Churchill Gets “Arctic – Turf” for Canada Day

Churchill, Manitoba town square

New synthetic turf in the Churchill town square. Alex De Vries – Magnifico photo.

Churchill is moving into the 21st Century with a new synthetic turf field for the town square behind the chamber of commerce information kiosk. Looking more like an artist’s depiction than the real thing, this image from Alex De Vries – Magnifico in Churchill shows the newly “mowed” field. The old field and town “green” was far from that with hard dirt and scattered rocks throughout. This will hopefully encourage the youth and adult population to participate in sports such as baseball and soccer throughout the summer months. The field will be finished just in time for Canada Day on July 1st and the annual ball tournament and other festivities!

I can’t help thinking of a funny Canada Day story that occurred when I was guiding Churchill Arctic Summer trips years ago. When I first started I would stay in Churchill and await the arrival of the group on the VIA Rail train with my Natural Habitat Adventures co-guide. Once they arrived we would guide travelers across the tundra in search of flowers and wildlife and over the waters of the Hudson Bay and Churchill River to see the beluga whales. The amazing biosphere of Churchill would be home for the next five days. At the end of the trip my co-guide would return to Winnipeg with the group by air and return a few days later by train. Not a bad gig!

Via rail in Churchill

Churchill’s Via rail station with a train at the dock. Cartan Tours photo.

Train arrivals in those days, much like train arrivals these days, were often three – four hours late. Due to the warm weather and shifting permafrost in the summer months, trains would be issued “slow” orders that would only permit them to travel at recommended slow speed so to not place undo stress on the steel rails. Unfortunately, overloaded grain cargo trains heading to the Port of Churchill often disregarded the slow orders and periodically derailed in front of the passenger trains. These accidents caused huge delays and sometimes the necessity to reroute travelers on flights to Churchill or bus to get to a bigger town to wait out the track repairs. Not much has changed there either. All part of the adventure.

Churchill was putting on its usual festivities and I was taking part in the annual town softball tournament. Teams from the Churchill Northern Studies Center, the hospital, restaurants, Parcs Canada and just friends putting a team together were all enjoying the friendly competition on the diamond. Throughout the morning of the tournament, the train’s late – arrival had been updated numerous times and last I heard estimated to arrive in Churchill at roughly 3:00 pm. I came to learn that “roughly” in Churchill is all part of a vernacular we often refer to as “tundra time”.

Our game was going on around 1:30 pm and I was in my softball attire of sweats and a t-shirt, up at bat with the softball at the apex of its arc when I heard the train’s horn blowing loudly across the square. After raking a base – hit to right field (actually the aforementioned dirt and rocks) I glanced over to see the train limping into the station and I ran. Not towards first base but instead toward the Seaport Hotel to my room to change into proper Nat Hab guide attire and then cruise over to the station and meet the arriving group! I received lots of ribbing from the team for that panicky though funny exit…still makes me laugh to this day. Never trust the train schedule or rumors to its arrival in Churchill. Tundra time indeed!


Canada day itinerary Churchill

Canada Day is on July 1st. Here’s an itinerary of the events planned. Town of Churchill image.

Russia Bridging “Ice Breaker” Gap

Russian icebreaker Arktika

Russian icebreaker Arktika unveiled last week in Russia. Nikita Greydin/Courtesy of Baltic Shipyard photo.

Russia launched its biggest nuclear ice breaker to date last week in St. Petersburg. The 567-foot, 33,500-ton Arktika comes as Russia has plans to expand shipping routes and overall presence in the Arctic region.

 Arktika is the first of a new class of ships known as Type LK-60YA, The long – term plan is for three vessels all commissioned by Russian state nuclear agency Rosatom. Utilizing 80,000 hp (60 megawatts) to crush ice, Arktika will be able to break through thirteen feet thick sea – ice and forge shipping routes in the high Arctic. This will allow container shipping along northern routes that otherwise would be impassable. The ensuing two sister ships will be, Siberia and Urals  and will be built in 2018 and 2020.

Arktika Russian Ice Breaker

Launching of the Russian icebreaker Arktika in St. Petersburg last Thursday. Evgeny Uvarov/Ap photo.

