Owner and operator Omnitrax has shut down the Hudson Bay Rail line for the forseeable future due to flooding causing destruction of the tracks. Estimates for reopening are now being projected as far out as next spring.
The “unprecedented and catastrophic” damage will take months to repair, said Peter Touesnard, chief commercial officer at OmniTrax, the Denver-based owner of the rail line that brings supplies into Churchill. “Until we are able to get people physically on the ground and do a proper inspection, it’s difficult for us to truly know [how long repairs will take],” Touesnard.stated.
The closure is also straining the local economy and workforce preparing for the summer beluga whale season. Businesses are being forced to consolidate their work staff as the number of tourists traveling to Churchill this summer will be drastically reduced. News of at least five layoffs so far has spread and more are expected soon with the official announcement of the rail line suspension.
Tundra Inn owner Belinda Fitzpatrick in front of her restaurant. Hannah Manczuk photo.
Belinda Fitzpatrick, owner of the Tundra Inn had to deliver the bad news to five workers last Saturday. “Quite heartbreaking,” said Fitzpatrick. “It was really upsetting.”
Plans for a seasonal restaurant at the Tundra Inn slated to open next week had to be put on the back burner. Other businesses are facing the same challenges as the the closure becomes a reality.
Fitzpatrick has been calling guests and seeing if they are able to fly to Churchill instead. However, cancellations have been coming in and she estimates she will lose a majority of travelers planning to stay at the inn and hostel.
OmniTrax is reporting unprecedented and catastrophic damage to the rail line caused by heavy flooding resulting from heavy snow pack left over from two massive March blizzards. The company says the track gravel bed has been washed out in 19 locations along the line. At least five bridges have visible damage and assessments of 600 culverts and around 30 more bridges will need to be examined for structural integrity.
Flooding in the Churchill area and south along the rail line have forced its closure. Ricci O’connor photo.
“While the Hudson Bay Railway requires significant seasonal maintenance, the extent of the damage created by flooding this year is by far the worst we have ever seen,” Touesnard said.
Fuel for the town is an especially critical commodity, and while the port could be used, at least during the ice-free season, winter will pose another extreme hurdle and potential emergency for all of Churchill.
Home Hardware in Churchill under stress from the rail line closure. Facebook photo.
Dale de Meulles and his wife Rhoda have run Churchill’s hardware and lumber store for the past 14 years and with the train out they will be unable to stock lumber and other building and home supplies sufficiently. Although competition in town is not there, they will have a tough time meeting expenses and payroll for 10 staff people without money coming in.
“We don’t know how we’re going to survive, to be honest,” said Rhoda de Meulles.
Dale de Meulles gives two months as a deadline for the layoffs. Last year’s Port of Churchill layoffs have already put pressure on the workforce in the town and the rail closure will continue that strife. Seasonal workers will also be hit hard without the tourism dollars coming in.
“We’re trying our best to keep them,” he said. “They gotta feed their families just like everybody else.”
“We’re just trying to survive.”
“As a Churchillian, we will never give up,” de Meulles said. “We’ve had so many hurdles in front of us and we keep jumping over them, but we need help this time.”
Hudson Bay Quest musher off at the start. This year’s Quest is cancelled as a result of the recent blizzard! Brad Josephs photo.
Race organizers have made the decision to cancel the 2017 Hudson Bay Quest dogsled race due to the recent blizzard that buried the Churchill and Gillam regions this past week. The race was scheduled to depart Gillam this Friday, St. Patrick’s Day, and finish in Churchill.
Unsafe conditions are the main reasons for deciding to scrap the race this year as deep packed and drifting snow have blanketed the course and inhibited train service from Thompson to Churchill while track sections are being cleared. The train transports supplies as well as mushers and their dog teams to the race and serves as a lifeline to the south.
Just recently the Town of Churchill declared a State of Emergency, allocating resources toward snow removal and dealing with the aftermath of a storm that necessitated the Churchill community businesses to shut down for three full days last week. The race will be missed for sure, however the safety of the mushing teams and all support staff out on the trail between Gillam and Churchill is of prime importance.
