I had a very rare opportunity to visit Churchill, Manitoba early November 2021 with Travel Manitoba and Lazy Bear Expeditions. With Covid-19 still being here with full force, a trip like this seemed nearly impossible.
When I received the email from Lazy Bear Expeditions informing me that they will be taking care of everything from travel, stay, tours and food. I was nothing less than excited! Just meant I can think more about the content I was going to create.
The trip started off with a plane to Churchill with Calm Air. The location of where we were going to board was the most curious for me. We weren’t taking off from the Winnipeg International Airport but a small Clam Air Hanger next to the International Airport.
I learned that in May 2017, massive flooding which was a result of huge snowfalls knocked out the only railway line that connected Churchill to southern Manitoba and it was recently re-built. The only way to go to Churchill right now is via plane or train. I guess we will be flying for this trip
We arrived at Lazy Bear Lodge for an amazing dinner and wonderful hospitality. Wally Daudrich dreamt of starting a lodge in the remote community of Churchill in the 1980s but the actual construction started in 1995 as a cafe and then expanded with a lodge later as they got busy. Then eventually they started taking people on expeditions which showcases many different attractions of Churchill like Northern Lights, Polar Bears, and Beluga Whales.
As I was settling in my room, I received a text from my friend in Winnipeg asking me to go outside with my camera. I assumed it was because there were Northern Lights out at that moment. When I got out, I was amazed but the Northern Lights dancing right about the lodge. I had never seen Northern Lights like that ever before and I felt so fortunate to be in that moment at that time.
Churchill lies directly beneath the Auroral Oval in the Northern Hemisphere. With auroras occurring on over 300 nights a year, Churchill is one of the best spots on the planet to see the Northern Lights.
After taking in the Northern Lights, I went to bed as soon as possible because we were heading out to the Arctic Crawler Tundra Tour to see some Polar Bears.
The next day started early in the morning in the Lazy Bear Arctic Crawlers. Arctic Crawlers are custom built-in Winkler, Manitoba. These Tundra Vehicles contain all the modern amenities including USB ports to charge your equipment for the moment is right to click pictures of Polar Bears.
The Arctic Crawler will take you to Churchill Wildlife Management Area to view some Polar Bears. Polar Bears stay in this area and wait for the Hudson Bay to freeze so they could go Seal hunting as that is their main source of food and nutrition.
I learned so many things about Polar Bears when I was on the Arctic Crawler Tundra Tour before actually seeing Polar Bears and that is all because of our tour guide – Heino. He was so well informed about Polar Bears but also everything about the Churchill community.
Some of the facts that stayed with me from the first day are...
Never turn your back on the Polar Bear and never run from Polar Bear. The best practice is to take off a piece of clothing and throw it on the ground and walk back. The Polar Bear will take some time to sniff the clothing and that will give you more of a chance to get away from there to safety. In the most severe case, you will have to fight the bear and there is so no other option than that but that is very rare.
It’s all about the size in the Polar Bear region. The bigger you are the more rights you have. Bigger Polar Bears can easily take food from smaller Polar Bears and that’s just how it works.
Polar Bears are very calorie-oriented. If they can’t catch the snow geese in the first 10 seconds then they won’t chase it. There will lose more calories than the snow geese will provide them. So they preserve those calories.
Polar Bears in the wild live for typically 25 years. Male Polar Bears live a little lower because of the brutal fights they get into during the mating season. They get into these fights because they want to get rid of the competition.
Later in the year, they have less testosterone so they can tolerate other male Polar Bears. If you see them fighting then, they are just playing with each other.
If male Polar Bears are really hungry, they will eat their own cubs as well. So female Polar Bears with cubs stay away from males during their time with the cubs.
There was lunch provided during the Arctic Crawler Tundra Tour with other refreshments. The USB ports really came in handy when one of my cameras was about to run out of battery with all the pictures I was taking.
The Polar Bears came really close to the Arctic Crawlers, they are very curious animals. They were trying to figure out where the lunch smell is coming from. No one is allowed to feed Polar Bears for any reason during the entirety of the trip.
After spending a pretty good amount of time at the Arctic Crawler Tundra Tour, I didn’t have much energy left. So I just got some food at the Lazy Bear Café and went right to bed.
Our second day was filled with many different adventures and it started bright and early with some gunshots heard right outside the town. We later figured out that those were cracker shells from a gun that produces a loud noise to run away any Polar Bears that wander inside the town.
After the conversations officers ran away any Polar Bears in town, we started our day off by visiting Polar Bear Holding Facility. When a Polar Bear repeatedly comes back into the town of Churchill, the conversation officers capture the Polar Bears with some Bear traps. There have been no mortalities with the Bear traps used to capture the Polar Bears.
They put the captured Polar Bears in the Holding Facility for about thirty days. They do not give the Polar Bears any food so that this is the worst time for their lives, that way they won’t come back.
If a mother Polar Bear is captured the cubs will stay close to the mother even if she is in the Beartrap because cubs won’t survive without their mother.
They don’t say how many Polar Bears are in the holding facility at a given time because there might be people who love animals more than anything and they will try to rescue them, which will only result in someone getting harmed, be it the people or the Polar Bears.
Bear traps and the Holding Facility are for people and for the Bears because if a Bear attacks a person or if a person attacks the Bear, the Bear will have to be put down.
After learning about and actually seeing Bear traps, our trip proceeded to check out the Miss Piggy Plane Wreck.
On November 13, 1979, Curtiss C-46 Commando cargo aircraft left the Churchill airport. Shortly into the flight, its No.1 engine oil temperature rose, and a drop in oil pressure forced the crew to descend and turn back to Churchill.