“There are no icebreakers equivalent to Arktika anywhere in the world,” Rosatom CEO Sergey Kirienkoy. “The icebreaker Arktika means real new opportunities for our country.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin maintains that the Northern Sea Route could be a better trade route than the Suez canal for world trade, The new icebreakers will play an important role in facilitating this expansion via the shorter distance to Asia and Europe while forging a consistent new route through the Arctic.

Russian icebreaker Yamal in Arctic

Russian nuclear powered Yamal in the Arctic 2007. Getty Images photo.

Russia currently has six nuclear icebreakers in operation as well as more than 30 diesel vessels while the United States has three Coast Guard operated icebreakers which are non-nuclear. The US vessels command only a quarter of the power that the Arktika has. This overall disparity has some officials concerned that Russia is primed for gaining a huge advantage in Arctic shipping and also the exploration for gas and oil deposits in the seabed.

“We’re not even in the same league as Russia right now,” stated Coast Guard Commandant Paul F. Zukunft  in 2015.


coast guard icebreaker

Coast guard icebreaker in the Arctic. US Coast guard photo.


The Obama administration is pressuring congress to approve construction of another Coast Guard icebreaker by 2020. Coast Guard has made it clear that the country needs to step up its fleet, “to ensure continued access to both polar regions and support the country’s economic, commercial, maritime and national security needs.” These needs come at a hefty price of roughly a billion dollars per ship.

Currently only five countries stake claim to the Arctic’s lands and waters:  Russia, Norway, Canada, United States and Denmark.

Churchill Photos of the Week – Blue Ice

Sea – ice is still in the frigid waters close to Churchill’s coast and these hearty travelers have been exploring via zodiac and Sea North Tours. I always looked forward to the early and exciting Churchill Arctic summer season with ice floes remaining in the Churchill River out into the Hudson Bay. These awesome features provide an extra thrill factor with Arctic terns and various other sea birds perching on the jagged ice chunks atop the floes. Even an occasional seal will nap on the ice surface. The surrealistic mix of sun, sea and ice combines to form a  sub – Arctic natural environment  at its best!

Ice floes in Churchill, Manitoba

Beautiful blue pools within a massive ice floe near Churchill. Alex De Vries – Magnifico photo.


ice floe in Churchill, Manitoba

Blue azure pool on an ice floe near Churchill. Alex De Vries – Magnifico photo.

Unbelievable Rainbow Image from Nunavut

Words cannot do justice to this simply magnificent rainbow shot from Braydon Peterson in Kugluktuk, Nunavut! The image was taken at 1:00 so you can see how the daylight is being stretched here at the start of summer. Enjoy the view!

Kugluktuk, Ninavut rainbow image

Incredible full rainbow shot from across the bay in Kugluktuk, Nunavut. Braydon Peterson photo.

Video – The Great Polar Bear Feast


Early September, high up on the Arctic’s North Slope, there is a feast truly hard to imagine! Around 80 polar bears gather each year along the rocky, frozen shores of Barter Island, just off the village of Kaktovik, where hunter-harvested bowhead whale remains await the hungry bruins. Since polar bears are generally known as solitary predators, this unique occurrence has peaked the interest of biologists in the north.

A small Inupiat hunting community, Kaktovik seemingly rests on the edge of the world, No roads or train tracks reach this northern outpost and packed sea – ice for nine months of the year isolates the town from most of the world. However, September beckons throngs of scientists and wildlife photographers to the speck of a town to document the incredibly voracious and unusual behavior. With more polar bears turning up year after year, biologists and climate researchers are working to solve the mystery of why this continues to draw a massive congregation of polar bears. Unlocking the clues of this migration is becoming paramount. The South Beaufort Sea polar bear population more and more is choosing to forage on land rather than the traditional sea – ice environment.

Inhabitants of Kaktovik, much like those of Churchill, Manitoba, become intertwined in their lives with the animals once the feast is over. The bears then meander towards town to see what else they can find. Perhaps dessert.

Todd Atwood is the lead polar bear scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey. Through his studies and research in the Arctic, he has estimated that polar bear numbers have declined 40% in the South Beaufort Sea area since 2006. Atwood is on a mission to find out the reason for the drastic decline.

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