Churchill in summertime is a magical sub – Arctic paradise! Three short or long months, depending on how you look at it, pack in a vast and diverse pallet of nature. The tundra and Hudson Bay come alive as tributary rivers ignite with life and small boats of eager travelers seeking the vibe of the beluga whale pods. The “Arctic Riviera” is shelter for belugas to nurture young, molt their old skin or just enjoy the “warm” waters of the southern Hudson Bay.
Beluga whale underwater in th Churchill River. Alex De Vries -Magnifico photo.
As a guide returning to Churchill each year, I was drawn naturally like a migrating animal and the annual sojourn just became instinctual. Each spring I would start to feel the pull of belugas out on the Churchill River and Hudson Bay. After trolling among the pods, kayaking and snorkeling on a daily basis for over 10 years, the feeling takes root in one’s psyche. The draw to migrate for whatever reason is real. The belugas are the main attraction here for sure!
Although belugas, birds and sometimes polar bears are the main draw for the summer season, there are some lesser known features or entities in and around Churchill that have been hidden jewels over the years. Here are some that I really was drawn to.
-Boreal Chorus Frog – One of the jewels of the north and so much fun to search for around the edges of an Arctic pond.2.- Jellyfish– There are a number of jellyfish that thrive in the cold water of the north. On clear water days the sight of them suspended around beluga whales is ethereal.
Aurelia, a jellyfish found in the Churchill River. G. Young, Photo copyright.
3. Sandhill Cranes – Over the years these birds are usually spotted along the railroad tracks where grain drops from rail cars.
Two Sandhill cranes mixed in with Canada geese in Churchill. Rhonda Reid photo.
4.- Orca whales – A rare sight indeed in the Churchill area. Though, over the last few years they have been seen more often.
Orca’s in the Hudson Bay. Dwight Allen photo.
5. – Pack Ice on the Hudson Bay– If you visit Churchill early enough in the Spring there’s a good chance there will still be some pack-ice in the bay and even in the Churchill River. The ice draws wildlife to it such as bears, whales and birds.
6.- Polar Bear Seal kill – The shorter ice season has produced more seal kills in both summer and fall. These kills will often draw up to 10 polar bears to the scene. This is a kill from later in the polar bear season.
Polar bear and ravens scavenge a seal kill carcass in Churchill Wildlife Management Area. Brad Josephs photo.
7. – Ross’s Gull – A true incredible check on the life-list if this beautiful bird unveils itself along the Churchill River. Another fun treasure hunt!
Ross’ gull along the gravelly shore. Brian Small photo.
8. Orchids – One wouldn’t think these delicate plants could survive the harsh Arctic weather though these flowers are opportunistic and make the most of their northern environment.
Round – leaved orchid in Churchill. Steve Selden photo.
Dene Village in Churchill is a forlorn place for the most part. There is a stone monument just off Goose Creek Road as you pull off into the vacant, silent,raised subdivision commemorating the 150 Dene people that died following their forced relocation by the government from the north country.
Back then was the beginning of the end for the Dene. They were living off the land as native people did when the Canadian government decided they were in need of “civilization”. Unfortunately “civilization” was not what the Dene needed nor wanted at the time and their endless shuffling from place to place around Churchill began.
The Dene relocation story will be explored in subsequent posts as this post is about what we discovered in the patch of forest adjacent to the village back in the days of guiding Churchill Arctic summer trips.
Round leaved orchid. Courtesy wikidmedia.org.
I don’t know how we came upon the majestic trove of incredible orchids hidden in the boreal forest just behind some of the burned or raised cottage foundations in the village but we did. With all the buildings gone as you meander through the sub-division, one goes from an erie feeling of trespassing on sacred ground to an amazing short walk through the forest with about five or six different stops to examine and photograph various orchids found in Churchill.
Hodded Lady’s – Tresses. Shelly Weedmark photo.
The orchids we found and returned time after time with groups to see in this sacred place were Hooded Lady’s – Tresses, Small Northern Bog Orchid, Round – leaved Orchid, Northern Lady’s – Slipper, Green Flowered Bog Orchid and Early Coralroot. When we would walk quietly through the soft grounded undercover of this particular spot I remember telling the people I felt like these beautiful orchids were the souls of the Dene people that had suffered and died in Churchill. That they were back in another form and that new reincarnated form was brought forth in these incredible flowers. That the pain the people had gone through was now somehow released and become beauty in the world.
I still think of these walks we took and I feel lucky to have had these experiences. The feelings from the powerful orchids….souls of the world are still with me today.