Living on the Edge
By Gordon Parsons
Labrador West is one of two places in the province that shares a border, yes it is with Quebec and I for one love it. The town is Fermont and its population is about 2,800 people, it is located about 25 kilometers from Labrador City at the end of Route 389 which starts in Baie Comeau, PQ. The name Fermont is often given as a French contraction of Fer Mont meaning Iron Mountain but it actually comes from the first forge located in Fermont close to Trois-Rivieres in 1774, that town is called St-Maurice today. Fermont is the seat of the Regional County Municipality of Caniapiscau.
When I first moved here in the early 70’s the road to Fermont and the mine at Mont Wright was not opened to routine traffic, this soon changed.
I was working at an office supply business and was fortunate enough to be doing a sales call at Mont Wright the day ‘they blew the top off the mountain’ that was one spectacular blast. About now the road was opened and the exchange of business and socializing began in earnest and has not slackened.
Sharing a border may not seem like much to a lot of provinces but if you are English speaking one sharing a border with a French speaking one it can be a very rewarding relationship. Sure the makeup of Fermont, Wabush and Labrador City is mainly of iron ore miners but that is minor, pun intended.
We both have rather unique cultures and accents which readily become evident to the fortunate ones who are bilingual. We also have many things that entwine us. We share an airport, a hospital, a lot of commerce, cultural activities and a lot of sporting events. Aside from commerce my main connection was a sporting one, Labrador City had the only gun club in the area and it had a fair number of members from Fermont, the firing line call “Are you ready” was also given as “Etes vous prêt”.
Labrador West residents also took in the Winter Carnival in Fermont and they took in ours. We shopped there for cheese, different cuts of meat, port wine, indeed all wines and beer in quarts. They shopped for grocery specials, clothing and cars among other stuff. Yes some inter married and a few from Labrador West worked there.
One of the first things a visitor notices when entering Fermont is a 200 ton Caterpillar 789A dump truck in a small park at the entrance to town. This particular truck holds the record for the number of hours of operation, a total of 105,630 hours! Next most noticeable thing is a giant billboard at the actual entrance which promotes business located in the town.
Fermont is a rather uniquely designed town site, the first thing one notices when entering is the 1.3 km, 50 m high windbreak ‘the wall’ on the north side of the town. This was designed by Maurice Desnoyers and Norbert Schoenauer and was inspired by similar projects in Sweden by Ralph Erskine of Svappavaara, a copper mining town there. It is a self contained structure containing apartments, stores, schools, bars, a hotel, restaurants, a supermarket, skating rink, bowling alley, gym, police department, and swimming pool. On the leeward side there are small apartments and homes.
Because of its size ‘the wall’ is best seen by hiking to the top of Mt, Daviault on the south side of the town. At night the northern lights (aurora borealis) are an attraction as they are in most of Labrador. As in all northern communities snowmobile trails are a big part of life and Fermont boasts 300 kilometers of trail.
Fermont is predominately a company town, it was developed to serve the iron ore mine at Mont Wright which was opened due to the closure in the early 70’s Although Fermont officially became a municipality on October 15, 1974 people began to settle there in 1971. The city council is composed of a mayor and six councilors. While Fermont has churches it lacks a cemetery, when people die they are sent outside to where they were born or wish to be buried.
While Labrador West has quite a few bilingual residents and some French speaking ones schools have routinely offered French Immersion programs, both early and late. This has been a boon to a lot of young people as has the courses offered in the evenings to adults.
If you are visiting Labrador West please take an hour, two or more to have a look around Fermont.
A long time resident of Labrador West, Gordon Parsons is a regular contributor to the Gateway Labrador website. With his knowledge of the local area and local attractions, Mr. Parsons has been able, through his written contributions, to guide us through all that Labrador West has to offer.