Churchill Gets “Arctic – Turf” for Canada Day

Churchill, Manitoba town square

New synthetic turf in the Churchill town square. Alex De Vries – Magnifico photo.

Churchill is moving into the 21st Century with a new synthetic turf field for the town square behind the chamber of commerce information kiosk. Looking more like an artist’s depiction than the real thing, this image from Alex De Vries – Magnifico in Churchill shows the newly “mowed” field. The old field and town “green” was far from that with hard dirt and scattered rocks throughout. This will hopefully encourage the youth and adult population to participate in sports such as baseball and soccer throughout the summer months. The field will be finished just in time for Canada Day on July 1st and the annual ball tournament and other festivities!

I can’t help thinking of a funny Canada Day story that occurred when I was guiding Churchill Arctic Summer trips years ago. When I first started I would stay in Churchill and await the arrival of the group on the VIA Rail train with my Natural Habitat Adventures co-guide. Once they arrived we would guide travelers across the tundra in search of flowers and wildlife and over the waters of the Hudson Bay and Churchill River to see the beluga whales. The amazing biosphere of Churchill would be home for the next five days. At the end of the trip my co-guide would return to Winnipeg with the group by air and return a few days later by train. Not a bad gig!

Via rail in Churchill

Churchill’s Via rail station with a train at the dock. Cartan Tours photo.

Train arrivals in those days, much like train arrivals these days, were often three – four hours late. Due to the warm weather and shifting permafrost in the summer months, trains would be issued “slow” orders that would only permit them to travel at recommended slow speed so to not place undo stress on the steel rails. Unfortunately, overloaded grain cargo trains heading to the Port of Churchill often disregarded the slow orders and periodically derailed in front of the passenger trains. These accidents caused huge delays and sometimes the necessity to reroute travelers on flights to Churchill or bus to get to a bigger town to wait out the track repairs. Not much has changed there either. All part of the adventure.

Churchill was putting on its usual festivities and I was taking part in the annual town softball tournament. Teams from the Churchill Northern Studies Center, the hospital, restaurants, Parcs Canada and just friends putting a team together were all enjoying the friendly competition on the diamond. Throughout the morning of the tournament, the train’s late – arrival had been updated numerous times and last I heard estimated to arrive in Churchill at roughly 3:00 pm. I came to learn that “roughly” in Churchill is all part of a vernacular we often refer to as “tundra time”.

Our game was going on around 1:30 pm and I was in my softball attire of sweats and a t-shirt, up at bat with the softball at the apex of its arc when I heard the train’s horn blowing loudly across the square. After raking a base – hit to right field (actually the aforementioned dirt and rocks) I glanced over to see the train limping into the station and I ran. Not towards first base but instead toward the Seaport Hotel to my room to change into proper Nat Hab guide attire and then cruise over to the station and meet the arriving group! I received lots of ribbing from the team for that panicky though funny exit…still makes me laugh to this day. Never trust the train schedule or rumors to its arrival in Churchill. Tundra time indeed!


Canada day itinerary Churchill

Canada Day is on July 1st. Here’s an itinerary of the events planned. Town of Churchill image.

Take it Easy Churchill…It’s “Tundra Time”

You’ve heard the expression “Island time”.  In fact you’ve probably uttered it once or twice yourself after experiencing the casual, slowed down lifestyle of people in places that seem to have figured out how to enjoy life…well at least vacation life…usually by the warm, blue water somewhere.

Sundogs in Churchill, Manitoba. Brad Josephs photo.

Sundogs in Churchill, Manitoba. Brad Josephs photo.


Well “tundra time” is a similar lifestyle but perhaps comes from the opposite end of the weather comfort spectrum. Churchill and the rest of the northern Arctic region of Canada moves at a pace most southerners would call…um…slow. And that’ s being generous. Maybe because the north exists in a cryogenic state of frozen time for a good part of the year there’s really no energy to go fast at any point. Tundra time.

When visiting Churchill, everything moves slower. Restaurant service is slower..hence meals  take longer. Vehicles move slower…especially Polar Rovers looking for slow, ambling polar bears. Maybe that’s the key…polar bears set the pace for everything around the area. They are in no hurry to go anywhere…except out on the ice. However,  they can’t make the ice form so they instinctively know to take it easy….cause it’s “tundra time” mon!

Polar bear cooling off in Churchill, Manitoba.

Polar bear cooling off in Churchill, MB. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.

The train….ha..well anyone that has traveled with Via rail along the Hudson Bay Railway knows the literal definition of “tundra time”. The train tracks often turn a 36 hour trip into a 42 hour trip or more. Why? Because the tracks wind across the tundra that contains permafrost….icy ground. When that icy permafrost heats up and melts a bit, especially in summer, the tracks move slightly and a speeding train has to slow down so to not exert too much force on the steel rails and then end up on tundra…stopped in the middle of nowhere. Tundra time.

Most of all the people in Churchill move slower. Churchillian’s by and large are not going far. Well, they can’t drive far as there are no roads out of town unless you want to go to the Churchill Northern Studies Center or a bit further out to Twin Lakes. People in Churchill actually have time to talk with one another, not email or telephone. They actually meet at Gypsy’s or the Seaport Hotel and sit and talk for sometimes hours and enjoy multiple cups of coffee. There’s a “local table” at Gypsy’s up front that is just for that…talking….slowly … and in person. Tundra time.

Nearly everything in the north operates on tundra time. We should all experience it once in awhile.

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