Manitoba: Polar Bears, Sled Dogs & More
This is Katherine Satrom for Travel Explorations, fresh from a subarctic experience in Manitoba, Canada. You heard the barking of the eager sled dogs! I had the opportunity to be pulled through the boreal forest by an energetic team of racing huskies. These delightful dogs are owned by Dave Daley of Wapusk Adventures, originator of the sled dog race Hudson Bay Quest.
My sled ride took place near Churchill, Manitoba, famous for the polar bears that come on shore in October and November awaiting the ice freeze on Hudson Bay. The bears are lethargic and a bit hungry this time of year, waiting to get out on the ice and eat seals.
We viewed the polar bears from the edge of Hudson Bay in a Tundra Buggie, a large, heavy bus-like structure, but wider and longer than a motor coach. The vehicle is restroom equipped and lunch is served on board. The wheels are five feet in diameter to allow the Buggie to roll through the tundra and water. We saw polar bears sleeping and munching on the sparse plants. They would yawn, get up and then lie down again and roll. We saw two polar bears meet up and greet each other by getting their heads close together and opening their jaws as if they were going to bite each other. One bear lumbered by the Tundra Buggie. They appeared oblivious to our presence. The Buggy features a back outside deck good for picture taking. All the windows open wide for photography. If you go on this adventure, be sure to have a telephoto lens for your camera and binoculars.
Churchill itself is a frontier-like rustic community of just under 1000 permanent residents, more than half of whom are aboriginal, or native people. At the post office, you can get your passport stamped to remember your visit to the polar bear capital of the world. In summer, Churchill is known as the beluga capital of the world, as Hudson Bay fills with these huge whales, mammals weighing between 2000 and 3000 pounds. Churchill was named after a friend of the Duke of Marlborough, who was a Hudson Bay Company official. Churchill has a considerable shipping industry.
Residents and visitors are advised to be “bear aware.” The Manitoba Conservation department maintains a 24-hour alert line to report bears that come into the Churchill town site as part of its Polar Bear Alert Program. Officials want to avoid killing the bears, so to discourage the animals wandering into the city, a Polar Bear Holding Facility, or polar bear jail, is maintained. The bears are held for a month or more and then released some distance outside the city limits. When bus drivers step outside the vehicle to allow visitors to view the area, they carry rifles.
Another Churchill attraction is the Northern Lights dancing over the arctic skies.
Visitors to Churchill should be sure to visit the Eskimo Museum with an internationally recognized collection of Inuit art. The exhibit includes historic and contemporary sculptures of stone, bone and ivory, as well as archaeological and wildlife specimens.
Parks Canada has an interpretive center in Churchill which includes a film on the history, culture and wildlife of the area, as well as exhibits.
You can fly to Churchill out of Winnipeg on Calm Air (what a great name for an airline!), which offers smaller aircraft seating from 22 to 44 passengers. The other airline serving Churchill is Nolinor Air with aircraft seating up to 119 passengers. The unique thing about departing Churchill is that there is no security . . . it’s just like the old days . .. you walk right on to the plane. And miracle of miracles, a meal is served. The flight is from 2 to 2 ½ hours long.
The other way to reach Churchill is on the train, a two-day 44 hour journey covering over 1000 miles, departing from Winnipeg. The train travels from prairie to towering boreal forest, from the cold lakes of the taiga – a Russian word for forest – to the barren beauty of the tundra.
As listeners in our region are aware, Minnesota can boast of 10,000 lakes. Manitobans tout 100,000 lakes!
Train prices vary greatly depending on whether you have a sleeper or coach accommodation, and whether you include the Churchill ground arrangements in your package. Your travel professional can give you many options.
I’m planning to return to Churchill with others in 2014 . . . and I can’t wait!
Many tours combine visits to Churchill and Winnipeg. Next time on Travel Explorations we’ll update you about the fascinating , fun and cosmopolitan city of Winnipeg!
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