague
 • MHA Perry Trimper
 • MP Yvonne Jones
 • Nunatsiavut Assembly members Roy Blake
Patricia Kemuksigak
 • Total 5 km2 (2 sq mi)
 • Total 553[1]
Time zone Atlantic Time (UTC−4:00)
 • Summer (DST) Atlantic Daylight (UTC−3:00)
Postal code span A0P 1M0
Area code(s) 709



Central Labrador has been inhabited by aboriginal groups (Innu and Inuit) for over 6,000 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.[2] 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[3] 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 CompanyEdit

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[4] 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.[5]

Grenfell MissionEdit

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.


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.

In August, 1905, North West River was the camp site for a solar eclipse expedition sent by the government of the Dominion of Canada and including members of the British Astronomical Association, whose report[6] states that "the resident population of the place consisted only of the Hudson Bay factor [...] and the two factors in charge of a French fur trading station on the opposite bank of the river, some two or three half-breed trappers, and a small company of Montagnais Indians, temporarily encamped at the station".

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.[7] They were initially accompanied by Lionel Leslie.[8] In nine months the pair travelled about 800 miles by canoe and 1500 miles by dog sledge.

Present dayEdit

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.

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.

In 2011, the racial composition of North West River was 52.7% Inuit, 30.9% White, 13.6% Métis, and 1.8% Innu. English was the first language of 96% of the population, with small numbers of Innu and Inuktitut speakers.

In 2017, the town became the focus of a reality TV show, Discovery Channel Canada's Last Stop Garage featuring CRB, the only garage in town, and last garage on the highway before it ends.[9][10]


North West River is not part of Nunatsiavut (a self-governing Inuit territory in Labrador) despite over two-thirds of residents being Inuit. The interests of the Inuit in North West River are represented in Nunatsiavut by the Sivunivut Inuit Community Corporation. The board members of Sivunivut are elected by residents of North West River and the chairperson (currently Trudy Mesher-Barkman) serves in the Nunatsiavut Assembly. The Innu population of North West River is overseen by the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation which controls a reserve adjacent to North West River. The combined population of the reserve and North West River was 1,867 in 2011.


North West River is home to a bed and breakfast, a motel, one convenience store, a gas station and garage, a barber shop, a hair salon as well as a craft shop selling local handmade crafts. Guided tours are offered by local outfitters.

Museums and informationEdit

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 FestivalEdit

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.[11] 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 terrainEdit

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.[12]

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.


External linksEdit