Aurora Shines Down On Churchill Aurorafest

Guide Karen Walker and her final Northern Lights group traveling with Natural Habitat Adventures experienced some fantastic aurora out at the Aurora Domes about 7km outside of town. the site is a leftover army base building converted into a warm aurora borealis viewing venue. This year groups have been wildly successful in sighting extended viewing periods of lights in the northern Arctic sky.

While the last group departed Churchill just prior to the Hudson Bay Quest dogsled race commencing in Gillam,MB and finishing in Churchill, the travelers were privy to some Aurorafest happenings around town and locals high anticipation of the Quest race. Typical March activities are sandwiched around aurora viewing. Trips out along Goose Creek Rd. and a stop at Bill Calnan’s B&B are always serene. Dog mushing this trip was with Blue Sky and Gerald Azur. A tour of the town complex, photo’s by the huge stone inukshuk behind the building on the shore of Hudson Bay and of course a sampling of a true Canadian sport….curling! Just to name some of the goings -on in the north country.

Here are some photo’s from this years trips…still waiting on some more good aurora pics and will post them as soon as I get them.I have a few from traveler Jeremy Pearson…enjoy. Looking forward to Arctic Summer news and anything else that happens in Churchill in the few months in between now and then. I will post some updates on the major issues facing Churchill in the coming months and year. Meanwhile here’s a recap in pictures of some high “lights” of the winter.

Aurora Borealis in Churchill,MB

Jeremy Pearson photo.


Canadian Eskimo sled dog outside Arctic Trading Co.


Wolf statues in Churchill.


Sunset over frozen Churchill River.


Aurora Borealis, Churchill, MB

Jeremy Pearson photo.


Guide Karen Walker and traveler Addie Lamberth at Paint Lake.


Frosty Churchill sled dogs.


Dene elder Caroline Bjorklund giving a cultural talk.


Aurora travelers by the Hudson Bay.



Hudson Bay Quest Wrap-Up

A mere 35 seconds separated two Minnesota mushers finishing first and second in the annual Hudson Bay Quest that started in Gillam, MB on March 16th and finished Monday March 19th in Churchill, MB. Shawn McCarty from Ely, MN took first place and was followed in second by Troy Groenveld from Two Harbors, Minnesota. Third place was captured by Stefan DeMarie from Christopher Lake, Saskatchewan. The Red Lantern was secured by Jesse Terry from Sioux Lookout, Ontario. The total field was comprised of 16 mushers from the United States and Canada. Below is the official list of entrants. Click this photo link for some great pictures taken during the race.

Ernest Azure, Churchill MB

David Daley, Churchill MB

Stefaan DeMarie, Christopher Lake SK

Dan DiMuzio, Churchill MB

Blake Freking. Finland MN (USA)

Troy Groeneveld, Two Harbors MN (USA)

John Hickes, Rankin Inlet, NU

Barney Kalluak, Arviat NU

Marvin Lizotte. Lake Louise AB

Charlie Lundie, Churchill MB

Shawn McCarty, Ely MN (USA)

Peter McClelland, Ely MN (USA)

Kolby Morrison, Linden AB

Ed “The Sled” Obrecht, Otter Lake QC

Burton Penner, Vermillion Bay ON

Jesse Terry, Sioux Lookout ON

The Hudson Bay Quest now runs between Gillam, MB to the south and Churchill, MB on the edge of the Hudson Bay and no longer utilizes the 200 mile route to and from Arviat which traversed along the Hudson Bay ice edge. When conditions became too erratic and dangerous for mushers in a three-day blizzard in 2009, race officials called the race at the halfway point and the new route was born. Now, the 400 kilometer trek from Gillam to Churchill following along the edge of Wapusk National Parc is a self sufficient race with mushers carrying supplies for the entire route. It’s also a much safer race without the threat of traveling along the dangerous ice edge of the bay.

Sled dogs in Churchill,MB

Brad Josephs photo.

The 2012 Quest provided other challenges that all four Churchill mushers could not overcome. 2011 champion Charlie Lundie, Dan DiMuzio, Earnest Azure, and David Daley, race co-founder and owner of Wapusk Adventures , all withdrew from the race before finishing. Perhaps the lack of snow in Churchill this past Fall polar bear season contributed to teams not being prepared enough to conquer this years event. The festivities culminated this past Monday with an awards banquet in the Churchill town complex gymnasium. Great Northern spirit was shared by all!

Final standings and race observations can be found at the Hudson Bay Quest Facebook page.  More in depth analysis of the race to follow in the next few weeks.


Churchill Travelers Enjoy Aurora

While awaiting the final results of the Hudson Bay Quest to be posted, we can relive what some avid travelers from Natural Habitat Adventures experienced the past couple of weeks. Guide Karen Walker and her third and fourth groups of the season were chasing the northern lights in the Arctic seaport of Churchill. Last year’s overall stormy and overcast weather have given way to this years more clearer skies for optimal viewing. With consistently frigid temperatures in the negative digits all month long, the night sky has remained clear enough for magnificent displays.

