Polar Bear Weekly Video – Remote Polar Bear Island

Two researchers are marooned on a remote Arctic island with the highest density of hungry polar bears in the region! Check out their interactions and how they survive being on the bottom of the food chain. This production by Wild Things is full of nail-biting suspense and concern for the researchers. Polar bear season in Churchill will be approaching again fast. Check out Natural Habitat Adventures for trips to the tundra on the shores of the Hudson Bay in Churchill, Manitoba.

Churchill Weekly Photos – Aurora Magic

northern lights churchill

Northern lights seem to be coming from the chimney of this cabin. Andre Brandt photo.


Aurora Borealis in Churchill

Aurora Borealis above the Ithaca shipwreck in Churchill. Andre Brandt photo.


northern lights manitoba

Northern lights always look awesome with water below. Andre Brandt photo.


northern lights wapusk adventures Churchill, Manitoba

Northern lights flooding the sky above tee pee at Wapusk Adventures in Churchill. Andre Brandt photo.


Churchill inukshuk northern lights

The most photographed inukshuk in the north. Located behind the town complex in Churchill on the beach. Andre Brandt photo.

Andre Brandt is becoming one of the premier northern lights photographers in the world. He spends a lot of time in the north and especially around the aurora borealis mecca of Churchill, Manitoba. Most of these shots are from around that region and the unique perspective Andre adds is what sets his images apart from others. Visit his site https://www.andrebrandt.com/ to see all of his work. We can never get enough of awesome northern lights pics from the Arctic! Enjoy!

Canadian Government Removes Omnitrax from Lawsuit


Hudson bay rail line

The HBRC will be solely responsible for any damages and costs to repair the rail line. Omnitrax photo.

The parent company of Hudson Bay Railway Company (HBRC), US-based Omnitrax, is off the hook for any damages lost in a pending lawsuit. HBRC will be solely responsible to the federal government if they are found liable for not repairing the washed out rail-line that links Churchill with the south of Manitoba. In May 2017 the tracks were washed away in nearly 20 locations rendering the stretch of tracks useless until millions of dollars are allocated for repair.

Omnitrax’s claim that HBRC is a separate entity has been upheld and thus the Federal Government of Canada has removed its name from the lawsuit.

Soon after two late spring blizzards began to melt, the tracks suffered severe damage in multiple locations. Omnitrax, based in Denver, Colorado, refused to spend an assessed $60 million for repairs. The company claimed economic hardship with regards to the project and was faced with the federal government threatening to sue after the 30-day start deadline elapsed.

The government filed a lawsuit this past November naming Omnitrax and HBRC as defendants. Under a 2008 agreement, Transport Canada indicated that Omnitrax was responsible for keeping the railway running through 2029. As a result, the lawsuit is seeking to recoup $18 million that was an original part of the terms to operate the port and rail line. However, the company has claimed the damages resulted from unforeseeable circumstances or “act of God” thus releasing them from their obligation to repair under their contract with the government.

Omnitrax counsel Jamie Kagan acknowledged that the Attorney General of Canada and Omnitrax have agreed to remove the parent company’s name from the lawsuit and relieve them from any judgment for damages. Any fault and levy of damages will now only be filed against HBRC.

“Our view has always been that this is a political action mainly brought for the purposes of PR and not for a legal remedy, and it appears that the Government of Canada, when pushed, ultimately agreed and has withdrawn the allegations against Omnitrax Inc.,” Kagan said in an interview after the hearing.

“As the private owner of the line, Hudson Bay Railway Company -which also conducts business under the name OmniTRAX Canada- had the obligation to repair the rail line when it was damaged,” a spokesperson for Transport Canada said in an emailed statement.

Churchill residents and business people have been faced with increasing costs for everyday supplies as most now are transported by air. Government subsidies have deferred costs to some extent though some residents have been forced to relocate to Winnipeg or other locations as a result.

Omnitrax is still trying to work out a purchase and sale agreement with a group comprised of northern Manitoba First Nations. Those talks have stalled since the disaster last spring.

