In October, 2012, I took a trip to Churchill, Manitoba to visit a friend. I stayed in the tiny Northern town for 10 days and fell in love with the people living there and the wild atmosphere. While I only saw a polar bear once (and from a significant distance) their presence was constant — Natural Resource Officers had to scare bears out of town on multiple nights. Spending four days traveling to-and-from Churchill was one of my favourite experiences.
Churchill, Churchill, Churchill…I had no idea how hard I would fall for you! The whole trip was absolutely magical; travelling two full days on the train, feeling like locals almost immediately, walking around town cautiously in case of wayward polar bears, getting a tour of the backroads, renting a truck and having our own off-road adventure, finally seeing a polar bear! I definitely enjoyed my time up North more than I had expected to.
The whole point of the trip was to pay a visit to one of my best friends who had moved up to Churchill last year because of a job offer. She has since fallen in love with the tiny town and has “settled down” with a great guy (whom I was sick of hearing stories about and ready to meet). He was even nice enough to let us crash in his pad for the entire week never having met us either! I like to think that we did a good job of being entertaining guests because of drunken debauchery and a belated Thanksgiving dinner.
Our first weekend was a pretty rowdy one which included a Friday night meat draw followed by bar hoping between the Tundra and the Seaport, and a Saturday night beer pong tournament which lasted until 5 am but was broken up by a toga party at the complex. Besides all of the liver damaging we did manage to fit in some sight seeing and got driven from Port Mary to the research centre in hopes of seeing our first polar bear. While we didn’t have any luck this time we did learn a lot about Churchill’s history and former connection to the military and see some interesting landmarks. The grounded plane, for example, is called Ms.Piggy since it crashed on a ridge just short of the airport because the cargo it was carrying was too heavy, none of the passengers where injured.
Our (my) disappointment in not seeing a polar bear was exacerbated by story after story of nightly bear sightings in town, there was even paw print evidence on the side of our favourite local diner one morning. We (I) started brainstorming how we could see a bear before the week was up, this included seriously considering going on a $400 buggy tour or a $500/hr helicopter tour. Thank god logic prevailed and we ended up renting a truck for 24 hours and only spending $140 (and holy crap $45 on a quarter tank of gas). But it was all worth it!
Our second stop of the day brought us to Brian Ladoon’s dogs, a track of crown land where Ladoon raises endangered eskimo dogs thanks to government intervention. The area is somewhat controversial because Ladoon has started blocking access to the area and charging tour groups a fee to enter. He seems to be getting away with this because his land is a great place to see bears because they like to coesxist with the dogs, and it seems tourists will pay any amount to see a polar bear. Similar to our last visit out there the road was blocked, but lucky for us there was a big mound of white fur lying about 200 meters inside the gate! It was hard to tell what we were looking at without the camera zoomed as far as it could go, and until the bear moved I was sure we were looking at a rock. But there it was, and there it remained until we returned 2 hours later. And thats how we saw our only polar bear twice in one day!
Satisfied, we spent the rest of the trip playing bingo, going out for dinner, enjoying open mic night and helping my bestie and her boyfriend organize a high school volleyball tournament. By the time Thursday evening rolled around we were both considering coming up for another visit, and despite tearful goodbyes I would be lying if I said wasn’t excited to get back on the train. So we left a dreary, slushy Churchill (the weather was unseasonably warm for the rest of the trip by the way), and embarked yet again on a two day train ride back to Winnipeg.
I do have to talk about the train before I close because it was just as much an adventure as the time we spent in Churchill. I’m lucky to have a relative working for Via Rail who didn’t mind us name dropping and even wrote a letter to support our cause for upgraded accommodations (Thanks Art)! This meant we rode home in the berth, or sleeper car of the train, being rocked to sleep in a very luxurious bunk bed. This exceeded expectations because we had been told that we wouldn’t be fed for two days and that we would be bored out of our minds. Not the case! We frequented the dining car, meaning I ate too many perogies, drank wine, played cards, watched movies, and read for two extremely relaxing days. I have since been recommending Churchill by train to everyone that I talk to because it is an extremely reasonable way to travel and if you have 11 days to spare you have the chance of exploring a gem in your very own backyard!