Builders of the railroad to Churchill Manitoba probably had no idea that their new grain shipping port, which provided a link from the Prairies to the Arctic Ocean, lay just 40 km north of the world’s largest polar bear denning area. For millennia, the Arctic’s most iconic mammal has come ashore along the western coastline of Hudson Bay to wait out the time until the ice freezes again so that they may begin their annual seal hunt. From late summer to early November the bears follow an ancient migratory route just beyond Churchill. Here an astounding number of polar bear can be viewed at close range as the rest, pace, spare, test the ice the , and socialize in places where the ice first freezes first. Today the settlement of Churchill embraces the brand “polar bear capital of the world”.
For three decades ago, I have ventured to the sub-Artic to see the polar bear gathering near Churchill. Each time is as exciting as my first. On that initial adventure, I arrived in early October and was treated to a few large males sparring and one female, who nursed her twins a short distance from our tundra vehicle. These moments connected me emotionally to the bears and the unique landscape here. I returned several times and each journey showcases different rewards. One one trip, more than thirty bears were spotted along roads and trails near town, and out on the tundra aboard tundra buggies. Arctic and red fox, ptarmigan snowy owls, mink, and moose were added bonuses.
Sometimes the trip to Churchill from Winnipeg is by air, flying in and out with Calm Air or a charter flight. Sometimes VIA rail connects with the trip as it will for our 2023 group departure. For programs that include the train - a 2 night trip, the transition between Prairie, Boreal Forest and Tundra can be observed. On one of these train trips, I recall my sleep being interrupted on the first night by a passenger who announced excitedly that the Aurora Borealis was visible from his side of the train. Together, we watched the night sky dance in bands of intense green and red illumination. Churchill is one of the North’s most intense area for viewing the Aurora spectacle.
With its wildlife, Arctic heritage, and chance encounters with the Aurora Borealis, Churchill reamains one of the most remarkable places in Canada, if not globally.