Once a remote and undeveloped home to Labrador’s indigenous and settler population, Labrador entered a modernization period in 1941. It was then that the Royal Canadian Air Force built a military base at Goose Bay, a location recognized by both the U.S. and Canada for its strategic location to support the war effort. Workers flocked to the region during construction of the airbase, and by 1942, the nearby town of Happy Valley was established as a residential community for air base employees. This airfield became the largest in the Western Hemisphere by 1943.
Today, the community remains home to 5 Wing Goose Bay airbase and the civilian component of the base that is known as Goose Bay Airport. The air base assists the Canadian Armed Forces and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in defending North American airspace, and the provision of winter and expeditionary warfare and training.
The base, now called 5 Wing Goose Bay, still remains a big part of the community, assisting Canadian Armed Forces and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in defending North American airspace. It also houses the civilian airport terminal.
With the amalgamation of Happy Valley and Goose Bay in 1973, the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay was established. It has since grown to a population of approximately 8,000, the largest in the region.
Located in central Labrador, in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Happy Valley-Goose Bay rests near the mouth of the 856-kilometre Churchill River – the longest river in the province. Considered the heart of Labrador, Happy Valley-Goose Bay is emerging as the centre for economic development. With excellent transportation infrastructure in place, the region is worthy of consideration for business investment.
“We’re the only place where road, air and sea services all come together,” says Mayor Jamie Snook. “So there is a lot of quality infrastructure here.” That infrastructure includes the over 1,200 kilometres of asphalt-gravel Trans-Labrador Highway that stretches from Labrador City in the west to the border of Quebec in the south. “The highway is now paved between Labrador City and Happy Valley-Goose Bay,” adds Mayor Snook. “That’s been a big development in recent years.
“The town’s port is a major staging point for freight going to the north coast of Labrador, and has also received the majority of the goods and services that are being used to construct the Muskrat Falls project,” notes Mayor Snook.
Freight and passenger services to Labrador’s north coast, and the southeastern island community of Black Tickle, are provided by Nunatsiavut Marine – a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Nunatsiavut Group of Companies. The operations provide a vital link transporting goods, resident travelers as well as a growing number of tourists to these coastal communities.
Commercial aviation traffic at the Happy Valley-Goose Bay Airport is busy. In recent years, the airport has undergone a $13 million expansion that has doubled the terminal in size. In June 2015, another $5.5 million expansion began on a new facility exclusively for mobile workforces coming into the region for major economic development projects.
Two major developments, namely the nearby Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project on the Lower Churchill River and Vale’s Voisey’s Bay nickel mine to the north, are proving to be key economic drivers of Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s economy and are generating both employment and business opportunities.
The Lower Churchill River holds enormous potential for the production of hydroelectricity. Muskrat Falls, slated to be completed in 2018, will produce some 800 megawatts of power, and a proposed development further upstream at Gull Island has the potential to generate a further 2,000 megawatts.
“Realistically, the future of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, I think, is very bright and will continue to diversify and be a stable economy here,” says Mayor Snook. “[Muskrat Falls] is a competitive advantage for our community.”
Muskrat Falls is some 30 kilometres from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, making the town the centre of activity for businesses providing services to this project as well as being home for the influx of workers. The estimated cost of the project is $8 billion.
Voisey’s Bay began open pit operations in 2005. It is located 575 air kilometres from the town, which functions as a pick-up and supply point as well the provider of accommodations for fly-in and fly-out workers. Vale announced this past August that it will begin construction of an underground mine at Voisey’s Bay. As many as 850 workers will be employed at the site once the underground mine is up and running, up from the current level of about 450. Construction is expected to begin in 2016, with full production starting in 2020.
Although the military base is the pillar of the town, Happy Valley-Goose Bay has much more. “There’s been a huge growth in aboriginal governments over the last 10 years,” the mayor says. “There’s a lot of provincial and federal government services here in the community as well. So it’s a very diversified economy that’s been very stable for a long time, and it continues to grow.”
There are also two sizable mixed and residential developments underway in the community, including the 250-acre Goose Bay Town Centre. One development – which houses office, hotel, retail and residential properties – is a partnership with the Goose Bay Capital Corporation (GBCC) and Nunatsiavut Group of Companies (NGC). Space is currently for sale, “for interested companies. It’s certainly a great place for both commercial and residential development,” explains Mayor Snook.
The town’s West of Hefler residential subdivision has a capacity for 203 housing lots. “We’re well positioned for housing growth in this area. We are prepared and are also making investment in our water and sewer infrastructure to be able to accommodate all this.”
The town’s Northside Industrial Park, adjacent to the airport, is being redeveloped and has seen a significant amount of revitalization. “Developers involved in the industrial side of activities have been putting up new buildings or redoing the property,” says Town Manager Wyman Jacque. Although all land in the industrial park is under private ownership, there are some vacant pieces of land available. “For the most part, the land is sold privately. We’ve positioned ourselves for future development and have rezoned another 600 acres for industrial development in another area of town. We are positioning the town to be able to handle future developments whether that’s residential, commercial or industrial development.”
The town recently received $11 million in provincial funding for the first phase of its new Labrador Wellness Centre project. This investment is a milestone for the town’s recreational infrastructure that needs replacement to benefit the health and wellness of the community.
The first phase will be the design and construction of a gym, walking/running track, aquatic and fitness centre and a child care centre. In addition to its partnership with the province, the town will be working in conjunction with the YMCA towards completion of this $25 million project.
“As a council we have put a lot of focus into community development and health and wellness infrastructure. Our hope is that at the end of the Muskrat Falls project, we would be revitalized in a lot of ways,” Mayor Snook says. “I think it’s all connected to economic development. These investments are not just for recreation purposes. They do have a role to play in the recruitment and retention of professionals, for example.”
Projects like the wellness centre, “show that, as a local government, we’re very focused on the quality of life and wanting to retain people here,”says Mayor Snook.
Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s partnership with Memorial University’s Labrador Institute and the College of the North Atlantic plays a significant part in the region’s diversified economy.
Through these partnerships, special initiatives have been created. The Joint Voisey’s Bay Employment and Training Authority (JETA) was established in 2003 as an aboriginally-controlled, not-for-profit organization to ready an Aboriginal workforce for the mine; and a new partnership was formed with the Labrador Aboriginal Training Partnership (LATP) that has, “a very targeted approach to training to build the skills gaps at the Muskrat Falls project,” says the Mayor.
Mayor Snook also notes that the town has the largest aboriginal population in Labrador, with three aboriginal political organizations that have, “significant interest in our community and are based here. Together they employ hundreds of people in the region.”
Despite all that makes Happy Valley-Goose Bay a vibrant, diverse and resource-rich community, perhaps its greatest asset is the natural environment at its doorstep. There are plenty of opportunities to partake in activities that make living in the region so unique and adventurous. Activities such as snowmobiling, skiing, hiking, boating or cabin retreats enthral tourists and residents alike.
Moreover, two national parks – Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve to the southeast and Torngat Mountains National Park in northern Labrador are, “what being in Happy Valley-Goose Bay is all about, really,” says Mayor Snook.
The mayor sees a bright future for his town. His home is the bright light of the North, and his vision is one in which his community realizes, “the continued growth of our diversified economy. We certainly care a lot about our quality of life here that I feel is second to none.”