Trip to Churchill

The Giants of Hudson Bay-Churchill Manitoba

You guessed it – this week’s entry is about our adventure to see the majestic polar bears of Churchill, Manitoba. It was a real privilege for me to visit this part of Canada at the southwest edge of Hudson Bay. Perhaps you’ve always had a longing to go on this adventure and see the majestic Polar Bears for yourself. Come with me on this wonderful journey as I recount my own journey through the frozen north, and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Best of all, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. I know that you’ve probably seen tours to Churchill advertised for over $7000 for 5 days – don’t fret! You can take this extraordinary journey in only 3 days, and for much less. The reason that so many polar bears gather in Churchill is because of its location.

Churchill is at the mouth of the southwest point of the deeper portion of the Hudson Bay. Bears come from far and wide to gather here, waiting to go out on the solid ice and ice-floats for the winter. They will fatten themselves up on seals, belugas, and even walruses throughout the winter. With them are cubs who will learn to hunt from their mothers, anxious to go out for the winter. This gathering starts in the Churchill area from September and continues through into the end of October. It is at this time ice begins to form at the edges of Hudson Bay, as it has been doing for thousands of years. I started my journey the day before Halloween from Toronto. I took a late morning flight and arrived just after lunch time into Winnipeg. It is late fall in Winnipeg, and starting to get cooler. A stay at the Fairmont Winnipeg meant that I was within walking distance of downtown Winnipeg, providing ample opportunity for some window shopping and great restaurants. There is also a tourist information office nearby where agents are only too happy to provide the latest on current cultural, historical, and outdoor events in and around Manitoba’s capital city, which will surely entice you to stay a few extra days! The journey to Churchill began at 5:00am when I left for the charter terminal at Winnipeg airport. Charter flights to Churchill last approximately 2 ½ hours, (in addition to a hearty breakfast on board!). Eager with anticipation, we arrived in Churchill around 9:00 am. We were greeted at the airport by the Tundra Buggy representative, a cheery 25 year old, who informed us that she used to live further up north, but moved to Churchill for the weather. The local temperature upon landing was -15 degrees celsius, with 50kmh wind. Not so great for us humans,
but not a problem for polar bears. We transferred directly to the Tundra Buggy launch site where we prepared to board our Tundra Buggy for the day. This is a very unique vehicle, well heated, and washroom equipped. The Buggy’s over inflated tires allow unparalleled access onto the tundra. Without these huge tires, it would be impossible to travel over the rugged terrain. Conservation regulation restricts the routes that these vehicles can follow in order to protect the fragile ecosystem of this sub-Arctic region. We were given a safety briefing before we started, like not sticking your hand out the window or leaning over too much from the viewing platforms at the back – these platforms allow passengers to get an unrestricted view of bears. To ward off the chill, hot coffee and hot chocolate is served in the buggy throughout your adventure on the Tundra. Along with a hot boxed lunch (including hot soup), it makes for a terrific experience. If you prefer to bring your own snacks, keep in mind that you may want to purchase them from Winnipeg, as the same items are much more expensive in Churchill.



We set off on our journey into the desolate terrain of ice and snow. Only 45 minutes in, we spotted our first bear. If you’ve ever heard the expression “spotting a polar bear in a snowstorm”, that was exactly what we were up against here, and adjusting your eyes to be able to spot the bears can take awhile, especially in windy conditions. It was at the edge of an embankment that we spotted a mother bear and cub, hunkered down to avoid the blustery weather (it was their black noses that gave them away!) We had an excellent guide and driver, who was a very knowledgeable conservation officer and was able to provide detailed accounts of the area and polar bear behaviour. In addition to the polar bears, we also caught glimpses of some arctic foxes following the bears for some scraps and an easy meal. One of the most amazing viewings we had was when the mother bear had made a seal killing, followed enthusiastically by her cubs ready to join in the feast. Altogether, we saw about 14 bears and 2 arctic foxes during our day on the Tundra. Everybody had ample opportunity to take pictures of the bears in various locations as the Tundra Buggy moved from location to location for optimal viewing. The bears, I suppose, have gotten used to these vehicles. They come up to the windows and stand up on their hind legs to see what is going on inside. Interestingly, these windows are at least 15 ft. from the ground, so you can imagine how big these animals are! We stood on the open viewing platforms at the back of the tundra buggies and were able to witness these majestic creatures only a few feet away. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. Sadly, our guide reminded us, that because of global warming, Hudson Bay ice is taking longer to form and melting earlier. As a result, the bears have to wait longer to venture out to hunt. This delay means that some of them end up starving due to lack of resources, and may even venture into town to forage for food. Finally, dusk began to set in, and we had to return to Churchill and leave the company of the Polar Bears. We had a wonderful day on the Tundra, which, in addition to being able to see these wonderful creatures in their natural habitat, made us all of us think about how important it is for all of us to preserve this habitat. We were back to Churchill in the early evening and went to dinner at the Seaport restaurant., a great stop for a good, hot meal. Given its remote location, there are limited dining choices in Churchill, but after a long day, this one was just right. Churchill has one main street and 7 or 8 cross streets. As I mentioned before, it was Halloween night and kids were out ``trick or treating" (strangely enough, they had some adults with guns accompanying them – but perhaps not so strange when you remember that Churchill has a very high concentration of polar bears during this time, and with it being evening, better safe than sorry!

After dinner, we had some time before our evening flight around 8.00pm back to Winnipeg. We took this time to walk around and look into some shops for some unique items like soapstone carvings, jewellery, and trinkets, all of which are made locally and of great quality. Tourist season also means that shops are open late, which gives you plenty of time for last-minute souvenir-shopping. Alas, our rendezvous with the giants of Hudson Bay had come to an end, and so, with a heavy heart, I was back on the flight to Winnipeg for one last overnight before our flight back to Toronto. I will forever remember the Churchill bears. Let`s hope they are still around for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.

If any of you want to enjoy this great experience as I did and need some more information, please feel free to contact me- sonnydey@kingstoncentral.com.

For more info on Churchill - http://www.everythingchurchill.com/

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