For more than 20 years Churchill local Metis elder Myrtle DeMeulles has been educating travelers to the area about the ways of living off the land and surviving in the sub-Arctic. Myrtle has been giving cultural presentations to Natural Habitat Adventures as well as other tour groups year round for as long as most anyone can remember.
With her trademark dry humor interwoven into a rich cultural historical talk, Myrtle in someways resembles the Grateful Dead…every “show” is unique and takes the listener down a winding road, enthralled by her story.
Myrtle’s caribou hide sculpture.
Myrtle also has been creating caribou hide sculptural two-dimensional artworks for decades.
Here’s an insightful interview of Myrtle…check it out.
Natural Habitat Adventures guide Drew Hamilton reports that northern lights season in Churchill got off to a roaring start this week! Awesome aurora borealis and fine first looks from Natural Habitat’s Aurora pod and the Aurora Domes warmed the hearts and hands of his group of hearty travelers. The season started with -40 degree temps though the groups spirits were sky high as one could imagine. The trip is superbly outfitted with high – tech gear to keep all travelers warm while they patiently and excitedly wait for lights in the northern sky. The advantage to the colder Arctic air is it usually ensures crystal clear skies for exceptional visibility. A spectacular moon and stellar sun dogs each day added “icing” on this past week’s phenomenal start to the season.
Northern lights over Churchill. drew Hamilton photo.
Natural Habitat guide Drew Hamilton with an icy beard. Drew Hamilton photo.
Days were filled with incredible cultural presentations on the history and ecology of Churchill from local native elders Caroline Bjorklund and Myrtle de Meulles as well as Parcs Canada interpreter Duane. Snow sampling out at the Churchill Northern Studies Center with Matt and Igloo building with Harry Tootoo supplemented th esub – Arctic experience quite well. A supreme highlight of the trip was dog sledding with Dave Daly at Wapusk Adventures. The Ididamile is still going strong! What a start to the new season!
Doing the Ididamile with Wapusk Adventures. Drew Hamilton photo.
The dogyard at Wapusk Adventures. Drew Hamilton photo.
A swirl of aurora borealis over Churchill’s boreal forest. Drew Hamilton photo.
The Metis Heritage Hall in Churchill burned to the ground early this morning. All was lost in the fire including a vast collection of art and historical artifacts. The loss is truly devastating. Mrtyle de Meulles had stored her large collection of Metis artifacts used in her cultural talks and presentations. Unfortunately many of these items are irreplaceable. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Churchill and their terrible loss.
Fire response at Metis hall in Churchill. Rhonda Reid photo.
Fire destruction of Metis Hall in Churchill. Rhonda Reid photo.
Myrtle de Meulles in metis Hall. Metis Heritage photo.
Natural Habitat guide Karen Walker finished up the polar bear season with an enthusiastic and somewhat “seasoned” group. An initial day of dog sledding with Churchill River mushing and Kelly Turcotte provided one of those Arctic experiences that will last in memory forever. Gliding through the packed snow amongst covered spruce trees gave 89 yr old traveler Tina Vilhauer a thrill of a lifetime. She was able to share the experience with her granddaughter who also had a big smile.
Running sled dog. Brad Josephs photo.
After lunch the group was off via helicopter to scout out polar bear dens out near Wapusk National Park. Once located, the abandoned dens were another incredible, once in a lifetime event for most of the group. Tina and Muriel Slavens, a 75 year-old traveler were not able to forge across the snow to crawl through a den so the helicopter pilot hovered just above the entrance on the way back so they could get a closer look inside…a wonderful gesture for the women to cherish. Some of the other guests had crawled into the polar bear den and were able to describe the feel and earthly smell of the hollowed out tundra.
Moose moving along the tundra. Brad Josephs photo.
As the group flew across Wapusk National Parc, along the Churchill River they searched the land for moose… spotting quite a few, including a sow and calf and four large bull moose in a group together.As they headed up the coast searching for polar bears all aboard noticed that the ice had really packed into the Hudson Bay the last few days, so it was difficult to spot the bears.There were no bears at Cape Churchill yet…traditionally the last stepping -off point of the season for polar bears heading out onto the ice to hunt seals. Finally heading west, they spotted several bears, including a sow with cubs. Bears waiting by leads of water in the ice for seals and one blood stained patch of ice with indented paw prints around signaled the scene of an earlier seal kill.Returning to town the choppers flew into the sunset, with a hazy, foggy orange sky ahead and a sun dog rainbow off to the side. The final leg took the group over the Ithaca ship wreck encased in the ice in Bird Cove heading back into Churchill at last light.Back in town after a hot dinner the group enjoyed an inspiring talk by local Metis elder Myrtle Demeulles.