Inukshuk in Churchill,MB
Karen and her fourth group of the season experienced some magic on the 36 hour train ride from Winnipeg to Churchill. While stopped at the station in Gillam, this years starting point for the Hudson Bay Quest, the night sky to the South unveiled a slight glimmer of green aurora and most guests were able to watch from their sleeper- cabin rooms  on that same side. The display continued for about an hour giving the group a preview of more prominent lights farther North.Once in Thompson, the group boarded a bus and made the journey to Pisew Falls, a regular stop on Arctic Summer excursions though rarely accessible in Winter. The ice – encrusted falls are reached via boardwalk that winds down through the forest to a pair of  staggered observation platforms. The ice and snow build up around the falls coupled with the peacefulness of the frozen forest create a serenity of a forgotten place. Some also made the trek through snow down another trail ,across the parking lot, leading to an elaborate suspension bridge over a river in the forest. I have made many treks through these woods to these sites with Summer groups. Good times in the North!

The following evening, out at the aurora domes, the night sky reacted to the recent solar storm activity and provided sublime entertainment for four to five hours. The lights would shift from dim to intense throughout the night thrilling guests and giving the photographers in the group ample photo opportunities. The entire sky was filled with dancing, moving lights of greenish tint.

The next day wind lowered the -33 C temp to -47 C wind chill. After a morning presentation by famed Metis elder Myrtle Demeulles, the group braved a dog-sledding excursion with Wapusk Adventures. Dave Daley, owner and head musher, was away at the Canadian Challenge so his able assistants out at Joe Buck’s ridge took good care of the adventurous travelers.

A quite different, more subdued display of aurora showed itself that evening out at the domes. An undulating, flowing light filled most of the sky once again much to the delight of a very fortunate group travelers. the fast moving lights were moving from the West to Northeast with a nice fuller moon to the South..providing nice light on the snowy tundra for photo effects. Another spectacular evening!

The final night of viewing was not to be outdone as the group arrived at the domes after a late dinner. “Really,really good” was how guide Karen described the display..albeit short-lived. As the final traces of light faded into the hazy sky around 11:30 pm, the group breathed a collective sigh acknowledging how fortunate they had been on this journey north.

Topping off the adventure the following day the group tried their hands at curling ..a true northern experience not to be missed. All had “a great time” according to Karen.

For a current aurora forecast click on this link.

Let There Be “Northern Lights”

Lights finally filled the sky for the second Natural Habitat Adventures group of the Winter season. Guide Karen Walker landed with her travelers at the Churchill airport and headed into town where they took in the amazing artifacts in the Eskimo museum. The day was wind at all ..a gorgeous Winter day. After a trip down Goose Creek Road and up the observation tower at the marina to view some pine grossbeaks, boreal chickadees and other birds, the group headed back into town to prepare for an evening at the aurora domes.


As the group headed out of town on the  launch road toward the A-frame building just past the overlook where a major part of the movie Snow Walker was filmed in 2003, the aurora was already revealing itself slightly in the Northwest sky. A feint veil became more electric shimmering across the slate black sky.  Once the group settled in at the Aurora domes, the sky was filled with the greenish color arcing across the horizon and showering down reflections over the Hudson Bay and up along the precambrian shield reaching up to the domes. By 11:00 pm,”green filled the sky and waves of aurora were moving like crazy”, according to Karen. Folks were definitely excited as prior groups had few looks at the phenomena. Morphing waves of green made for some fine photographs as well.

Aurora Borealis.


The following day was filled with cultural endeavors with Metis elder Myrtle Demeulles giving a talk on her Metis heritage and living on the land back in Saskatchewan. the rest of the day was filled with some excitement out at Joe Buck’s ridge with Dave Daley and Wapusk Adventures as  the group had some amazing dog sledding time and general socializing with the animals. One of the rides caused a bit of a stir when the sled dumped two travelers and a musher and returned to the warming hut alone. They were quickly recovered a short distance on the trail and had a unique story to tell about the North. Feeding the gray jays out of their hands was another unique Arctic experience back at the warming hut and dog compound.  With Dave away racing his “top dogs” at the Canadian Challenge in Saskatchewan, his son Joel gave the people all the information they could handle about the sled dogs and exciting rides as well.

The next night at the aurora domes was not as spectacular as the first though quite different. A diffused greenish snakelike movement across the Northern sky morphed continuously in circles above the domes as guests watched in awed silence. Unusual curtains of green and white also shifted quickly from one edge of the sky to the other…quite a unique appearance this night.

After touring the town complex the next morning with Dene elder Caroline Bjorklund speaking of Churchill history and Dene trials through their Arctic home, the group settled into the Churchill feel and way of life of a frontier town. And, since every complex in these remote Northern towns has a curling rink, the group was inclined to try their hands at the obscure sport. Luke Spence, proprietor of the town-run rink, was generous enough to facilitate a clinic for the group. Enjoyed thoroughly by all, this contingent of mostly Americans was surely “born to sweep” as they wryly put it.

During a warm night out at Goose Creek subdivision in Bill Calnan’s bed and breakfast…hearing  stories from the local historian, Karen and her group viewed a faint aurora in the dark sky from the forest’s edge. With just a slight glow, the group reflected on how lucky they had been on the first night and even second evening given the virtual unpredictability of the lights on recent excursions of other travelers. The mild temperatures, just around freezing,  made viewing outside the cabins quite comfortable.

Returning to the “big city” of Winnipeg following an amazing “enlightened” journey to Churchill, the group took in a gallery tour at the Manitoba museum ..a fine way to weave the strands of the regions varied cultural groups and history together.



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