Churchill Family Trip—Amazing End-of-Season Action

This exceptional post my Natural Habitat Adventures guide Brad Josephs is a story of perseverance and making the best of a situation out of one’s control. An experience can take on a life of its own if the effort is put in!  

sedated polar bear in Churchill

The first amazing experience happened a few hours after our arrival to Churchill. Fellow guide Theresa Whipple spotted a polar bear alert truck towing a trailer with a sedated giant male bear on the back heading east from the polar bear jail. She called me on the radio and we headed out there. Brad Josephs photo.

This last polar bear season proved to be quite challenging after the first week of November due to record-setting early cold weather which caused the sea-ice to form earlier than it has in decades. This was such a different situation from last year when the ice formed unusually late. This, of course, is great news for the polar bears, which need ice as a platform to hunt seals, but when the bears move offshore we cannot find them on our bear viewing trips. I and two other guides were scheduled with the last trips of the season, extending until the 26th of November. These new “family trips” would have been spectacular last year, but this year most of the bears had moved to more than 60 miles offshore, which is too far for us to even find with helicopters! We maintained a positive attitude and tried our best to teach the young kids in our groups as much as possible about Arctic ecology, and have as much fun as possible. Luckily these trips turned out to be fantastic, and we were privy to some outstanding and rarely seen bear action.

Since the early 1980s, the province of Manitoba has employed a force of bear patrol officers who haze polar bears away from town and incarcerate problem bears in the Polar Bear Holding Facility, aka the Polar Bear Jail. When the ice has formed on Hudson Bay, the officers release the bears on the beach outside of town. When the bears see the ice, they lose any interest in prowling around town and head offshore to hunt seals. In my 13 seasons guiding in Churchill, I have never witnessed these releases, though it has always been a dream of mine to see it.

polar bear release Churchill

We found several Polar Bear Alert Conservation Officers unloading two huge bears on the beach at the edge of the frozen sea. Brad Josephs photo.


polar bear release Churchill

The 1,000+ pound polar bear, immobilized with Telazol, was carefully rolled onto the beach. In 45 minutes he woke up and headed onto the ice. The green dot on his back lasts for around a week and shows anyone from a distance that the bear has recently been released. It also shows possible substance hunters from villages to the north that the bear has toxic drugs in his system from being immobilized, and shouldn’t be consumed. Brad Josephs photo.

The highlight of the entire trip for most of the group happened like magic. One of the officers came to our group in his truck and asked how many little kids we had. He knew with the bears having disappeared from town that we were going to have a rough time meeting the expectations of the kids. I couldn’t believe it when he told us to load the little ones in his truck so he could drive them up to the waking giant bear for a close look! What an amazing experience that these young guys would never forget. Brett, if you are out there, you are a hero in my book forever!

polar bear release Churchill, Manitoba

The bear is awake and moving around groggily after 45 minutes. He’s a FREE BEAR and theres ice to hunt on! Brad Josephs photo.

The next morning we all boarded helicopters to hopefully see bears on the ice. Since the ice edge was an estimated 60 miles offshore, we knew that we may not find any, as we cannot travel that far by helicopter. We were so happy to see many bears! To fly over that vast expanse of rugged ice and finally reach the bears who were hunting seals was for me, a lifetime wildlife viewing highlight. We even saw one of the bears that had been released the previous evening, already more than 10 miles offshore! The climax was seeing a bear eating a seal. WOW doesn’t describe it!

Polar bear hunting seals

The green dot shows us this bear was released the evening before! The next morning we see him waiting next to a patch of open water, watching for seals! Brad Josephs photo.


polar bear hunting seals on Hudson Bay ice

We found this young bear who had very recently caught a seal from a breathing hole, dragged it to more solid ice, and was happily devouring the blubber. Brad Josephs photo.


Polar bear hunting seals

I was thrilled to see ravens with the bears. These tough birds, as well as arctic foxes, travel hundreds of miles onto the pack ice to scavenge seal kills. I wonder if the ravens help the bears find breathing holes—I bet they do. Brad Josephs photo.


polar bear sow and cub searching for seals

Mom and cub searching for seals on the ice. Brad Josephs photo.


Mom and two 2 -year old polar bear cubs

Mom and two 2-year-old cubs. Brad Josephs photo.

