Perched on the edge of Hudson’s Bay, by the mouth of the Churchill River, the small community of Churchill, Manitoba may only be reached by train (40+ hours), by air, or by water.Despite this isolation, Churchill is considered one of the most accessible places from which to view polar bears in the wild.
The town is home to around 800 people and has been a meeting place for 100’s of years. Three cultures – the Inuit (Eskimos), Dene and Cree people have all historically met in the area. The fur trade brought Europeans.
The landscape is extremely flat as the boreal forest gives way to arctic tundra. Manitoba is home to hundreds of the thousands of lakes that define the Canadian Shield. Summertime travel in this wet (yet often sunny) land is very difficult, therefore winter offers the opportunity of mobility.
As ice forms early on the Churchill River and into the Bay, bears have learned to wait along the shore. When the ice arrives, they can hunt. Unlike the grizzlies and black bears of my region, polar bears are entirely carnivorous.
We went for bears and we were incredibly successful.
In addition to the magic of observing these white giants in their environment, this glimpse into northern life always touches us at a deeper level. Northern life, northern rhythms, and northern energy is different. Life is not easy, but survival is purposeful.
The First Nations and Inuit people of the arctic are amazing and their languages beautiful and difficult. Architecture is rarely beautiful. Function is far more important than aesthetics. The bracing cold winds are invigorating and when snow falls the land feels clean.
I was bitten by the north many years ago and it is an honour to share it with people who find its beauty and majesty.