Natural Habitat Tundra Lodge Ready for Action

Tundra lodge in Churchill

Great White Bear has positioned the Nat Hab Tundra Lodge in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area for the upcoming polar bear season. Don Walkoski photo.

Natural Habitat Adventures Tundra Lodge is positioned perfectly in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area (CWMA) for the October/November polar bear season in Churchill. This prime location of the Great White Bear managed lodge is located in an area where polar bears migrate to and from a peninsula that juts into the Hudson Bay. Polar bears amble into the lodge area and often set up resting beds in the willows that surround the lodge. We can’t wait to see the wildlife action out there this season. Enjoy!

Churchill Polar Bear Stats

polar bear stats churchill, MB

Polar bear interaction stats for last week in and around Churchill. Town of Churchill image.

Polar bears are looking quite healthy these days as numbers are building around the Churchill area. With about a month to go before the official polar bear season, we are all getting excited for news and images from the tundra of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. Stay tuned in for exciting reports from Churchill, the polar bear capital of the world!

Omnitrax Has Rail Assessment

Hudson Bay line rail damage. CBC photo.

Omnitrax, owner of the Port of Churchill and the damaged Hudson Bay Rail – Line, has apparently obtained an assessment of the severely damaged railroad tracks between Gillam and Churchill. After meeting with Transport Canada officials this past Monday, Omnitrax seems to have a clearer notion of what it will take to repair the tracks.

The company has not yet released the findings and any strategic, updated plan to commence work in the near future. After 13 weeks of inoperability, the Hudson Bay line still sits damaged by spring floods resulting from two historic March blizzards. An August 4th updated engineering report detailing estimated costs for repairs was obtained by Omnitrax though they vowed to divulge the findings only after meeting with Transport Canada.

In early July, repair estimates by Omnitrax ranged between $20 and $60 million which they emphatically stated were “not economically viable”. However, the Canadian government continually insists that the company is responsible via federal transportation laws to keep the lifeline to the north running. Transport Canada, the enforcing agency for the law will not initiate an investigation until it received specific complaints from citizens and other agencies.

Correspondence so far from complainants has not been addressed directly to movement of goods and rail line abandonment prompting responses from some Churchill residents that Ottawa and Omnitrax are dragging their feet in the process. Telling Churchillians they have basically not “complained properly” is not sitting right with many of the distraught residents.

Damaged Hudson Bay rail line. CBC photo.

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence, mayor of Churchill, instead of encouraging residents to file complaints with the regulator has instilled trust in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trudeau pledged he would find a solution on July 28. Trudeau, however, hasn’t said how he plans to proceed.

Home Hardware owner Rhoda deMeulles exemplifies the business owners woes in town by expressing her frustration on lack of supplies due to no cargo arriving via rail. “It’s hard to realize what you need all at once,” said deMeulles, whose store is close to running out of construction supplies and cash.

“We feel like we’re in jail,” said deMeulles, who still loves the town she adopted 38 years ago. “We need help; we need our rail line back.”

Something has to give as the government continues to subsidize groceries for the town. Everyone is expecting a decision by Omnitrax soon, possibly as early as next week.

Churchill Polar Bear Stats

Polar bears in Churchill.

Polar bears roaming the tundra in the CWMA. Bill McPherson photo.

 

Polar bear in Churchill

A large male polar bear keeping a weary eye on the area. Don Walkoski photo.

 

Polar bears in Churchill

A polar bear family rests on the rock outcrop at Bird Cove in Churchill. Don Walkoski photo.

Churchill’s polar bear season officially isn’t for another couple of months though you wouldn’t know it by the recent sightings around town and out in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area (CWMA) lately. Polar bears are beginning to congregate in the area and most seem to be healthy and non-confrontational. We are excited to see what the coming weeks will bring as far as polar bear activity goes. The rest of summer and this fall should provide more exciting wildlife excitement for all ages!

Omnitrax Seeks Help to Fix Rail Line

 

Hudson Bay tracks washed out.

Tracks have been washed out in multiple places between Churchill and Gillam. Mike Spence photo.

Omnitrax, owner and operator of the Hudson Bay Rail line is continuing to seek government and First Nation help to fix the only land access to Churchill. Estimates of $60 million would restore the tracks to operation by the end of October. However, Omnitrax says they can’t and won’t do it alone!

