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 calm.no 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.



A Bucket of Water

On may 21st a group of Anishnawbe women, and men came through Churchill to fill a sacred bucket with water from the Hudson bay.

The bucket was filled on the beach across from “Miss Piggy”, the infamous airplane wreck nestled into the granitoid rocks and willows up the hill. The group, along with about eight others from Churchill, including Metis elder Myrtle Demeulles, then carried that sacred bucket of water all the way to town to the train station. The walk was to honor mother earth and her resources, especially water, as it is the blood of our mother and in dire need of protection.

There’s more to the story that brings to light an even more pressing issue regarding water, not only in Churchill but all over North America…..fluoride. A local group of Churchillian activists lead by Mark Brackley  and partner, as well as my longtime friend, Erin O’neil have been lobbying for clean non-toxic water for quite awhile now. Brackley, is a pioneer activist in this battle to get fluoride…yes fluoride, out of local water. He’s been lobbying town council for over 2 years, without much success due in large part to hard-fought resistance from the Dental Board as well as the Public Health board at the hospital.

Why, you might ask, would someone want to get fluoride, an ingredient in many of our everyday tooth- paste products removed from the town water supply? Ever read the labels on most toothpaste tubes while passing time in your water closet? Scary are they not? This is one of those many environmental issues that kind of gets swept under the rug…or, more aptly, flushed down the drain without many humans hearing much about the negative effects on us and our planet.

There is extensive literature on-line and in journals to validate the fears many have of fluoridation of water supplies. This link on fluoride is a good one to start with if you’re not up to date with current fluoride information. Another article in the Thompson Gazette focuses on Churchill’s water battle raging over the past three years.You can also join Brackley’s facebook site ;’churchill nonFluoride.. to view multiple postings on the horrible effects fluoride can have on the human body, and the many consequences it has from us simply consuming it, bathing in it, cooking with it etc. And, after all those human functions are finished, the water which comes initially from the Churchill river gets dumped back into the river with 99% of the added fluoride now mixed in. The effects on marine wildlife and the ecosystem in general cannot possibly be measured at this point.

Churchill beluga whales swimming in the Churchill river.

Photo: Steve Selden

After the walk and discussing the effects of fluoridation, the elders on this walk agreed and called to have it removed! Mark, Erin and others involved in the cause felt finally supported in the ongoing battle. The grind has been, with tongue in cheek; “at times like pulling our teeth out!” stated O’neil.

An uplifting side of this story is that the Anishnawbe “earth waterwalkers” as they are known will be bringing their sacred water buckets to a powerful final ceremony with other earth waterwalkers in June in Wisconsin. The others will be collecting buckets of water from the three other coasts in North America. You can go to motherearthwaterwalk.com.

The final here- say with Churchill’s town council, is that, they are letting the supply of fluoride run out in about June this year and will not be purchasing anymore. The Public Health Department and Dental Board may try to grit their “teeth” ( sorry) and put up another fight for the fluoridation to continue. We will just have to wait and see….I’ll keep you all updated.

Erin O’Neil contributed to this report.

Report from Churchill: October 16, 2010

A northern front arrived with cold rain and strong winds of 40-50 mph. By late afternoon, around four o’clock, the rain was trying to change over to snow as winter continued to knock at the door. A dusting of snow covered the tundra by late evening as the winds continued to howl through the region.

The tundra lodge group had an early breakfast and headed into town for some dog-sledding and helicopter flights. Guide Bonnie rounded out her bird sighting list for her group reporting mallards out on the ponds, a common eider, greater scaup, black bellied plover,one greater and one lesser yellow legs and 17 Brandt geese at the edge of the Hudson Bay out by Halfway Point. Helicopter passengers reported viewing 29 polar bears out at Cape Churchill and Wapusk National park. These animals will begin making their way down into the CWMA with the change of temperatures and Winter conditions. One of those already out near the lodge might have been the bear guide Elise reported apparently favoring the use of a rock for a pillow. Guide Colby Brokvist captured the image from a rover day excursion with the lodge group.

Churchill polar bear.

A polar bear taking a rest with a rock as a pillow. Colby Brokvist photo

Guide Sue and her folks were out braving the elements observing a couple of male bears out near the lodge. Mostly hunkered down out of the rain… still nice to be in their environment observing what these animals tolerate. Later, the group observed a very clean, white bear at Halfway Point then a notoriously dirty bear around Gordon Point. Those Gordon point bears just don’t bathe regularly.

Another highlight of the afternoon occurred near first tower when Sue’s travelers spotted a bald eagle quite close overhead. Witnessing the flight of such an impressive raptor in the tundra environment is surely a lasting memory.With the day coming to an end, the rover weaved its’ way back toward launch between the shallow thermakarsts (ponds) with choppy water on every surface.

Guide Eric and group, also out in the CWMA, happened upon the first sparring bears of the season in the late morning on the inland road. About 15 minutes of rough-housing thrilled the folks while sipping hot drinks aboard the rover. Another 4-5 bears scattered throughout the day gave the group quite the day on the vast land. Out along the coast, good numbers of eider ducks floated in the shallows. A gyr falcon after snow buntings kept the exciting afternoon going and plenty of willow ptarmigan on the way in finished off a complete day on the tundra.

In town the night music scene was rocking as Kyle Martens, son of Gord and Lynn Martens who own the Northern Nights Lodge, was playing with his band at the Seaport Lounge. Meanwhile, Celtic band Dusty Ryno’s played the Tundra Inn Lounge. Only five months to St. Patrick’s day. Local phenom Evan Reeves, who finished near the top of Canadian Idol a few years back, is in studio working on a new CD. Evan is the grandson of Myrtle DeMeulles a local Metis elder who frequently educates travelers about Metis culture.

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