Churchill is a funky frontier town with some unusual characters and a town center right out of the movies. The town is self-contained with just about every activity you want located in the town complex. Northern restaurants and bars line the main drag which is Kelsey Boulevard. Polar bears even saunter into town so if one is patient one doesn’t have to head out to the Churchill Wildlife management Area in a polar rover to see them.
Here are five attractions outside of Churchill proper that are worth checking out if you happen to visit the northern village.
1. Ithaca Shipwreck: Just off the coast near Bird Cove in Churchill, this old freighter is a classic landmark of the region.
2. Cape Merry: This iconic overlook on the precambrian sheild above the Churchill River and Hudson Bay is a classic starting point for any Adventure group arriving in Churchill. One can become geographically centered here and get a feel for the immensity of the Hudson Bay.
Natural Habitat group at the Cape Merry battery. Karen Walker photo.
3. Port of Churchill: A major economic stalwart of the town, this massive grain storage and port facility facilitates the cargo train as well as enormous cargo ships transporting grain products across the oceans via waterways accessible to the the Hudson Bay.
Grain port of Churchill.Steve Selden photo.
4. Observation tower at Goose Creek: In the summer this spot is a great place to observe various marsh birds and ducks. You also can get a distant view of an annual osprey nest as well as a clear vista about eight kilometers up the Churchill River. A quiet respite with amazing sky and landscape views.
Observation tower at Goose Creek marina.
5. Anglican Church: If you like the intimate atmosphere of a quaint church service, this is the place. If you also want to see a national treasure you can do that as well. The Lady Franklin stained glass window is displayed to the right of the alter. This grand piece of art was given by Sir John Franklin’s wife, Jane, in appreciation of all the search efforts put forth to find her husband and their lost Arctic expedition of 1845.
Anglican church in Churchill rests on the edge of the Hudson Bay.
Close – up of the Lady Franklin stained glass window Photo Karen Walker
Karen Walker’s Natural Habitat travelers arrived into Churchill on a VERY mild day this past week. The temperatures have been in the 30’s, with very little wind. While making a traditional orientation stop at the Inukshuk, the smell of sea kelp was persistent without the breezes off the Hudson Bay. The group ventured up to Cape Merry and comfortably spent a half hour at the battery enjoying the panoramic views and interesting natural history from Ranger Heather.
Exploring the precambrian sheild in Churchill. Karen Walker photo.
Later, as the group headed out on the launch road, they spotted an Arctic hare tucked into some spruce branches right next to the road. “We went out to the lodge and spotted three white slivers of bears off in the willow bushes. Two of them sparred in the willows, then moved toward the lodge” stated Karen. “One big guy sat right under the lodge windows looking up at the lodge, while the other two sparred by the propane tanks. We were parked at the end of the lodge, splitting half of the rover looking into the back of the lodge and half in the front. Once the polar bears settled down in the willows, dinner was served and the polar rover headed back to launch.
Frosty white polar bear on the tundra. Brad Josephs photo.
The following day five helicopters with 15 people lifted off in search of a polar bear den. Overcast with a very light wind….the contingent flew over the fort and up the Churchill River. A couple of the helis spotted harbor seals on the rocks just below the weir a short ways up the river. “Further up river we spotted some moose. Some helicopter passengers saw sows with calves, some spotted bulls” reported Karen. The group landed at Deer River to look at an abandoned bear den. Many of the travelers went inside and snapped a photo. The surrounding tundra was spongy and covered with caribou moss (lichen), crowberries, lowbush cranberries and the fragrant Labrador tea and even some red cranberries above the den. “I love the smell of the Labrador tea as you walk across the tundra.” stated karen. The larch/tamarack trees were losing their last needles. These trees are unique in that they are one of the only coniferous trees to lose their needles in the winter.
A birds eye view from the helicopter above Churchill. Karen walker photo.
The helicopters set off again flying across the wide open space, over the ponds and wetlands across Wapusk National Park. “We spotted many more moose in the forest -moms and calves, bulls, and bulls with cows nearby.” On the return journey back to Churchill the helicopters flew along the coast to look for polar bears. “We spotted innumerable bears along the coast, walking, standing, and laying in the kelp. In one group there were seven bears right near each other, and 15 bears within our view. We also spotted a couple of moms with cubs. We flew over the CWMA and the finally the Ithaca shipwreck and into Churchill.” What a trip!
As the group landed and entered the Hudson Bay Helicopter base office, Karen spotted a Conservation officer. She sensed that something might be happening shortly out at the Polar Bear Compound and she was right. The group hurried by shuttle out to the facility to see a mom with two, two-year-old cubs lifted by net up the coast of Hudson Bay. “It was pretty exciting for the guests that had just ridden in that helicopter to see it used for the bear lift” offered Karen.
Conservation officers prepare an animal for a bear lift. Karen walker photo.
The group headed over to Kelly Turcotte’s Churchill River Mushing for an afternoon of dog mushing. Kelly provided interesting information on the dog hierarchy and expenses to feed dogs up in the north, then the guests went out to meet the dogs. It was “warm” out, so there was a lot of mud in the dog yard and many guests came back with muddy foot prints on their Natural Habitat parkas. After the bumpy and fun ride on the cart-sleds Kelly spoke about a bear that was nosing around his dog yard earlier this season. Conservation officers tranquilized the bear and took him away to the compound.
