Travel

Battle Harbour through photos

For generations, Battle Harbour was considered the unofficial capital of Labrador, a centre of fishing through the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, it has reinvented itself as a remote island getaway known for its rugged beauty

The colours of the island morph with the constantly changing weather.
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Located nine miles off Labrador’s southeast coast, Battle Harbour is a bit of a challenge to get to. You can make most of that journey via the Trans-Labrador Highway these days, or by some combination of flights, ferries and vehicle as far as Mary’s Harbour on the Labrador mainland. But the last leg is a 45-minute small-boat ride into open sea, skirting a handful of treeless, unoccupied islands.

Even Battle Island, the lesser of two islands nestled cheek by jowl, looks uninhabited when you first catch sight of it. But as you motor closer, the south-facing hillside opens up, as if someone was swinging it wide like a door, revealing a green slope dotted with white buildings, their roofs painted a bright ochre red.

Beyond this tidy little village, the north Atlantic stretches empty to the horizon. Peter Bull, executive director of the Battle Harbour National Historic District, leans in to shout over the outboard. “If you were to sail past here,” he says, “the next stop is Greenland.”

The stained glass in the Battle Harbour Church was designed by Graham Howcroft. In 1977, Howcroft studied humanities at Memorial University for a year and began to make stained-glass windows for churches. The community tries to hold at least one church service there each summer, inviting parishioners and clergy from Mary’s Harbour for the event. It is also rented for weddings.
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While many of the island’s original buildings and houses have been refurbished, some have seen better days.
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From left to right, the five refurbished buildings in this photo are known as the Wash House, Herring Store, Salmon Store, Salt Store and Seal Store. The heritage structures were all once part of the mercantile operations of the community.
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Once they have lived their lives, most watercraft are either burned or pulled up on the land. The old boats are a popular focal point for visiting photographers. Most of the houses in the background are owned by residents, who use them as summer residences.
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When the pandemic shut down the 2020 tourism season, the Battle Harbour Historic Trust decided to invest the season’s marketing budget in renovations and upkeep. The summer tally was 500 gallons of paint.
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It takes a leisurely morning to walk the island’s length and breadth, but much longer with all the photo opportunities.
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Find ‘Across the tickle,‘ our Battle Harbour story by Michael Crummey, in the May/June 2021 issue of Canadian Geographic.

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