Kayakers surrounded by beluga whales in the Hudson Bay. Sea North Tours photo.
Summer in Churchill usually involves wearing a fleece jacket, long pants, hat and sometimes gloves. It also can be the “hotspot” of Manitoba with temperatures pushing 90F. These fluctuations make Churchill …well..Churchill. As a guide, I always enjoyed the cooler temperatures in the summer far away from the hot sun of Colorado. The fresh salt air from the Hudson Bay invigorates the soul. Out on the water interacting with beluga whales and seabirds hovering above and feeding off the capelin at the surface, refreshes anyone searching for nature’s freedom.The theme here is that everything is unpredictable and new adventures are around every corner in Churchill!
Arctic tern with a capelin in mouth. David Hemmings photo.
Yes, the thousands of beluga whales are the marquee attraction in summertime in Churchill. However, the tundra’s micro ecosystems of plants and lichen as well as the various birds that migrate to the area for the short season are all part of the magical experience. And, we surely know there’s always a chance to see a polar bear or two in the “off- season”!
A polar bear rolling in fireweed. A summer treasure in Churchill. Dennis Fast photo.
The best part of an Churchill Arctic summer adventure is that it changes from day to day in the northern frontier town on the Hudson Bay. Guiding ten years in Churchill allowed me to see almost everything, yet I feel as if I only scratched the surface of the tundra when it comes to deciphering the mystery of the region. The land is constantly changing, literally, with isostatic rebound of the Precambrian shield. Walking across this ancient land stirs so many emotions deep within the soul. The quietness leads one to thoughts of how we used to live and how we still can live in some remote places like Churchill. Solitude is rare these days.
The colors of the tundra as summer wanes. Ed Bouvier photo.
Incredible cumulus cloud over the Hudson Bay in Churchill. Alex De Vries – Magnifico photo.
Beluga whales in the Churchill river. Alex De Vries – Magnifico photo.
Concept design of northern Arctic housing. Fournier, Gesrovitz, Moss, Drolet and Assoc. Architects image.
Traditional high Arctic home building designs have been similar in structure and layout to those found in the south. However, as with the tiny house movement in the lower lattitudes, architects in Quebec are rethinking the design process for buildings that will be constructed above the 60th parallel. These new highly efficient structures will be more aptly suited for the climate and lifestyle of Inuit residents of the region. The Societe D’habitation du Quebec the chief housing authority for the province is working on new designs for the Arctic.
Since 2012 the agency has been working on the design in collaboration with a Montreal architectural firm as well as regional housing bureau agencies which have provided key input related to design needs and cultural traditions of Cree and Inuit inhabitants, especially relating to interior layout.
Initially, two prototypes will be constructed this year in Quaqtaq on the Diana Bay shore along the Hudson Strait. It is unclear how the inhabitants of these first two homes will be selected or what they will be required to pay for the units.
Quuaqtak in Nunavik, Northern Quebec is site of prototype design of housing unit. Google maps image..
The structural design will be highly energy efficient with walls, roof and floor insulated above standard levels as well as a heat exchange heating system generated from the water heater. Steel piles will anchor the homes in the Precambrian shield and adjust for melting of permafrost in many areas.
Pilings being driven into housing location in Nunuvik, Quebec. Societe d’habitation du Quebec photo.
Storage for the unit will be maximized with innovative spacial concepts for the attic, laundry room and kitchen that provides a movable large island for additional space. Securely locked storage cabinets will be built in for hunting firearm and ammunition. Both a cold and warm porch will be features that specifically cater to the traditional Inuit lifestyle. In all this new design will be highly efficient and desired by Inuit families.
Natural Habitat Adventures guide Moira LePatourel and her last group of travelers in Churchill’s Arctic summer had a full compliment northern phenomenon. “We had the full sub-arctic experience on our final trip” Le Patourel stated. Two nights of aurora viewing and the first arctic fox sighting of the season gave this trip a unique personality shared by a very excited group of travelers. Northern lights become prevalent late at night in August and it’s always a thrill when groups see them in summer. Memories that will burn forever!
Natural Habitat Group in Churchill. Moira LePatourel photo.