Here is the official statement from the HBQ organizing committee: “While many sled dog races have cancelled due to lack of snow, we have wiped the smug looks off our faces now that we ultimately have too much snow. The Organizing Committee for the 2017 HBQ wishes everyone a safe and productive year as we navigate through this experience, and begin our planning for the 2018 Hudson Bay Quest.”
We look forward to the 2018 Hudson Bay Quest, back even stronger than before!
The Hudson Bay Quest finished this weekend without any major incidents and Ryan Anderson from Ray, Minnesota won gold with a time of 31:56:43! Ryan held off second place finisher Sean McCarty and third place finisher Peter McClelland to claim the top prize. Anderson also was awarded the Calm Air sportsmanship award as well as first to halfway honor. All in all this year’s race had fantastic weather and a great group of volunteers to facilitate all the challenges. Congratulations to all the mushers that competed in what has become one of the best races in the north!
Ryan Anderson wins the Hudson Bay quest. HBQ photo.
Ryan Anderson accepting the winners trophy. HBQ photo.
2016 Hudson Bay Quest mushers. HBQ photo.
The 2016 Vet award for exceptional animal care was presented to Jacob Heigers. HBQ photo.
Ryan Anderson also won the Calm Air sportsmanship award. HBQ photo.
As always the Canadian Rangers were key support for the 2016 Hudson Bay Quest. HBQ photo.
Here’s the official Hudson Bay Quest results for the top three finishers in Gillam. We will post the complete official results Monday or Tuesday. Congratulations to all the mushers and all the volunteers that made the 2016 Hudson Bay Quest a great race!
Bib # 7 Ryan Anderson in at 17:26:43
Bib # 5 Shawn McCarty in at 18:42:56
Bib # 11 Peter McClelland in at 20:16:52
Finish line at the HBQ in Gillam. HBQ photo.
Peter McClelland at the Hudson Bay Quest finish line. HBQ photo.
Hudson Bay Quest winner Ryan Anderson. HBQ photo.
Hudson Bay Quest runner – up Sean McCarty. HBQ photo.
Third place finisher peter McClelland. HBQ photo.
Owl River Update:
Bib # 7 Ryan Anderson in 0750, out 0750
Bib # 5 Shawn McCarty in 0939, out 0941
Bib # 9 Stefaan De Marie in 0947, out 0948
Bib # 10 Nathaniel Hamlyn in 1004, out 1004
Bib # 4 Dan Di Muzio 1009, out 1009
Bib # 11 Peter McClelland in 1014, out 1115
Bib # 1 Charlie Lundie in 1100, and resting
Ryan Anderson from Ray, Minnesota is leading the pack of mushers surging toward Gillam, Manitoba as the annual Hudson Bay Quest dog – sled race enters the final stages today. He leads Shawn McCarty from Ely, Minnesota by nearly two hours en route to the finish line. Both mushers are past Hudson Bay Quest champions. Last year the two finished third and seventh respectively. A battle between the seasoned mushers will culminate this evening in Gillam around dinnertime. Peter McClelland, also from Ely, Minnesota is a close third just minutes behind McCarty. Churchill mushers Dave Daley and Justin Allen are forging along just behind the main pack with respectable times. These placements could change quickly as teams rest along the course. To view updated race standings go to https://hbqrace.com/.
The Hudson Bay Quest start in Churchill. Alex De Vries – magnifico photo.
Dave Daley’s dogs raring to go at the Hudson Bay Quest start line. Ales De Vries – Magnifico photo.
Justin Allen from Churchill tears out of the gate in the Hudson Bay Quest. Drew Hamilton photo.
Natural Habitat Adventures group arrives just in time Thursday for the Hudson Bay Quest start in Churchill. Drew Hamilton photo.
Justin cruising along in the HBQ. Alex De Vries – Magnifico photo.