A Warm Welcome to Churchill, Manitoba
A of couple weeks ago we arrived in one of the most unique places we have ever visited: Churchill, Manitoba. Churchill sits right on the Western Coast of the Hudson Bay and boasts two distinct seasons of tourism: Whale Season and Bear Season.
When the Hudson Bay thaws in the summer, the shores of Churchill are home to thousands of beluga whales migrating to warmer waters (likely) from the Hudson Strait. Without the presence of sea ice, hundreds of polar bears also migrate through Churchill to seek refuge on land for the warmer seasons. In the summer, the pregnant female polar bears have been known to burrow dens in the landscapes throughout Wapusk National Park located along the Western shore of the Hudson Bay. Wapusk actually has one of the largest polar bear denning areas in the world. Although Churchill’s Bear Season doesn’t really kick off until October, polar bears can still be spotted in and around the town during the summer months (whales and bears, oh my!). Come late fall, the male and non-pregnant female polar bears migrate back to the coastline from inland to wait patiently for the first pack ice to form on the Hudson Bay. Being large carnivores with a primary diet of ring seals, the polar bears need the sea ice in order to eat; this means that the bears are forced to fast all summer and most of the fall until the ice is formed enough for them to hunt.
Arriving to the town in early October means we just missed the last pods of beluga whales but were arriving just in time for the start of the bear season. Our first day in Churchill, we arrived in the freezing rain to our temporary humble abode at the Bluesky Bed & Sled (a cozy ‘Ma & Pa’ B&B) where we were greeted by our friendly hosts. Our hosts were generous enough to take us on our first tour of the town in hopes of spotting a great white bear. As large and seemingly conspicuous as they may seem, these massive mammals are surprisingly hard to spot; especially in the multicoloured, rocky landscape along the bay. Since the polar bears are coming to the end of a long fast, they are keen on conserving their energy which means they are not often particularly active and are more likely to be spotted resting among the rocks. Luckily we had some experienced eyes to help us scour the land. It wasn’t long before we spotted our first fluffy white arctic hare! Following some more searching and scanning and driving and scanning, we saw our first wild polar bear wandering along the Hudson Bay coast!!! It was so exciting – what an amazing experience to see such a large arctic beast just strolling along the same shorelines as humans!
Our first day excitement didn’t end there. After enjoying some fresh baked cookies and coffee at the B&B, our kind hosts took us back out; this time to the dog yard to meet their team of 29 sled dogs! The dogs mirrored our excitement when we arrived with a chorus of howls and a frenzy of activity. We made our rounds in the yard to meet each athletic and disciplined furry friend – what a happy group of pups! Our meet and greet with the dogs was an exciting and meaningful prelude to our dogsled ride to take place later that week. It was pretty awesome to see such a large group of amazing dogs so well cared for and so loved.
To top it all off, we were treated to a delicious home-cooked meal – including moose meat and pesto pizza! – with our gracious hosts at Bluesky. What a warm welcome and great start to our Northern adventures in Churchill, MB!
Adam & Amanda