Churchill’s Arctic summer season for Natural Habitat Adventures groups has been incredibly exciting so far. Aside from the bountiful array of beluga whales in the Churchill River and Hudson Bay, there’s been some polar bear action out on Eskimo point just north of Fort Prince of Wales. This peninsula of land juts into the bay and the isostatic rebound over the years has caused the land to emerge from the water and grow in size.
Male polar bear holding his position on Eskimo Point. Moira Le Patourel photo.
The “point” has also become traditional resting spot for polar bears in the summer months and quite often mother’s and cubs are found there. Because it is somewhat isolated from the town, it may attract bears hoping to nab a seal or beluga whale venturing too close to shore. I have seen bears swimming across from Cape merry over the years and a couple of times we were able to approach them fairly closely in zodiacs.
Male polar bear on Eskimo Point. Moira Le Patourel photo.
Natural Habitat guide Moira Le Patourel and her group of travelers spotted three polar bears in this area just a few days ago. These were the first such sightings of this incredible Arctic summer campaign. The first healthy adult male polar bear was seen from Cape Merry with a spotting scope looking across to Eskimo Point. A little later the group was able to get up close in zodiacs during a whale watching excursion. What a way to see two of the largest animals in the Arctic at the same time.
Mother and her cub on the tip of Eskimo Point. Moira Le Patourel photo.
Continuing out into the crystal clear waters of the Hudson Bay, the group came to the tip of the point and was surprised by a mom and cub nestled in the rocks and enjoying a beautiful day in the north. Travelers were ecstatic with their fortune!
Travelers on this trip took advantage of the fantastic water clarity and engaged in some snorkeling with belugas in the Churchill River and kayaking with the whales as well. One tandem kayak had the incredible thrill of getting “fluked” as a beluga slapped the water with his tail as he submerged for a dive. Water cascaded over the travelers and their boats.
The icing on the was documenting 31 various bird species over the course of the trip. Highlights were a short-eared owl, northern goshawk, pacific loons and young, tundra swans and cygnets and an Arctic tern chick.
Sunset from the beach in Churchill. Moira Le Patourel photo.
Fireweed is beginning to bloom across the tundra and white mountain avens are fast disappearing…summer is already half over in Churchill!
Summer on the Churchill River is predominately for beluga whale watching. However, occasionally each season presents the amazing opportunity to view polar bears on the rocks around Cape Merry or Eskimo Point just north of Fort Prince of Wales across river. This video was filmed by Sea North Tours near Eskimo Point and the sow and cub polar bears are in clear view. What an unbelievable experience for all travelers lucky enough to be aboard the zodiacs in Churchill!
If you take an adventure to Churchill in the near future there are some “must see” attractions you should take in before you leave the frontier town. Of course some are season specific while some are year round accessible.
1.- Polar Bears: Not many people are unaware that Churchill is the polar bear mecca for viewing the “king of the Arctic”. During October and November the town is filled with high numbers of travelers hoping to see these amazing creatures in the wild. Of course summer also holds the potential for sighting fewer numbers of polar bears but still the chance exists. If you come during the winter to perhaps view northern lights, you will not see any as they are hunting seals on the Hudson bay ice. So plan a trip during the optimal window and come see the polar bears of Churchill!
Polar bears sparring in the Churchill wildlife management Area. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.
2. Precambrian Shield: When in Churchill you will notice the rocky coastline and glacial polished rocks jutting out of the tundra in different areas of the surrounding area. You really will need to get out on the Precambrian shield and feel the energy that emanates from the heavy stone embedded in the Earth. The geological features are wondrous and magnificent and are some of the oldest rocks on the planet. You can easily become immersed in the natural history of the formations and see how the landscape adapts to their shape and movement.
A view across the Cape Merry barrens past the battery and to Fort prince of Wales. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.
3. Churchill Northern Studies Center and surrounding area: At the far reaches of the main road out of Churchill heading east lies the old Fort Churchill Rocket Range. These grounds are now occupied by the new and improved Churchill Northern Studies Center. The center is a bastion for Arctic researchers and travelers to live and learn from the incredible diversity of the ecosystems colliding in one place. A tour of the facility and exploring the lakes and patterned ground in the area via trails is a must for getting a feel for the true sub-Arctic biome.
Churchill Northern Studies Center. CNSC photo.
4. Northern Lights: Another fairly obvious “must see” in Churchill. Located under Van Allens belt in the magnetic field of our atmosphere, Churchill is an optimal location to take in these mystical and scintillating lights. Natural Habitat Adventures has a new option to view the aurora; an Aurora Pod. With other various viewing options available as well, this is an absolute must see in Churchill.
Natural Habitat’s Aurora Pod and an avid photographer. Alex de Vries – Magnifico photo.
5. -Cape Merry: This is probably the most beautiful and peaceful spot around Churchill. When guiding Churchill Arctic summer groups I would always bring the group there first as a relaxing orientation to the region. We would spend hours looking for flowers and studying the geology of the area. Fort Prince of Wales is just across the Churchill River (often teeming with beluga whales in summer) and the vast expanse of the Hudson Bay unveils itself as far as the eye can see.
Ammunition cache at Cape Merry for cannon protection of Fort prince of Wales. Karen Walker photo.
If you have been to Churchill you probably have heard of Button Bay. If you have been to Churchill in the Summer you might have even ventured by boat to the bay itself.
Sow and cub in the rocks off Eskimo Point. Stefanie Fernandez photo.
Button Bay lies northwest of Churchill just a short spin by zodiac around the tip of Eskimo Point and Fort Prince of Wales. From the fort you can gaze across the thickets of willows and wildflowers to the often glassy surface of the secluded inlet. It’s also possible to look across the Churchill River past Fort Prince of Wales on the point and see the glimmering surface of the bay.
In Button Bay the water is crystal clear and belugas are quite visible under water. Steve Selden photo.
The bay was commemorated by Sir Thomas Button in 1612 when he and the crew of the Resolution ventured to “New Wales”, as he named it for England. He is credited with securing the lands along the west coast of the Hudson Bay for England. The Nelson River estuary and Port Nelson within those lands, were named after the Master of the Resolution who perished on the journey and is buried there.
Sir Thomas Button.
On May 15, 1912, 300 years later, when Manitoba’s boundaries were extended, Port Nelson was included in the new territory designated to the province. Thomas Button is therefore known to be the first white man to visit this area in Manitoba.
Polar Bear along the coast of Button Bay. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.
Button Bay is a well known beluga whale hot spot in the summer. On the fairly rare occasions when whales are scarce in the Churchill River and mouth of the Hudson Bay, the 20 minute motor over to Button Bay usually produces pods of whales following the capelin run. On the journey by boat or zodiac, there’s always the chance of spotting a polar bear or two nestled along the rocky coast. I have often seen bears dipping paws into the bay or pulling up onto the rocks after a swim.
Button Bay is a little secret gem of the region. the bay itself is considered part of the Nunavut territory.