I recently ventured back to Churchill, Manitoba for a week to help with set-up and installation of Natural Habitat’s new Aurora Pod. The project was finally nearing the end of a long process of design, production and delays and now came the time to test it all out. The time to see if all the work was worth the effort.
Natural Habitat’s Aurora Pod. Brad Josephs photo.
Upon arriving in Churchill and driving out to the proposed pod-site, just above the rock quarry across from the airport along the Hudson Bay coast, I knew immediately this was the place for the pod. Not a doubt.
The stillness in the frigid air froze me in my tracks as I stood just above the quarry and looked over the solid ice – packed Hudson Bay. The endless slab of ice extended north as far as I could see. To the east the Canadian shield rolled down to the edge of the rocky coast peaking through the snow where wind had whipped it clean. Stunted spruce with one – sided branches dotted the surface across the tundra and rock covered surface.
Northern lights above the boreal forest behind the Aurora Pod in Churchill. Justin Gibson photo.
Behind the pod and extending quite a distance to the west along the upland coast was a sturdy stretch of boreal forest holding fast like a battalion of soldiers guarding the bay. On my last day in Churchill I borrowed a friend’s snowshoes and made my way through the powder encrusted spruce pillars and found a wonder world of snowy silence. I worked my way through the heavy snow and came across fairly fresh wolf tracks winding their way back towards the quarry and westward along the coast. As I followed them with trepidation, I had the thrill of hoping to see the maker of these tracks and fear of doing so all at once. Eventually I turned back and left them as they disappeared over the snow covered rocky edge.
I stood one more time taking in the entire scene of boreal forest, rocky Precambrian shield and vast ice covered Hudson Bay all under a clear blue sky. As my nose hairs froze for a last time, I soaked it all in with pure pleasure. The sensation was incredible…one in all the years of working in Churchill I seemed to take for granted after some time.
Snow encrusted trees near the Aurora Pod. Brad Josephs photo.
A couple of days earlier I had joined photographer and former operator/ owner of Sea North whale watching tours Mike Macri on a ski – do trip across the frozen Churchill River to make a last visit to his rustic cabin. Hidden in the woods, just up river and about halfway between Churchill River and Button Bay, the journey was beautiful. Mike’s selling his last couple of pieces of property and heading east to Ontario with his wife to fish and retire to some extent. It was a great way to say goodbye to one of the last pieces of the original Churchill puzzle. As we sat in the cabin warming our toes by the wood stove, eating cookies warmed by the same fire and drinking hot tea, few words were spoken. Sometimes silence says it all. Old friends saying goodbye…though hopefully not forever.
After I returned home I realized that I had taken a trip back, not only physically but consciously, to a place where I have spent a substantial part of my life. Sitting around the “local” table in Gypsy’s restaurant listening to the stories and dialogues between people I remember from long ago reminded me why I fell in love with this place to begin with. Churchillian’s speak their mind ( sometimes with some pretty flowery language) and are very real. Those qualities separate places from the vast majority of towns in the world today.