“It [the rail line] is not commercially viable, so we believe it’s a public utility,” said Peter Touesnard, chief commercial officer for Omnitrax.

“We believe it’s still the least expensive way to supply service to the north, in particularly the community of Churchill, and we believe there is a role for the public to play in that.”

Peter Tousnard

Peter Touesnard, chief commercial officer for Omnitrax. Jaison Empson BBC photo.

Two March blizzards of epic proportions melted this spring into widespread flooding across the tundra from Gillam to Churchill. Water flows across the land since permafrost lies just beneath the surface and it does not percolate into the soil though. Instead, it flows across the land and when enough accumulates it can move with a powerful force destroying man made features in its path. The ensuing damage to the tracks between Gillam and Churchill have caused a storm of even greater proportions.

With the crucial lifeline to the town inoperable and the main shipping line for goods and supplies cut off, food prices have dramatically increased and businesses have been forced to lay off staff due to soaring costs of securing the goods for their business to operate.

A written statement from Omnitrax was released on Tuesday via a spokesperson for the office of Transport Minister Marc Garneau:

“Omnitrax has an obligation to repair and maintain its line and maintain service to residents, and we expect Omnitrax to meet its obligations,” the statement reads.

“If Omnitrax fails to meet its obligations, our Government will have to examine what are the next steps and alternatives to ensure residents can get the food and supplies they need.”

Omnitrax announced Tuesday morning, that the company has a 60-day plan starting in September to begin repairing the tracks contingent on securing contractors, housing and resources for the project

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence says the timeline for rebuilding portions of the track and replacing bridges and culverts is leaving very little wiggle room with regards to weather in the north.

“The end of October and that’s it, your construction season is done,” Spence said. “So we’re running out of time, here. Let’s get on with it.”

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence. Jaison Empson photo.

Provincial Infrastructure Minister Blaine Pedersen stated his dissatisfaction with the Omnitrax repair schedule and plan; “Today’s technical briefing provided by Omnitrax was clearly inadequate, leaving many unanswered and hypothetical questions.”

“Our senior provincial officials have repeatedly asked Omnitrax for details about their independent engineering assessment and future intentions of the rail line including timetables respecting necessary mitigation efforts, details of insurance policies and status of claims, to which we have had no response,” Pedersen said.

“What was made clear today by senior Omnitrax officials is that they are not prepared to repair, maintain or operate the rail line. It appears that they intend to abandon the line. If so then it is their obligation to the people of Churchill and indeed Manitobans to communicate their abandonment decision to the federal government.”

A third – party track assessment Omnitrax commissioned was completed by AECOM Canada and the engineering company identified 31 washout areas, 68 culverts and 13 bridges requiring repair over the 300 kilometer run of the track from Gillam to Churchill.

In June the Canadian government approved an extension for the Nutrition North food subsidy program so Churchill would be able to keep grocery prices at a somewhat affordable price until rail service resumes. With Manitoba Health also contributing to the subsidy effort the rate will be at $1.60/kg.

Sea North Tours – Beluga Whale Watch

Sea North Tours operates fantastic beluga whale watching trips on the Churchill River and Hudson Bay for groups like Natural Habitat Adventures. Their small group format allows travelers to get up close and personal with the belugas and other wildlife. The Sea North 2 carries 30 or so passengers and gives photographers a different vantage point from above the water while the Italian – made zodiacs can approach the whales within touching distance. Belugas enjoy following the slipstream from the zodiac’s outboard motor and sometimes three or four at a time troll behind in the bubbly wake. Every day on the water in Churchill is a different experience. Stay tuned for more unique wildlife photos from Sea North Tours!

Beluga in Churchill

Beluga underwater in the Churchill River. Sea North Tours photo.

 

Beluga whales in Churchill

Beluga whales at the bow in Churchill on the water. Sea North Tours photo.

 

Belugas on the Hudson Bay

The Sea North 2 watching a pod of beluga whales on the Hudson Bay. Sea North Tours photo.

 

 

Sea North Tours zodiac trip

Sea North Tours zodiac on the Churchill River by the Port of Churchill. Sea North Tours photo.

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