october | november | 2017
The Polar Bear Capital of the World
CHURCHILL, MANITOBA, CANADA
There’s something to be said for quality over quantity. There are plenty of vacation destinations that people flock to for an abundance of activities. But there are some places that vacationers adventure to for just a handful of unique attractions and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, offers one of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures.
WRITTEN BY MARESA GIOVANNINI
Located on the western shoes of the Hudson Bay, Churchill is a small town of approximately 1,000 year-round residents. But from July through November, it sees an influx of visitors from around the globe. They’ve all heard about the “Polar Bear Capital of the World,” and they want to see the beauty of the landscape and wildlife firsthand.
Although the town has historic roots and once acted as a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, polar bears have put Churchill back on the map. The Bay has an estimated population of 900 to 1,000 of these arctic mammals, which can weigh up to 1,500 pounds and stand up to ten feet tall. Prime viewing season is the middle of October to the end of November, when the ice pack returns and the bears begin their migration from the tundra to their winter hunting grounds in the bay. It’s a rare and special sight to see polar bears as intimately as you can in Churchill. But remember they are predators, and the best way to view them is on an organized tour where you will be guided safely by professionals.
A more docile mammal that welcomes human contact is the beluga whale. This social creature is small by whale standards—weighing in at 1 to 1.5 tons and thirteen to twenty feet long. From July through September belugas and their calves bask in the warmer waters of the Churchill River estuary to rest and feed. You can get up close and personal with the friendly and vocal “canaries of the sea” via an organized kayak or snorkel tour.
Churchill is a remote destination that is only accessible via train and air travel. In June, 2017 a severe flood damaged parts of the Hudson Bay Railway tracks that are used to bring visitors into Churchill via train. There are no hard deadlines for repairs, and at press time, planes were the only way to access the town. You can easily get a nonstop flight from Winnipeg or Thompson, Manitoba with the expanded schedule by Calm Air. Check the town’s tourism website, everythingchurchill.com, for transportation updates. Whether you arrive via plane or train, remember that the journey can be just as much of an adventure as the destination.
THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
The aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, is nature’s light show, and a must-see for many people. The fantastic dancing colors can appear year round, but are most visible in Churchill during January to March when the sky is darker. One of the best places to take in the lights is just outside of town in Natural Habitat Adventures’ Aurora Pod. The structure has a heated interior, theater-style seats, and a glass roof and glass sides from waist-height up so you get a 360-degree view of the night sky.
FOOD AND LODGING
There are about a dozen different places where you can hang your hat during your stay in Churchill. Most of the hotels and bed-and-breakfast options are located centrally in town and include the basic comforts including Wi-Fi. On the edge of town you’ll find Bluesky Bed & Sled, which offers packages that include mushing experiences—“authentic, natural, un‘fur’gettable.” The restaurants in town are often associated with the hotels and offer local fare such as peppered elk, arctic char, and Manitoba Bison.
Although the main draw to Churchill is nature, you’re not encouraged to adventure out on your own for a hike or walk along the beach—especially after dark. There are plenty of opportunities for danger, so it’s best to see and experience Churchill and the surrounding area from the safety of a guided tour. You can choose from twenty-five tour companies that create comprehensive and custom packages for experiencing the riches of the region. In addition to tours highlighting polar bears, beluga whales, and the northern lights, there are also opportunities for dog-sledding, birdwatching, and more. Turn to Churchill Northern Studies Centre for a “learning vacation.” The organization is an active research facility located just outside of town where the boreal forest meets the arctic tundra. The week-long experiences include Winter Skies: Aurora and Astronomy in Churchill, Into the Wildflowers: Flora of the Subarctic, and Lords of the Arctic: The Ecology of Hudson Bay’s Polar Bears.
Maria Walker CRS
Where Dreams Come Home
As featured in Home By Design® Magazine
Information deemed reliable but not guaranteed. All measurements are approximate. ©2017 By Design Publishing. All rights reserved.