||Churchill, Manitoba is
located at the mouth of the Churchill River as it enters
Hudson Bay, far to the north, near the Artic Circle in
Canada. Churchill calls itself the polar bear
capitol of the world since there is a high concentration
of bears every fall when the Churchill River
freezes. Given our good fortune to have seen many
wild animals in their natural setting we decided to
journey to this challenging location to see the polar
It took two days and three plane flights to get to Churchill, with the last leg from Winnipeg Manitoba to Churchill on a propeller driven plane. Why a prop instead of a jet? The pilot said that all the run-ways north of Churchill were dirt and gravel, and jets would ingest this stuff and stop working. So, the 600 mile flight took almost three hours (and it seemed like five).
at rush hour (4:30 pm)
Before departing we checked the weather regularly so that we'd be sure to pack the right clothes. The forecast predicted that the high would be about 30 degrees Fahrenheit and the low about 29, and it wasn't off by much. Fortunately we were able to dig out our clothes from our Antarctic trip so stayed warm most of the time. As you can see from the picture (on the left) taken from our window, this was a good time to sit by the fireplace.
|Our search for bears took us to the Churchill Wildlife Management Area, a very large preserve south of the city and along the coast of the Hudson Bay. This is an area where the bears tend to congregate as they are waiting for the Bay to freeze. The area is relatively flat permafrost ground with a scattering of willow bushes and boreal forest with a spattering of spruce trees, ponds of varying sizes from a few feet across to a double football field, and greywacke rocks. The willow bushes reached a height of about six feet and are a favorite hiding place for the bears. The trees, with growth stunted from the harsh conditions, are very old. They grow about a couple of inches each year, so a 15 foot tree is easily 150 to 200 years old. And of course, they are all wind swept, with branches primarily on one side. Churchill graywack, as these flat rocks are called, is a dark gray to black color, and against the snow quite pronounced. It is a fascinating sedimentary stone as it was created in underwater avalanches and by strong submarine currents which carried and compacted the sediment. This is in contrast to the sedimentary rock which makes up the Grand Canyon, created by eons of inland seas washing and receeding from the Southwest region of the United States.|
|Polar bears generally eat most of their food in the winter and have little or no food the rest of the year. So, bear encounters in the fall just before Hudson Bay freezes and the bears start their feeding season can be quite dangerous. In Churchill, people do not lock their cars so if a person is out walking and sees a bear, they can get into a car. For the children who like to swim at the beach, the ctiy has provided a safety boat. There is the polar bear jail for bears who wander into town and stay around. These bears are tranquilized, put in a holding facility (the jail), and then helicoptered out of town.|
Unlike so many of our trips, this is not one where we came home and said "Wow, what an adventure!" We were glad we were able to go, but disappointed that didn't see more bears like the one looking at us in this picture!