Canada – Churchill – Manitoba

The History of Canada features tales of a vast wilderness exploted by both British and French fur traders. Located on the banks of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, the town that is now Churchill was established by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1684. Many of the furs bound for Europe went through the town. Modern technology has cut the distances between major cities and many of Canad’s outposts, but you are in little doubt when you step onto the tundra at Churchill that you are at the edge of the Earth.

The fur traders who settled here would scarely have imagined that people might one day come to Churchill from around the world to view the most feared of arctic predators, the polar bear. Form mid-October to early November, the town lies on a migratory pathway that once led bears right through town.

Polar bears hunt seals – almost their only source of nutrition – on the the sea ice of Hudson Bay from late fall until around May when temperatures rise and ice floes break up. There are then forced onto long along the coast. Family groups and young bears move inland, while adult males tend to remain near the bay. The bears live off their fat stores during summer, feeding on carrion, and occasionally invading garbage dumps for food. As fall approaches, the bears make their way along the coast toward Cape Churchill, waiting for the freeze-up. As the water begins to freeze, they move onto the ice again. (up to 90 percent of Hudson Bay is covered in pack ice until spring.)

Hunting of polar bears in banned. Because the bears have no fear of people, they sometimes wander into Churchill, and the residents are always on the lookout for them. If a bear poses a threat, wildlife officials will subdue it with tranquilizers and place in in a holding facility until it can be safely released.

Most people who visit Churchill book a trip on one of the specially designed wildlife-viewing vehicules that journey from the town out to Hudson Bay. Visitors sit inside glace cabins that provide superb visibility and protect them from harmful encounters. To minimize impact on the tendra, the vehicles stay on special roads, then drive onto the pack ice.

Polar bears are not the only attraction around Churchill. Arctic foxes and small caribou herd also wander through the area and during the short northern summer the tendra is ablaze with wildflowers such as Venus slipper, arctic aven, purple saxifrage, and bog orchid.

Beluga Whales are often seen offshore and in the mouth of Churchill River. You can go on a whale-watching boat to take a closer look. The river’s warmer water and abundant fish stocks make it an ideal place for the females to calve.

June is the best month for birding, Gryfalcons, ivory gulls, snowy owls, plovers, and many kinds of duck and goose congregate here, plus a nesting pair of Ross’s gulls that is through to be the only pair in North America.

In Winter, Churchill is an ideal place for watching the magnificent displays of the aurora borealis, or northern lights.