Churchill, Manitoba


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We were looking for a quick getaway during the Labor Day weekend. The advertisement for 4 nights 5 days tour on the "lazy bear expeditions" website caught my attention. The trip sounded too good to be true as it boasts sightings of polar bears, aurora borealis, and beluga whales- all in one expedition! After some research, I found out that this was indeed possible in a fall trip to Churchill, Manitoba. I was immediately sold on this trip!

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Where exactly is Churchill & how to get there?


Originally a Hudson's Bay Company fur-trading post, Churchill is a subarctic coastal town on Hudson Bay in the far north of Manitoba, Canada. Getting to Churchill is an adventure in itself, and there are no roads; you must arrive by train or plane. A train ride from Winnipeg takes anywhere between 2 to 4 days, so it's not an ideal use of time for most people. Calm Air flies there year-round, but their flights aren't every day, so make your plans accordingly! A flight from Winnipeg is approximately two hours long.


Due to its remote location, booking a do-it-yourself tour is tricky. There are three major companies: Lazy bear expedition, Churchill wild, and Great white bear tours. Most packages include round trip airfare from Winnipeg with lodging provided throughout your stay, as well as all activities included in the itinerary for both land excursions and on-water adventures, including food too!


Churchill is a small town, and it's easy to walk around, shop, or explore. For those planning an independent trip, there are tour operators that offer day tours. Tamarack rentals is the only car rental agency for those looking to explore independently. Book your travel well before the departure date if you want to ensure a space during peak seasons.

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When to go?


There are two main seasons: July and August being the prime time for watching Beluga Whales; October-November, one can spot Polar Bear action happening. Churchill has northern lights 365 days a year, though you won't see them during long summer days due to no darkness. As nights grow longer and colder in the fall, it becomes possible to see northern lights from Churchill. During fall, many tour companies offer tours – an excellent option for those looking to avoid peak season crowds. September is the shoulder season-end of belugas & beginning for Polar Bears, and you have an opportunity to witness nature's fantastic light show!


We tried luck with the fall tour, hoping to catch all three – beluga, polar bear, and northern lights. We were fortunate as we managed to see them all! But if you want a better chance at seeing one or another of those particular attractions, I would advise going during peak season because the tours are geared towards those activities at that time.

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Polar bears:


The town of Churchill and the surrounding area is home to more than 1000 polar bears, thus aptly nicknamed the "polar bear capital of the world." They come here every summer when it's their chance for some rest before winter sets in again. From July until November, you can find them lounging on shorelines or roaming the streets of Churchill. As winter approaches, Hudson Bay gets thick with ice, and they perch on it, hunting for seals.


September is the shoulder season for polar bear sightings. They start migrating towards the shores of Hudson Bay in anticipation of its annual freeze. Once the water freezes, polar bears walk across the ice to hunt seals throughout the winter season. Unlike brown and black bears, they do not hibernate during winter. After enduring the harsh winters, ice breakup forces polar bears to shore in early-mid summer. They go without food during summer and survive off of their fat accumulation over the winter months. Once fall arrives, they gather together on the shores and wait to break their four-month fasting period.

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Beluga whales:


There are more than 3,000 Beluga whales that visit the Churchill River basin from June to September. Adult belugas are white while their calves have a grey color; however, this changes as they mature into adulthood, making lighter shades visible. The Churchill River is a safe haven for beluga whales and their calves during the months of July-August. The river provides them with an opportunity to feed, give birth or recover from illness in the warm shallow water. The belugas are vocal creatures with high-pitched whistles, chirping and clicking- thus named "canaries of the sea." Several times these curious creatures turned and looked up at our zodiac as they passed by in an apparent attempt to make eye contact or ask if we had any food onboard! We spent more than three hours in the Churchill River, and the whales kept coming to our zodiac - some even swam alongside us. There were so many of them; there were white humps that could be seen 360 degrees around!

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Northern lights:


If you're looking for a place to see sparkling lights that twinkle and dance across an otherwise pitch-black sky, the Northern Lights, Churchill is one of the best. Churchill lies directly beneath Auroral Oval on Earth, with activity occurring up to 300 nights each year for this unique phenomenon! During the summer, when nighttime skies remain relatively bright, the aurora is not readily visible. In fall and the winter, nights with dark skies offer better viewing opportunities. The Churchill Northern Studies Centre has a live webcam that captures the sky. There are three things needed for an Aurora - a clear night, gases, and solar Wind. For the first four days, the sky was cloudy. It finally cleared up on our last night. Cindy, in our team, knocked on our door around midnight that there were northern lights visible on the webcam! As the tour guide called us, I packed up my camera and rushed outside. The sky was finally clear after days of cloudy skies! Just in time because northern lights were shining brightly against its blanketed canvas. They took us outside of town, where it was darker. There it lay, glimmering in all its glory! It's a beautiful sight to see with your own eyes. My camera managed better because the long exposure captured everything beautifully! It was a fantastic experience! I can't believe how lucky we were to witness such an extraordinary natural phenomenon.