The group also had the fortune to spot and observe four polar bears over the week. One polar bear was swimming in the Hudson Bay and another resting peacefully on the smooth, rocky Precambrian shield. Another mom and her cub were seen over in Button Bay lounging on the beach getting suntans.
Polar bear mom and cub on the beach at Button Bay. Moira LePatourel photo.
Polar bears resting on the beach. Moira LePatourel photo.
An incredible bounty of belugas crowded the Hudson Bay and Churchill River all week as the last stage of summer plays itself out. “We also got to hear the cello being played on the explore.org research boat and saw the whales come swimming over in response to musician Rob’s music. All that and the sun shining for most of our trip too! Couldn’t have asked for a better finale.” expressed LePatourel.
Belugas in the Churchill River. Moira LePatourel photo.
With the Churchill Arctic Summer season coming quickly, we thought we would present a video preview of the possibility of seeing polar bears in Churchill during the summer. This footage by local Churchillian Joe Stover was filmed last August. A mother polar bear with her two cubs walking along a road about 20 kilometers outside town is a somewhat rare sight though not uncommon if you happen to be in the right place at the right time. Summer is a paradox regarding polar bears. The “right place at the right time” can easily turn into the “wrong place at the wrong time” if one is unprepared or complacent in wandering the area without a guide or bear protection. This is true especially along the beaches where bears can easily conceal themselves in the undulating Precambrian shield. Summer in many aspects can be more dangerous than fall polar bear season as it’s common and easy to let one’s guard down. Being aware and not wandering too afar without protection or a vehicle will ensure staying safe.
If you take an adventure to Churchill in the near future there are some “must see” attractions you should take in before you leave the frontier town. Of course some are season specific while some are year round accessible.
1.- Polar Bears: Not many people are unaware that Churchill is the polar bear mecca for viewing the “king of the Arctic”. During October and November the town is filled with high numbers of travelers hoping to see these amazing creatures in the wild. Of course summer also holds the potential for sighting fewer numbers of polar bears but still the chance exists. If you come during the winter to perhaps view northern lights, you will not see any as they are hunting seals on the Hudson bay ice. So plan a trip during the optimal window and come see the polar bears of Churchill!
Polar bears sparring in the Churchill wildlife management Area. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.
2. Precambrian Shield: When in Churchill you will notice the rocky coastline and glacial polished rocks jutting out of the tundra in different areas of the surrounding area. You really will need to get out on the Precambrian shield and feel the energy that emanates from the heavy stone embedded in the Earth. The geological features are wondrous and magnificent and are some of the oldest rocks on the planet. You can easily become immersed in the natural history of the formations and see how the landscape adapts to their shape and movement.
A view across the Cape Merry barrens past the battery and to Fort prince of Wales. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.
3. Churchill Northern Studies Center and surrounding area: At the far reaches of the main road out of Churchill heading east lies the old Fort Churchill Rocket Range. These grounds are now occupied by the new and improved Churchill Northern Studies Center. The center is a bastion for Arctic researchers and travelers to live and learn from the incredible diversity of the ecosystems colliding in one place. A tour of the facility and exploring the lakes and patterned ground in the area via trails is a must for getting a feel for the true sub-Arctic biome.
Churchill Northern Studies Center. CNSC photo.
4. Northern Lights: Another fairly obvious “must see” in Churchill. Located under Van Allens belt in the magnetic field of our atmosphere, Churchill is an optimal location to take in these mystical and scintillating lights. Natural Habitat Adventures has a new option to view the aurora; an Aurora Pod. With other various viewing options available as well, this is an absolute must see in Churchill.
Natural Habitat’s Aurora Pod and an avid photographer. Alex de Vries – Magnifico photo.
5. -Cape Merry: This is probably the most beautiful and peaceful spot around Churchill. When guiding Churchill Arctic summer groups I would always bring the group there first as a relaxing orientation to the region. We would spend hours looking for flowers and studying the geology of the area. Fort Prince of Wales is just across the Churchill River (often teeming with beluga whales in summer) and the vast expanse of the Hudson Bay unveils itself as far as the eye can see.
Ammunition cache at Cape Merry for cannon protection of Fort prince of Wales. Karen Walker photo.