Snow covered Fort Prince of Wales. Karen Walker photo.
The first morning out on a rover produced very little wildlife activity until the group reached a point out east. There a healthy polar bear lumbered along the coast, very close to the rover. Several more bears were spotted out on the ice and then a few minutes of sparring at the tundra lodge. A bear nearby the lodge was licking at its paws for quite awhile. Four other sleeping bears were in view and the tranquility of the animals mixed with the majestic landscape was satisfying to all travelers aboard. The group caught a great view of an arctic fox along the coast …following it with the rover for several minutes.
Arctic fox combing the tundra. Brad Josephs photo.
The following day was stormy so polar bears were either hunkered down in the willows or facing the challenges of being out on the sea ice of the Hudson Bay in search of seals. A bear was spotted along the ice edge at the coast walking slowly . “We did get to see an arctic fox as we left town in the morning, an arctic hare in the willows in Ptarmigan Alley and some ptarmigan popping up and down along a snow berm near the lodge lake.So we ended up seeing all 4 arctic animals that day which is pretty unusual., reported Karen.
Polar bear walking along a frozen thermokarst. Brad Josephs photo.
“Our last morning was beautiful, so we drove around as far as we could without getting stuck in the snow drifts.We couldn’t get all the way to Cape Merry, but we got beyond Jockville and could see Fort Prince of Wales across the frozen Churchill River.We saw lots of fresh bear and fox tracks, but none were in sight.”, stated Karen. A magnificent morning around the Churchill area.
Calm Air charter ready to fly to Winnipeg. Karen Walker photo.
Just before the groups flight to Winnipeg, they got to see a bear lift of a sow and her two cubs.The cubs rode in the cab of the helicopter with seat belts fastened to hold them secure while mom was slung underneath in the cargo net.The guests really enjoyed that grand finale.
While awaiting the final results of the Hudson Bay Quest to be posted, we can relive what some avid travelers from Natural Habitat Adventures experienced the past couple of weeks. Guide Karen Walker and her third and fourth groups of the season were chasing the northern lights in the Arctic seaport of Churchill. Last year’s overall stormy and overcast weather have given way to this years more clearer skies for optimal viewing. With consistently frigid temperatures in the negative digits all month long, the night sky has remained clear enough for magnificent displays.
Karen and her fourth group of the season experienced some magic on the 36 hour train ride from Winnipeg to Churchill. While stopped at the station in Gillam, this years starting point for the Hudson Bay Quest, the night sky to the South unveiled a slight glimmer of green aurora and most guests were able to watch from their sleeper- cabin rooms on that same side. The display continued for about an hour giving the group a preview of more prominent lights farther North.Once in Thompson, the group boarded a bus and made the journey to Pisew Falls, a regular stop on Arctic Summer excursions though rarely accessible in Winter. The ice – encrusted falls are reached via boardwalk that winds down through the forest to a pair of staggered observation platforms. The ice and snow build up around the falls coupled with the peacefulness of the frozen forest create a serenity of a forgotten place. Some also made the trek through snow down another trail ,across the parking lot, leading to an elaborate suspension bridge over a river in the forest. I have made many treks through these woods to these sites with Summer groups. Good times in the North!
The following evening, out at the aurora domes, the night sky reacted to the recent solar storm activity and provided sublime entertainment for four to five hours. The lights would shift from dim to intense throughout the night thrilling guests and giving the photographers in the group ample photo opportunities. The entire sky was filled with dancing, moving lights of greenish tint.
The next day wind lowered the -33 C temp to -47 C wind chill. After a morning presentation by famed Metis elder Myrtle Demeulles, the group braved a dog-sledding excursion with Wapusk Adventures. Dave Daley, owner and head musher, was away at the Canadian Challenge so his able assistants out at Joe Buck’s ridge took good care of the adventurous travelers.
A quite different, more subdued display of aurora showed itself that evening out at the domes. An undulating, flowing light filled most of the sky once again much to the delight of a very fortunate group travelers. the fast moving lights were moving from the West to Northeast with a nice fuller moon to the South..providing nice light on the snowy tundra for photo effects. Another spectacular evening!
The final night of viewing was not to be outdone as the group arrived at the domes after a late dinner. “Really,really good” was how guide Karen described the display..albeit short-lived. As the final traces of light faded into the hazy sky around 11:30 pm, the group breathed a collective sigh acknowledging how fortunate they had been on this journey north.
Topping off the adventure the following day the group tried their hands at curling ..a true northern experience not to be missed. All had “a great time” according to Karen.