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Wild, diverse and always impressive, Smallwood Reservoir is not a place to be taken lightly. Smallwood Reservoir is not a place for leisurely lakeside strolls and gourmet candlelight dinners. The area is best described in the provincial tourism brochure, where it says this is a land for the traveler who "seeks the truth of this place - the very heart and soul of the land and the people itself."
Part of eastern Canada's province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Smallwood Reservoir is located in the remote western tourism region of Labrador. The reservoir now sits atop hundreds of small lakes and rivers that once spanned the Labrador Plateau. Lost, along with the lakes and rivers, were the ancestral lands of the Innu people. As much as 2% of the entire area of Labrador was covered by the flooding of Smallwood Reservoir and mixed feelings have been left in its wake. Today, the majority of land surrounding Smallwood Reservoir is held by the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and leased to Churchill Falls Labrador Corporation. Because this land surrounds the 88 dikes, it is restricted from development and held for future expansions to Smallwood Reservoir.
The hydropower potential of the Churchill River, originally named the Grand River, was a topic for discussion as early as 1907. With the advent of new technologies, and the growing demand for energy in the 1960s, much of the powerful Churchill River was diverted away from the Churchill Falls river feature and into Smallwood Reservoir using a series of 88 dikes. Commissioned in 1971, Churchill Falls Hydroelectric Plant, Canada's largest hydroelectric facility, continues to power much of Quebec.
Part of Nalcor Energy, the water level of Smallwood Reservoir is controlled by the hydropower company, Churchill Falls Labrador Corporation. The size and scale of Smallwood Reservoir match the scale of Canada itself. With a surface area covering well over one million acres and a shoreline running 1,755 miles, Smallwood Reservoir is Canada's largest reservoir and among the largest reservoirs in the world.
The remoteness of Smallwood Reservoir makes these waters a fisherman's paradise. Record-breaking 22-pound landlocked salmon (Ouananiche) have been caught in the lake. Other trophy-size catches include lake trout, brook trout, northern pike and whitefish. It is important to read Newfoundland and Labrador fishing regulations before setting out to fish Smallwood Reservoir or surrounding waters. With few exceptions, non-residents must be accompanied by an outfitter, licensed guide, or direct relative who is a resident of the area.
Similar non-resident regulations apply to hunters in the Smallwood Reservoir area; hiring professionals has its advantages in this vast open wilderness. They can coordinate transportation and lead you to some of the continent's largest herds of moose and caribou, to black bear territories, and to hunting grounds for wolves, coyotes, geese and other smaller game.
Despite average winter temperatures of -22 degrees Fahrenheit and an average snowfall of 12 feet, winter can be the most spectacular time to see Smallwood Reservoir. In addition to the usual winter sports of snowmobile rides, dog-sledding and skiing, nature puts on a magnificent display. The absence of development around Smallwood Lake makes the light perfect for viewing the aurora borealis (northern lights), the caribou pass through western Labrador on their annual migration, and the waters are free of the pesky greenhead and black flies.
Accessing Smallwood Reservoir can be an adventure in itself. The Trans-Labrador Highway is the main (and sometimes only) road through areas of Newfoundland and Labrador province. (You know this is a remote area when the provincial Department of Transportation and Works provides free 911 satellite phones for highway drivers.) As you leave Quebec, the paved surface quickly becomes a gravel road that leads to Smallwood Reservoir and town of Churchill Falls. With a population of 650, Churchill Falls is the largest community in close proximity to Smallwood Reservoir. Visitor services are limited since this is a "company town" where the majority of residents are employed at the Churchill Falls Hydro Electric Facility.
Driving by Smallwood Reservoir, the Trans-Labrador Highway connects you to the mining communities of Labrador City and Wabush, approximately 140 miles southwest of Churchill Falls. A community of over 7,500 people, Happy Valley-Goose Bay lies 179 miles northeast of Churchill Falls. Both regional airlines and rail transportation are available in these communities.
Smallwood Reservoir offers few lakeside accommodations outside of a handful of fishing and caribou hunting camps near the northwest shore. However, cabins and vacation rentals and real estate are found throughout Labrador for those with an adventurous spirit and appreciation for the wilderness. Find your accommodation in western Labrador and stay for an experience that feeds your soul as well as your senses.
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