When our helicopter trip was finished the pilot said the conservation officers needed helicopter assistance with a problem bear in town. We loaded the bus and sat at a high point in town and waited for the action, and found it though it was a little too close for comfort, but very exciting for the kids.

polar bear alert churchill chasing polar bear

Polar bear alert chases a cub out of town. The bear raced down the road towards us. We had to move the bus to get out of the way. Some of my folks said it was like being in the middle of a James Bond movie, as the helicopter hovered over us, and the bear was darted by an officer hanging from an open window. Brad Josephs photo.


polar bearPolar bear alert helicopter in Churchill

Officers immobilized the orphaned 1-year-old cub from the helicopter with a dart. The cub’s chance of survival in the wild is south of zero at that age, so he will be transferred to the polar bear exhibit at the Winnipeg Zoo most likely. Brad Josephs photo.


Jack Batskill

Jack Batskill is a legendary Polar Bear Alert officer. Through his many years of dealing with polar bears, he is revered as a leading expert in his field, and respected by all in the bear world. Brad Josephs photo.


churchill dog sledding

Dog sledding in the boreal forest. Brad Josephs photo.


Snowshoe hare in Churchill, Manitoba

I found a snowshoe hare in the boreal forest for the kids to see. Brad Josephs photo.


Red fox Churchill

On the last day we explored the tundra in a Polar Rover. We didn’t see any bears, but after the action of the previous days it was OK. The kids understood, and we had a blast looking for foxes and other wildlife. This is a red fox. Brad Josephs photo.


ptarmigan Churchill

12-year-old Eleanor Fraser won my “animal spotter award” for seeing this nearly invisible arctic hare in a willow patch. Way to go, Eleanor! Brad Josephs photo.


What an awesome trip! I am so glad it was so thrilling for the kids, as getting the young generation interested in our natural world is the only way to ensure conservation in the future.

Check out Natural Habitat’s new family trips if you want to take your kids on an educational adventure that is parent and kid friendly. Let us plant seeds of appreciation for the natural world in the young ones and encourage a new generation of conservationists!

Keep exploring! Brad

New Player May Facilitate Port and Rail Sale

With little time to waste a new player has surfaced in the crucial sale of the Port of Churchill to two independent First Nations groups in the north. Investment firm Fairfax Financial Holdings from Toronto hopes to partner with One North and Missinippi Rail LP to wrest ownership from Denver, Colorado-based Omnitrax and set forth in motion the extensive repairs to the Hudson Bay Line damaged by severe flooding last May.

Port of Churchill

The Port of Churchill may be under new ownership soon. CBC News photo.

The new prospective partner will also bring a financially sound backing and a strong business base to the deal that Churchill officials and residents hope will secure access to the south and free them from isolation.

According to reliable sources, a negotiator for the federal government, former clerk of the Privy Council Wayne Wouters, has brokered a deal with the two potential owners.

“This development has the potential to contribute to an arrangement supported by First Nations and communities in northern Manitoba,” Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said in a statement released Thursday.

“This would enable a sustainable business approach that results in a safe and reliable rail line.”

Paul Rivett, president of Fairfax Financial Holdings, said “we are optimistic about the prospects of northern gateways.” stated in a press release.

“The Churchill rail corridor and the Port of Churchill are important pieces of infrastructure for northern communities and to the economy of Canada. Partnering with First Nations and communities is the right model for this investment,” Rivett said.

He said Fairfax will rely on a company it has invested in, AGT Foods, to develop a plan that is “viable and profitable in the long term as a business.”

Earlier this week, Ottawa responded with an $18-million lawsuit against Omnitrax after it filed filed a claim for damages against the federal government under the rules of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The head of the Fairfax, V. Prem Watsa, has been characterized as the “Warren Buffet of Canada” often investing in troubled companies and turning them into a positive entity. Watsa invested in BlackBerry and Fairfax has significant holdings in several other companies.

V. Prem

Fairfax Financial CEO and chair V. Prem Watsa.CBC News photo.

Omnitrax signed a memorandum of understanding with First Nations Consortium Missinippi Rail in June and then joined forces with One North to strengthen interests in purchasing Omnitrax’s Manitoba assets.

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence, in a written statement to CBC News, said transferring the port and rail line to a stable, strong northern regional ownership group is the highest priority. He is behind the efforts to find a partner to purchase the assets one hundred per cent.

“I am pleased that there are outstanding companies that also share this vision. We now need the negotiations expedited and [to] ensure our preparations for repairs to the rail line and port are ready for the 2018 season,” wrote Spence.

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