Churchill, Manitoba more than the land of the polar bears – Mar/Apr2019
Located on the west shore of Hudson Bay, Churchill, Manitoba is known as the polar bear capitol of the world. It is here that approximately 1,000 of the world’s largest land predators make their annual migration. In the fall, they congregate amongst the Krummholz trees, wetlands and moon-like rock formations on the edge of the Hudson Bay, and wait for the ice to become thick enough so that they can venture out to hunt for seals before returning to land again in the late spring. In order to keep the streets of Churchill safe, polar bear guards keep watch around the perimetre of this town to deter any bears that may have lost their way.
ARTS AND CULTURE
In 2017, international artists were invited to Churchill as part of the Sea Walls Festival, which was initiated to protect the world’s oceans. A total of 18 murals were painted on buildings throughout the town. One mural was painted on a plane wreck found along the 30-kilometre length of Churchill’s drive-able road. The sleeping polar bear depicted on the polar bear holding facility is also a must-see. This facility was built in the 1980s as part of a program to protect residents and prevent the killing of problem bears.
At the Itsanitaq Museum, you will find a comprehensive collection of historical artifacts dating back to the Pre-Dorset culture (1,700 BC), as well as contemporary Inuit art depicting daily activities of the north. A stuffed polar bear provides an intimate perspective of the size of their teeth and claws.
Gift shops are filled with northern novelties, including fur lined moccasins and Inuit art. At the Northern Store, you can buy everything from food items to snowmobiles.
Located approximately 2,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg, and just below the Nunavut border, winters in Churchill are long – lasting approximately eight months. When the ice in the Churchill River starts to move again come spring, the tundra comes alive with arctic wildflowers, and animal and bird migration. Churchill is uniquely positioned on the corner of three biomes – marine, boreal and tundra. As a result, it’s possible to view the flora and fauna particular to each biome within a very small area.
At the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, visitors can take part in an amazing learning adventure. At this comfortable, 84-bed facility, you will share space with active-research scientists. One of their most popular adventures is a five-day Belugas in the Bay program. Churchill is the summer feeding grounds for more than 3,000 belugas – the largest population in the Arctic. Kayaking with these charming, talkative whales, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Also at the centre, you can discover a birding hotspot, where more than 250 species of birds nest, or pass through on their yearly migration. You might see hundreds of snow geese, as well as such rarities as Ross’s Gull and the Bohemian waxwing.
With Frontiers North, you can take a ride in a heated tundra buggy along trails, through tidal flats and permafrost lakes. Expert guides share stories of northern life, in addition to tales about local bear personalities, including the mighty fighter called Scarface Victor, and Dance, so named because of his light-footed sparring maneuvers. Keep your eyes open for arctic fox, hare and polar bears, as they return from their annual hunt on the sea ice.
After the long winter in Churchill, dog-sledding changes to dog-carting with the spring thaw. Charismatic musher, Dave Daley of Wapusk Adventures, takes you on a mile-long trail ride through the boreal forest with 28 enthusiastic huskies. Daley loves to share his heroic, life-anddeath, dog-racing stories.
IN ALL ITS GLORY
To get a birds-eye view of the area, book a tour with Hudson Bay Helicopters. The pilot will point out local hangout spots for caribou, moose and bears. Polar Bears like to rest, and conserve their energy, on the kelp beds.
Churchill is one of the best spots on the planet for aurora borealis (northern lights) viewing. Because it lies directly beneath the Auroral Oval in the Northern Hemisphere, there’s auroral activity for more than 300 nights per year.
In addition to convenient flight access, the train from Winnipeg is set to re-open this spring.
Kate Robertson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org