By Gordon Parsons
The town of Wabush is located about eight kilometers from Labrador City and is about one-quarter its size in population.
That said, Wabush has a lot going for it, the main thing being vision of leadership throughout the years. They have the Mike Adam Recreation Complex, built in 1963, with a bowling alley and pool that serve all of Labrador West; a provincial government building, constructed in 1973; an arena, built in 1975; and the Jean Lake Recreation Area and Trail, developed in the 1980s.
The Sir Wilfred Grenfell Hotel, now known as the Wabush Hotel, opened in 1962 and for years was the only hotel in the area and the prime social centre for weddings and parties. JRS Collegiate School was built in 1964; a T-shaped building, it was shared by the Roman Catholic and Integrated School Boards, which had their own classrooms but shared the general facilities. Today the building operates as a grade 4-7 school for Labrador West. The shopping plaza opened in 1965 to serve the needs of the citizens. The Wabush Legion started up in 1967 and the current Town Hall, which contains the library, was opened in 1979.
Wabush is the site of the annual Labrador West Regatta, which is now held at Jean Lake after moving from Duley and Little Wabush Lake. Other recreation facilities within the town include playgrounds, ball fields, a Girl Guide Hut and the Knights of Columbus hall. The airport, YWK, is within the town limits.
Wabush also has land, and lots of it compared to Labrador City: land for both housing and industrial development. The original Jean Lake housing development was started in the late 1970s. The Industrial Park, with close to 100 acres, also opened in the 1970s and is currently undergoing an expansion.
The town was incorporated in 1967 as a Local Improvement District with James Hogan as its first Chairman; Alphonse Rudkowski chaired the last LID. The first elected Council took office in 1981, with Derm Flynn as mayor. The current mayor is Colin Vardy.
Labrador West has elected two Wabush residents to the House of Assembly—Joseph Rousseau and Peter Walsh, both Conservatives. In the beginning, most religious denominations had a church in Wabush, but in recent years several of them have closed down. Two were turned into apartments and one into a liquor store that also sells general merchandise.
The bunkhouses, which in the early days housed the employees of Wabush Mines, were unoccupied for years but have now been converted into condominiums to keep up with the recent demand for housing.
The town’s development began to house the employees of Wabush Mines, which shipped its first ore in 1964. Wabush was officially opened as a town by then Premier Joseph Smallwood. In the early days, most residents lived inside the mine gate, at a "campsite" that provided most facilities, including a small hospital. John McGregor, the son of Pat and Lolly, is said to have been the first child born to a Wabush couple. Children took correspondence courses or went to school in Sept-Îles until 1962, when a school was established in a town apartment building.
First time visitors to Wabush will notice that, as in most northern company-built towns, it has a limited number of housing styles. The early built-on-site houses consisted of duplexes, quads, and row houses on Whiteway, Banting, Dunfield, Carson, Anderson and Bond streets. Later on, when Guy, Cormack, Gilbert, Cabot, Shea, and Baltimore streets were built, they contained most of the town’s prefabricated housing. These houses were brought in by train in two pieces, assembled in town and trucked to their streets to be placed on their basement foundations.
A trailer court, which was established as a temporary solution to the housing crisis, comprised of Legge, Cashin, Squires, Morris, Dunphy, and Walsh streets. A lot of the trailers were moved out in the 1980s, but today the court is undergoing a resurrection.
There still exists around Wabush a network of old exploration trails that are now used by ATVs and snow machines and as a way to get to fishing areas or cabins. Wabush was built on a hillside, so most residents enjoy a view of the mine site, mountains and lakes. It's a pretty, picturesque town indeed and well worth a visit.
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.