The aircraft couldn’t hold the altitude and a forced landing was made in rough terrain 1/4mile short of the runway. Reportedly, the aircraft was overloaded just like a stuffed Piggy, which is where the crashed aircraft got its nickname Miss Piggy.
With the Polar Bears being in the town of Churchill earlier, our tour guide wanted to be as careful as possible. So we weren’t able to explore the Miss Piggy Plane Wreck but a quick visit was amazing for this historic site.
After a quick and safe stop at the Miss Piggy Plane Wreck, we proceeded to our next Polar Bear safe stop at the Inuksuk by the Churchill beach.
Inuksuk is a manmade stone landmark or cairn built for use by the Inuit and other northern communities. The inuksuk may historically have been used for navigation, as a point of reference, a marker for travel routes, fishing places, camps, hunting grounds, drift fences used in hunting, or to mark a food cache.
In springtime, Churchill gets about 200+ different kinds of species of birds and many of them can be seen close to the beach. People sometimes walk to the beach with a stick above their heads so the bird (Arctic Tern) attacks the stick and not their heads when people come closer to their eggs near the beach.
After this quick stop, our day advanced to the Cape Merry - Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site.
There is just too much history about this place for me to include everything in this blog. But please do read about this special place at the link here
I can say that this was federal land, so our guide couldn’t carry his gun but only the conservation officers.
I can say that this place is where the freshwater of Churchill River and saltwater of Hudson Bay come together. During high tide and there would be more saltwater and during low tide and there would be more freshwater.
I can say that this place also has rocks here that are about three billion years old.
Our next stop after learning about the history of Cape Merry was Itsanitaq Museum.
Itsanitaq Museum has a collection of Inuit carvings and artifacts that are among the finest and oldest in the world.
Small Inuit art pieces were made in early times and bigger pieces were made later in the time because before the 1940s communities were not built so if Inuit people carved art, they would have to carry everything and it wouldn’t help them in living in any way. So after communities were built they started focusing on them and selling them.
A good source of income was taken away from the Inuit people when the law was passed which banned the sale of seal fur items and other animal items to different countries. When Inuit people live off the land and kill seals for a source of food and living, they would sell the excess seal fur made into gloves and scarfs but after the law was passed, they weren’t able to sell anything.
Inuit people still harvest beluga whales and that’s where they get muktuk from. The top three beluga whale’s preys are going to be orcas, polar bears, and humans because of that. Inuit people just eat the muktuk and they leave everything else for the rest of the animals to feed on.
After learning about the Inuit culture and art, our last and final stop for the day was the Parks Canada Centre.
Some of the things that I learned while at the Parks Canada Centre were -
Arctic hare is the largest hare.
Caribou usually stay at Cape Churchill in Wapusk national park. Parks Canada is still learning more about Caribou. Caribou have giant feet that act as snowshoes allowing them to stay on top of soft snow. Their wide, sharp hooves also allow them to effortlessly break and clear snow when they dig in search of food.
Arctic and red foxes are in the area together but red foxes still prey on the Arctic foxes.
After a detailed tour around the Parks Canada Centre, we went back to our lodge just to realize that we have one more stop for the day in about an hour. I quickly went to get some food again at the Lazy Bear Lodge. Our group then went dog sledding at Wapusk Adventures.
Wapusk Adventures was started in 2001 by Dave Daley. I can say that during my trip, Dave was one of the most cheerful and enthusiastic hosts. His love for dogs has grown this company to 38 superstar sled dogs. He nurtures their dogs’ love of running while providing them with the best care possible. This was my first-time dog sledding and I can say that I would absolutely love to do it again as soon as possible.
After this tiring day, all I could do is go to sleep.
The next day started early morning with the Arctic Crawler Tundra Tour to see Polar Bears again.
The first thing we saw going towards the Churchill Wildlife Management Area was the Ithaca Ship. In 1960, this ship came from Montreal to Churchill to drop off some cargo. It was here for five days and a storm hit that lasted about ten days. The captain of the ship was tired of waiting so he decided to go during the storm. The ship’s rudder fractured in an 80 mph gale force wind and when anchors failed to hold she ran aground. It would have been a big expense to ship out this ship so they decided to leave it there. Now, during low tide, you can walk to the ship and explore.
I learned some more things about Polar Bears this day again -
Pregnant Female Polar Bears go into the den in November and come back around February or March.
Most Polar Bears are born in December. Female Polar Bear stays with their cub for about two to two and half years.
Polar bears are usually just chilling and lazy because although it might be cold for us, they could overheat because of the thick layer of fur they have. They are just cooling off those times.
Polar Bears are attracted to the smell of alcohol more than the smell of blood. It is advised to not walk late at night in Churchill if out drinking earlier. It is advised not to walk in Churchill anyways.
Polar Bears and Grizzly Bears can actually reproduce - Grolar Bear or Pizzly Bear depending on the father of the hybrids.
Other than the Polar Bears, I heard many other tourists asking the tour guide “why do the trees only have branches on one side and not the other” The guide responded that “ these are called flagpole pines, winds from the northwest are carrying snow and other particles in the strong winds which leave one side of the trees bald.
I also saw some Ptarmigans during the Arctic Crawler Tundra Tour!
After the final day at the Arctic Crawler Tundra Tour, we headed back to the Lazy Bear Lodge to get some quick food and then straight to the airport to fly back to Winnipeg. This experience was something that I will never forget. It was filled with adventures, laughs, and memories.
If you have made it this far, I appreciate you reading this blog. I hope all this information someday helps you if you ever plan on visiting Churchill.
If have any questions or want to connect, my social accounts and email is linked to my website.