This video account of riding the first train back to Churchill in 560 days is quite poignant and really touches the heart of the “lifeline” that is the Hudson Bay Railroad. Via Rail sent its first passenger train to Churchill and so many lives were reunited for the first time in a long time. It seems like just yesterday that the continuing battle over the responsibility for repairing the tracks was reaching a tumultuous head. Now with the tracks intact and rail service restored, the northern towns are connected again with the rest of the province and beyond. Polar bear, northern lights and beluga whale seasons will be enjoyed by so many more travelers now in the coming years!
Arctic Gateway, new owners of the Port of Churchill and the Hudson Bay Railway, are continuing their incredible perseverance to complete repairs before the winter settles in. These images provided by Arctic Gateway give us a current look into what they have been up to this past week. There will be more progress reports and photos as we get access to them and by later next week we should have a good indication of how the rest of the work will go. Let’s continue to hope for good weather so the crews can get the job done and the Via Rail train can run all the way to Churchill again!
A temporary rail track was laid leading up to the Port of Churchill in order to move the stranded VIA Rail train onto a cargo ship early today. The train will be returned south so that VIA can utilize it on its mainline routes. With talk of repairing the Hudson Bay Line seemingly stalled, for the time being, the train was costing the company money as it sat unused. We have hopes of seeing this one back in Churchill very soon!
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!
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!
A potential strike between Via Rail and its union Unifor was averted late Sunday thus allowing service across the country and specifically Churchill to continue this summer.
Unifor represents about 1,800 of Via’s 2,500 employees, was threatening a strike Monday at 12:01 a.m. However, Via announced via Twitter late Sunday that all trains would operate as scheduled. This news was greeted with a sigh of relief by many in Churchill as the busy beluga whale tourism season is starting now. With no roads into the town of Churchill, the only way to reach the polar bear capital is by train or airplane. Losing the more affordable train service would preclude many travelers from reaching the sub-Arctic village. That would also cause economic strife for many of Churchill’s businesses and seasonal workers.
With this strike hurdle averted, we are hoping for another amazing Churchill Arctic Summer season with incredible surprises throughout. Stay tuned for updates from the tundra!