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Other things to see:


Polar bear holding facility:


In this facility, polar bears that are considered dangerous and have attacked people or other animals are isolated before being relocated. More than two dozen bears can be held inside the enclosure, and all of them could stay there for up to 30 days. They are tranquilized, marked for tracking, and a helicopter flies them out when they are ready to be released. Repeat offenders can be held for more than 30 days. In the early days of this facility, bears were fed. But what the staff found out is that after releasing them into their natural habitat, they kept coming back for the food! So, to discourage them from returning, they do not offer any sustenance except snow and water. Since bears' natural cycle involves extended periods of fasting, they are adapted to staying without food for an extended time.

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Itsanitaq Museum:


Itsanitaq Museum is home to some of the world's finest and oldest Inuit (indigenous people inhabiting the arctic region) carvings. The museum contains over 1,300 items dating from the 1930s-present-day including sculptures, artwork, hunting equipment, etc. There is also a gift shop specializing in northern books (Canadian), art cards, and unique postcards for sale.


Miss piggy plane wreck:


Miss Piggy is the wreck of a cargo aircraft. The pilot reported mechanical problems with one engine shortly after takeoff from Churchill airport on November 13th, 1979. The pilots were forced to land on the rough terrain near the bay. Luckily no lives were lost here either, and the crew members sustained minor injuries. There are many interesting graffiti on the wreck!

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Prince of Wales fort:


The European history of Churchill starts with Henry Hudson sailing into this area in 1610. In the following years, Churchill became an important post for fur trading. The construction of Fort Prince of Wales by The Hudson Bay Company began at a time when tensions between England and France were high; it served as both a defensive building project to keep the English hold on their North American colonies but also acted like a guardian controlling trade routes all over these regions.


In the 1780s, the French government launched an expedition to damage British activities in that bay. Commander Jean-François de La Pérouse led a fleet of three French warships into battle. The fort had only 39 men stationed there temporarily; the fort commander, Samuel Hearne, recognized this numerical imbalance before surrendering without firing a shot. Once again, these were nonmilitary personnel who wouldn't be able to do much against trained soldiers. This act terminated Hudson's Bay occupation and terminated Prince of Wales Fort's utility.


Cape Merry battery:


Located on the other side of this river, the Cape Merry battery is a stone wall built to protect cannons from enemy fire. It was constructed to guard the river and the river mouth. Legends say men who worked here would spend their spare time having merrymaking by drinking alcohol at Cape Merry.

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Dog mushing:


The north has a rich history of dog mushing. In the winter, visitors can enjoy this unique experience in Canada. Dog mushing has been part of life in this part of the world. Usually, in the winter, visitors can have this fantastic experience. Canada was in lockdown for more than a year. We were in Churchill right after the lockdown was over. So, the musher was still not offering tours. We were lucky to visit the kennel and spend a few minutes with these handsome animals.

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Northern and Arctic trading company


When you think of department stores, the first one that comes to mind is probably a large chain like Walmart or Target. But in this small town with only Northern as its only retail option, things get interesting!


Northern has everything you need for your house. It stocks everything from fresh produce and clothes to furniture and snowmobiles- all under one roof. The Arctic Trading Company is a one-stop-shop for all your souvenir needs. They offer an extensive range of authentic Inuit goods, from moccasins and blankets to art sculptures - they've got it covered!

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Inuksuk on Hudson Bay


You might have seen an Inuksuk in the logo for the 2010 winter Olympics, and you might have wondered what it is. The Inuksuk is an interesting landmark for natives in the arctic regions. It's used as a guide, point of reference, and marker to help them navigate this harsh environment that they live in every day of their lives! The most common types of Inuksuk are built with the stone placed upon stones - like the one that sits by Hudson Bay. Inuksuk serves as an Alaskan Native American cultural symbol, especially for Canada's largest territory: Nunavut! An inuksuk is prominently featured on their flag and serves as its centerpiece.

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Relics from the past


Churchill and the surrounding areas reminded us of the harsh environment of this region. The MV Ithaca sitting outside of Bird Cove is an 80-meter long shipwreck with a history that dates back to 1922. It sits high and dry when the tide goes down, but it's entirely surrounded by water at high tides. Shortly after leaving port on September 14th, 1960, she was caught in a severe storm, losing her rudder. She dropped anchor, but the anchors failed to hold, and she ran aground.


"The golf balls," an abandoned building overlooking Hudson Bay in Canada, was once a radar station during the 1960s. It used to track launches from their nearby rocket range before being painted with 2017's current public art program to make it look like something new entirely!

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If you are looking for a unique adventure, I will highly recommend checking out Churchill, Manitoba. It sits on the edge of the arctic circle and is home to abundant wildlife like polar bears, beluga whales, and northern lights (if you're lucky). The tundra scenery is magnificent and breathtaking; it's an expensive trip but totally worth every penny! If you have any questions about how to make this happen, e-mail me anytime.

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