Churchill - Part Two Manitoba
After exploring the city of Winnipeg, we boarded a small plane from a separate part of the airport en route to Churchill, Manitoba — the Polar Bear Capital of the World! I have always wanted to visit this incredible spot because, even though I love landscapes, I have a soft spot for wildlife as well. I love seeing animals in their natural habitat and to learn as much as possible about them. I remember being so excited for this all summer!
As our plane descended through the clouds, I got my first glimpse of the tundra, a beautiful vast landscapes sprinkled with hundreds of ponds, lakes and swamps. My excitement grew when we touched down and we officially made it to Churchill!
We started off with a guided tour of the town for some history about Churchill. We learned stories about the Sayisi Dene peoples who roamed the river systems to the west following Caribou. We learned how the government forcibly moved those peoples and the sad loss of culture that resulted from the move to Churchill, and how the military also resided in Churchill doing testing and correspondence from the northern city.
The town is a bit peculiar but charming at the same time. With only one street, the buildings are largely spaced to keep occupants well seen if a bear decided to come into town, which happens quite a bit! The wildlife officers in the area actually have a system to help keep citizens and bears safe. If a bear was to attack someone, it would most likely have to be destroyed so to avoid any future attacks. However, any bears who wander into the town of Churchill get a ticket to the “Bear Jail” near the airport. The jail is just a big warehouse where problem bears are kept for up to 30 days. This discourages future town visits because they associate negative stimulus to coming to town. The officers do try to deter the bears in other ways before it comes to the jail, making it mostly a last resort. The program has been successful so far in keeping bears at bay.
Our first activity in the morning started with kayaking with beluga whales. Wow! I was so excited as we drove to the docks! I could see hundreds of white backs surfacing on the water, so I knew we had a good chance of seeing some up close. We had to wear wet suits in the kayaks because the Churchill River is icy cold and a dip would be pretty chilly! We paddled out and waited for the whales to come to us, and they did! They were so curious about our boats that one even started to nudge Tiffany’s kayak about! Every time I heard an exhale of water I frantically searched to see white belugas all around. The baby ones even surfaced and had a peek at us! It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We spent the rest of the day in a Zodiac whale watching and spotting birds off the water’s edge.
The next day was the day for polar bears. Desperately wishing to see one of these beauties in the wild, we took an hour-long boat ride to a point notorious for polar bear sightings. As we approached the area, the captain told us he spotted a mother and cubs! And then two males! We were able to get close enough to one of the males from the boat for some good shots. I feel so lucky to have experienced this!
We had our fill of bears and belugas so we kept exploring, but this time on land. We wanted to see as much of the area as possible and to capture its likeness to share with everyone. The rocks and wildflowers were so delightful to shoot and we had a great time frolicking around. We even came across a juvenile caribou! Incredibly lucky again!
We finished the day back at the lodge, taking in sunset at the beach. I loved hanging out at the Lazy Bear Expeditions lodge because they had such a cozy atmosphere. After spending time in the cold waters of Hudson Bay, I was so happy to wrap a warm coffee around my hands. The lodge had the best coffee, by the way.
On our final day, we rented a van and explored the tundra even more. We drove as far as the gravel would take us, looking at beautiful murals and photographing stunning landscapes. Then, as if we hadn’t had the best week already, a massive bull caribou crossed the road in front of us! We pulled over and opened the doors waiting for him to emerge to eat the sweet berries on the roadside and, as if by magic, he walked out of the brush and stood posing for us. Majestic and healthy, I couldn't take my eyes off him. He gave us a few moments before retreating back into the bush and it seemed to be the perfect way to say goodbye to Churchill.
Tips for Travel to Churchill
We travelled to Churchill from Winnipeg on Calm Air.. The province used to have a rail line that you could take up to the town; however, last spring, a massive flood destroyed parts of the track. At this time, repairs to the track are at a standstill between the private company that owns the line and the federal government. Luckily a deal has been signed for new ownership over the rail line which means repairs are to take place this fall. This is excellent news for the locals and tourists of Churchill, the train is a much better alternative to ship goods and to bring in locals and tourists. It is also a fun experience to take the train!
We worked with Lazy Bear Expeditions, a wonderful operator that set up our entire trip from the moment we landed to the moment we took off again. The lodge provided all food, tours and accommodation, which made our experiences so much more enjoyable. I highly recommend them.
The best time to go to Churchill depends on what you want to see. The belugas are only in the area in the summer months, and the bears are also around then too. The fall months of October and November is when the snow starts and the bears become more active as the ice starts to freeze. As the bay freezes though, bears migrate out onto the Hudson Bay and away from the Churchill region are harder to find. You can also view Northern Lights at this time. While winter is the best time for Northern Lights viewing, even the clearest, darkest nights of summer can provide glimpses. The weather can range from high winds to calm days and any temperature in between at any season!
Overall, Churchill has a charm and experience like no other. It is definitely a trip of a lifetime and if you ever had doubts please erase them! The wonders of this small town are not to be missed and the wildlife is exceptional.