On the way back into town, the group stopped at the Dene Village monument and learned about the struggles of the Dene people through their government forced relocation. Winding along the RX Road, the travelers stopped to see the Canadian Eskimo Dogs that various owners hold in their kennel yards and then made a final stop at the Town of Churchill sign for a group photo. All in all an amazing trip so far in Churchill!
Here are some landscape photo’s with Natural Habitat travelers enjoying the solitude of summer in the sub Arctic. Churchill, at the south end of the Hudson Bay is an accessible place to experience the wonders of a world that remains secluded to an ever growing shrinking planet. Development continues to erode our most iconic and beautiful, natural environments…though the Arctic remains a place where the mind can be free and open to endless possibilities of the unexplored natural world.
Natural Habitat travelers enjoying the Hudson Bay coast. Stephanie Fernandez photo.
The coastline around Churchill has been developing over millions of years. The precambrian sheild that frames the bay is some of the oldest rock on the planet and continues to emerge from the land. Isostatic rebound is the process of the land rising up from the enormous weight of the past ice age. Even though the weight of the ice is long gone, the land or sheild, continues to rise up from the event. Incredible when you think of the slow process.
Photographing the rocks from a past era. Stephanie Fernandez photo.
With thousands of beluga whales migrating to the Churchill River estuary in the summer, the opportunities abound to experience wildlife in a pristine environment. A short zodiac excursion on the river presents pods of whales feeding on capelin and often curious enough to approach the boats at arms length.
Zodiac excursion onto the Churchill River in search of beluga whales. Stephanie Fernandez photo.
Polar bear season in the fall is one of the most scintillating experiences on Earth…a dramatic encounter with one of the most fascinating creatures to live. The mystery of the north adds to their beauty by capturing the imagination of an unexplored world. Seeing bears in the summer is an even more singular event defined by a feeling of isolation.
Polar bears on Eskimo Point. Stephanie Fernandez photo.
Enjoying a BBQ on a journey to the coast via polar rover. Stephanie Fernandez.
Boxing polar bears!
Take a look at the above link to see some amazing footage from Natural Habitat guide Melissa Scott out on the tundra. With the fresh snow and temperatures in the mid 20’s F, wildlife up north is energized.
Guide Karen Walker’s group of MIT alumni began their Churchill trip with a walk out unusually far on Cape Merry, reaching the old battery via the cannons that utilized to protect Fort Prince of Wales across the Churchill River. A few artifacts rest on the rocky battery for visitors to see. Later on at a Parcs Canada presentation in the visitor Center a ranger brought out some newly excavated artifacts..a nice link to the past.
Battery at Cape Merry. Karen Walker photo.
The following day a quiet drive into the lodge for Karen and group all the way to Gordon Point eased everyone into the feel for the tundra. After a nice coffee break, a drive along the Coast Road, provided an arctic fox sighting…a first for the group. One traveler actually saw the fox catch a lemming. Quite an amazing sight.
Arctic fox inquisitive of travelers. Colby Brokvist photo.
Ptarmigan on the tundra. Karen Walker photo,
A sleeping male polar bear was then spotted about a 100 feet away, posed perfectly, looking right at the group aboard their rover The sun cast beautiful light on the very clean, white bear, highlighting his coarse hair with a warm glow. Eating lunch while all the while observing a bear in the Arctic is a rare opportunity for sure. After lunch it decided to roll over on its back and roll around playfully to the groups delight of the group. A nap followed to conserve energy.
Precambrian sheild of Cape Merry. Karen Walker photo.
Traveling a little further on the coast road revealed another bear walking along a pond slightly ahead of the rover. It continued walking toward the rover while another bear did the same further off in the distance. The first bear came within 10 feet of the vehicle and the bear that was more distant followed along the path of the first bear and also came close to the back observation deck before heading off. They were both healthy adult bears.
Later on, heading back to launch, the group came upon the two bears along the trail. One provided a road block of sorts slowly ambling along in front of the rover. Eventually, all three bears were at a distance in a row. Another bear was spotted, so four bears were in range in the area. Quite an enjoyable day in the CWMA.The day’s changeable weather provided an exciting backdrop for the action. From overcast to sideway blowing snow, to sunshine, to overcast, back to sun. A little wind as well provided even more color to the day.
Another successful season in Churchill is in the history books with travelers safely back home from their amazing adventures and polar bears out on the solid Hudson Bay pack ice hunting seals. Another early freeze-up ended with enough bears to thrill even the last group of avid photographers on a Natural Habitat photography trip. A second wave of bears and a good south wind to keep the ice off shore enabled the season to continue right to the end. Here are some amazing photos from the season….more will be posted through the new year. Also keep an eye out for our new format to the website coming soon. Enjoy!
Peter thrills the group with his drum dance. Colby Brokvist photo.
Polar bear romping in the snow near Churchill. Eric Rock photo
Polar bear up close in November. Colby Brokvist photo.
A red fox climbs on the precambrian sheild near Churchill. Rick Pepin photo.
Aurora from the tundra lodge. Brad Josephs photo.