Churchill Infrastructure at Serious Risk

Churchill could possibly lose its’ economic bread and butter soon. The Canadian federal government seemingly is deciding to eliminate the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) as the restrictive structural decision making body for the Canadian wheat farmers. The current monopoly system mandated by the CWB forces prairie wheat farmers to sell the majority of their grain through the Port of Churchill. If the feds get their way, which they usually do, this could spell major changes for Churchill. Although the Conservative parliment has lacked the majority to pass the legislation since 2006, the new election could spell an end to that string.

Port of Churchill,MB

Photo: Steve Selden

Nearly 90% of the grain shipped through the Churchill grain port comes from the CWB farmer alliance. The port processes enough grain products to employ 200 people throughout Summer and Fall in Churchill. If the CWB is vanquished, other sea ports such as Vancouver, BC and Thunder Bay, Ontario could become attractive to many wheat farmers across Canada. Jobs in Churchill will be severely affected as well as the Hudson bay railroad line into Churchill which doubles as both a passenger line and grain car transport line. Additionally, jobs associated with the rail line in Gillam, Thompson and the Pas may vanish also. And, several hundred Winnipeg jobs at the CWB and grain commission will be at risk as those offices face closure or relocation.

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence is fighting hard for the government to slow down the process and take a closer look at how Churchill and these other communities will be negatively affected by the decision. Spence is urging the feds to implement an economic impact statement…a study similar to an environmental impact statement. The latter would be required if , say, the polar bears in Churchill were threatened by human activity. In many ways, if this decision goes through, they just might be!

Spring Is For Breakups…Ice That Is.

Spring fever in the North brings renewed hope, happiness, and …um breakups! With the temperatures climbing above the freezing mark, many  Northern regions experience the breakup phenomena. This usually occurs in a major river system but can also relate to a larger body of water such as a bay or inlet of some sort.

Ice floes on the Hudson Bay in Churchill,MB

Photo: Steve Selden

In this case, we are talking about the Churchill River in Churchill,MB of course. The river has just broken free of ice and started to flush itself out into the Hudson Bay to the North. Some early beluga whales have arrived as scouts perhaps and soon thousands of the magnificent ghostly creatures will follow.

As a Summer guide in Churchill I have experienced the breakup  only a few times around a decade ago. Natural Habitat’s Arctic Summer trips used to start in June, sometimes early June, so the chance of arriving with groups and viewing ice floes in the river was good. I was always anxious to arrive and find the chunks moving with the tide in and out of the river. Arctic terns and Bonapart’s gulls would often perch on crags in the floes and photographers would scramble in the zodiacs to get a prime shot. I was able to get a few myself which are currently somewhere in cyberspace I do believe.

So with the river starting to flow out into the bay, the ice should start to push out North as well very soon. Even with the Churchill river being diverted years ago, the tidal flow out of the mouth still moves at a crazy rate of speed. Just as the fresh water aids in freeze up of the area in the late Fall, the water now helps to demolish existing ice left from the Winter. Kind of a full cycle that’s found in Churchill in almost every facet of nature around the region.

Churchill Snow and Photographers

The recent snow storm in Churchill has subsided and left a wintery veil over the imminent Spring weather seeping into the region. The snow storm was a reminder that Winter will not leave without a fight this June.

Calm Air flights were delayed many hours (unusual?) as the storm ripped through the area. Temperatures have risen into the mid teens Celsius in recent days and it looks like the beluga whale season is just around the corner. My favorite season will soon be showcasing wildflowers and whales. Many bird species and bird watchers are already in the area checking off lists…always searching for the elusive Ross’ gull. And, the long days are an opportunity to roam the tundra for hours taking in all the land offers under warm sun.

In anticipation of all the best polar bear and arctic photographers being featured in a new section of, here’s a video of some recent polar bear cub activity in Wapusk National Park by Thomas Mangelson, one of the best of them all. This is just a taste of what’s to come.

In the months ahead, I will be developing links to the premier polar bear and arctic photographers in the world in order to showcase their work here and allow all of you to see the best images, both still and video, on your favorite polar bear website.
Enjoy the video.

A Bucket of Water

On may 21st a group of Anishnawbe women, and men came through Churchill to fill a sacred bucket with water from the Hudson bay.

The bucket was filled on the beach across from “Miss Piggy”, the infamous airplane wreck nestled into the granitoid rocks and willows up the hill. The group, along with about eight others from Churchill, including Metis elder Myrtle Demeulles, then carried that sacred bucket of water all the way to town to the train station. The walk was to honor mother earth and her resources, especially water, as it is the blood of our mother and in dire need of protection.

There’s more to the story that brings to light an even more pressing issue regarding water, not only in Churchill but all over North America…..fluoride. A local group of Churchillian activists lead by Mark Brackley  and partner, as well as my longtime friend, Erin O’neil have been lobbying for clean non-toxic water for quite awhile now. Brackley, is a pioneer activist in this battle to get fluoride…yes fluoride, out of local water. He’s been lobbying town council for over 2 years, without much success due in large part to hard-fought resistance from the Dental Board as well as the Public Health board at the hospital.

Why, you might ask, would someone want to get fluoride, an ingredient in many of our everyday tooth- paste products removed from the town water supply? Ever read the labels on most toothpaste tubes while passing time in your water closet? Scary are they not? This is one of those many environmental issues that kind of gets swept under the rug…or, more aptly, flushed down the drain without many humans hearing much about the negative effects on us and our planet.

There is extensive literature on-line and in journals to validate the fears many have of fluoridation of water supplies. This link on fluoride is a good one to start with if you’re not up to date with current fluoride information. Another article in the Thompson Gazette focuses on Churchill’s water battle raging over the past three years.You can also join Brackley’s facebook site ;’churchill nonFluoride.. to view multiple postings on the horrible effects fluoride can have on the human body, and the many consequences it has from us simply consuming it, bathing in it, cooking with it etc. And, after all those human functions are finished, the water which comes initially from the Churchill river gets dumped back into the river with 99% of the added fluoride now mixed in. The effects on marine wildlife and the ecosystem in general cannot possibly be measured at this point.

Churchill beluga whales swimming in the Churchill river.

Photo: Steve Selden

After the walk and discussing the effects of fluoridation, the elders on this walk agreed and called to have it removed! Mark, Erin and others involved in the cause felt finally supported in the ongoing battle. The grind has been, with tongue in cheek; “at times like pulling our teeth out!” stated O’neil.

An uplifting side of this story is that the Anishnawbe “earth waterwalkers” as they are known will be bringing their sacred water buckets to a powerful final ceremony with other earth waterwalkers in June in Wisconsin. The others will be collecting buckets of water from the three other coasts in North America. You can go to

The final here- say with Churchill’s town council, is that, they are letting the supply of fluoride run out in about June this year and will not be purchasing anymore. The Public Health Department and Dental Board may try to grit their “teeth” ( sorry) and put up another fight for the fluoridation to continue. We will just have to wait and see….I’ll keep you all updated.

Erin O’Neil contributed to this report.

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