8 Days in Churchill, Manitoba (Canada): A Photo Journey
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What is it like to be in Churchill, one of the remotest and coldest place in Canada, in winter?
Over the course of eight days, I share my travels and life in Churchill with you, so that you can experience this sub-arctic town through my lens in this photo journal.
It is hard to accept that my eight-day trip to Churchill is close to an end. I spent the last few hours with other travelers and two of my favorite guides from BlueSky Expeditions walking on the frozen Churchill River for hours. The tour does not operate every day, and it is highly weather dependent; as such, it dawned on me that I have been incredibly fortunate to be able to walk on the river while I was here.
Despite the rigid climate and strong winds, I would have loved to stay on the river as long as I could manage to appreciate these beautiful natural creations. It was as if I was transported to another world; so remote and peaceful with just a few individuals around.
A big change of scenery at the front desk of IceBerg Inn. A huge framed finished art piece has been displayed in the lobby behind the check-in desk, providing a feeling of being in Churchill in spring.
Churchill is dubbed the polar bear capital of the world, partly because it has the world’s highest polar bear population. Polar bears come ashore from July to November when the ice melts on the Hudson Bay. They spend these four months waiting for the sea ice to freeze. For these months, 800 residents of Churchill have to embrace the reality of sharing this remote town with the largest land carnivore.
Here, it is illegal to lock your house and vehicles, so that any individual who is chased by polar bears can quickly find somewhere to hide.
It was a relaxing day and was supposed to be a peaceful night in. With my cold still lingering, I was ready to call it an early night. Then I was interrupted by our regular guests at 7:30 pm.
Arctic foxes have been here for six days in a row at 7:30 pm sharp. I grabbed my parka and put on my snow boots. Two foxes, as usual, were running around looking for their dinner. They have a thick and warm furl that allows them to survive in extremely cold environments. They are natural predators of polar bears.
I woke up with a headache and a slight cough. After taking a small dose of vitamin C, I set out to the Eskimo Museum in downtown, which houses an interesting collection of artefacts, mini-sculptures, and examples of the indigenous art of Churchill and northern Canada. It was an eye-opening experience to learn how the natives survived in remote territories by making-do with their hunting tools and limited resources. The exhibit not only has cultural and historical value, it further piqued my interested in the northern frontier of Canada.
While Aurora is in the lowest circle this year, the location of Churchill directly under the Aurora Oval renders it an ideal place to see this appealing natural phenomenon. Here, the Aurora show takes place approximately 300 days a year.
Gerald took me to the same cabin on the outskirts in a higher plateau that we visited when dog sledging. Casual conversation started, and supplies of warm apple cider and hot beverages came by at any time.
As the cabin is outside the town, there is no light pollution. Jenafor has an app that can track the activities of Aurora, so we were able to known where Aurora was, and the estimated time it would arrive overhead around our cabin.
At around 11:30 pm, the Aurora started to show its trace. It initially appeared as a streak of green light what was a bit faint and camouflaged again the clear night sky. It took my eyes a while to get used to it. A short time later, I witnessed a full-scale radiant display of purple and red hues, while the stars twinkled brightly in the same sphere. The beauty of co-existence with this natural phenomenon is incredible. It evoked a feeling of tranquility and remoteness.
After a night of heavy snow, I woke up to a temperature of -51 Celsius. My day tour to visit Churchill Northern Studies Center and walk down the river was cancelled. “frostbite is real”, my tour guide informed me.
I have never experienced temperatures below -40 Celsius before, so I decided to layer up to brave the outside: two pairs of wool socks, thin jeans, long underpants, snow pants, a long-sleeve t-shirt, a fleece jacket, and a puff coat down to my knees, two scarves, a wool headwear, a pair of gloves, and mittens. I have no idea what -50 Celsius is like, so I wanted to be prepared.
After a brief walk on the sidewalk, I felt too freezing to stay outdoors. My winter boots did not cope quite so well, and I did not blame them. It was impossible to feel warm anyway. My breath froze the moment it left my lips; the snow squeaked when I walked on it. Any part of my face being exposed, it started freezing and forming ice. I know it was a brand new experience for me, and I tried my best to appreciate some of it.
I spent an afternoon dog sledding with Jenafor and Gerald from BlueSky Expeditions.
Gerald invested $4,000 in his sled, and they have formed a deep bond with the dogs. From my observation, they clearly enjoy spending time with their dogs every day.
The cabin has a rustic appeal. It is a cozy place to enjoy a hot cup of apple cider and pastries. I met their huskies and got warmed up with some of them. All the huskies were hyper and could not contain their excitement at the prospect of a chance to run around outside.
When I was not dog sledding, I loved hanging out with Via, my favorite husky. She is retired, and gave birth a young dog that is now joining the running squad. She came to me when I went back to the camp.
On the way back to my accommodation, we drove through the beginning stage of a winter storm that was expected to hit Churchill hard that night.
If you asked me to describe my journey to Churchill, I would use three words: long, thrilling, and exhausting.
I was on the road for three days from Toronto to reach this far-flung destination. After the last night on the train spending 10 hours traveling the last 271 kilometers, I was excited to see Churchill through my own eyes.
A group of tourists arrived on the same train with me, and they were soon escorted into a van and transferred to their hotel. Apparently, they were part of a six-day tour group with Frontier North to chase Aurora Borealis. Their cost of travel was somewhere between $5,300 to $6,500. I wish they got their monies worth (at least see the Aurora).
I walked to the hotel IceBerg Inn, my home for the next seven nights. The relatively huge scale of the property and the close proximity to town made it extremely easy for me to spot it from the train station. After an early check-in, I went for lunch and a walk around the town.
Churchill is easy to navigate by foot. There is one main street, Kelsey Street, where most commercial property, hotels, and grocery stores are located. Most of the residents of Churchill moved here from different places in Canada. They came to visit and fell in love with this place. Before they had a chance to realize, they had been living in Churchill for years. I have since learned that locals survive the harsh winter by acclimatizing, strong will, and taking care of each other.
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