I never thought I would visit the edge of the Arctic Circle in the dead of winter. Nope. I never thought I’d brave -40 degree temperature either, but I did. You might too if you had the opportunity to see the Northern Lights in Churchill. Yes, they were amazing. Beyond amazing, but my trip was more than the lights. Not only did I see the night sky dance with majestic ribbons of green and purple light, but I spent three days in the northern Canadian town of Churchill, a place where I discovered a few Arctic adventures.
What did I discover? – Let’s take a look through my series “the five” and view five photos from Churchill, Manitoba
Welcome to Churchill
Officially known and branded as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World,” it is a place where polar bears out number people (1,000 to 880) at times. However, my visit was in March, when the polar bears were far away from town (hunting seals on the ice of frozen Hudson Bay). Polar Bear season is October and November while winter is prime Northern Lights time (when it’s darkest).
On my trip, I also learned about the Beluga Whale migration takes place in summer. Visitors have a chance to swim (or float) beside 100s of whales and hear their songs. That will be my next trip Churchill – sorry Polar Bears.
Dave Daley and Dog Sledding at Wapusk Adventures
One activity, a highlight of the daytime adventures, was definitely the dog sledding adventure at Wapusk Adventures and the chance to take a winter ride and mush across the Arctic landscape. At Wapusk, Dave Daley the legendary local racer tells you about the care (the love), the history, his competitive race history, all before he explains how to prepare for sledding with his dogs.
Many people wonder if the dogs can handle the cold weather, is it safe? Humane? All I can say is I’ve never seen a happier bunch of dogs wanting to pull a sled. My only complaint was that my first ride was too short as Dave and his crew needed to pack up and head out for the Hudson Bay Quest shortly after our visit. Next time, I hope to brave the elements longer.
The Tundra Buggy from Frontiers North Adventures
How does one travel across the frozen landscape, stay warm, and navigate large ice hummocks en route to adventure? By Tundra Buggy of course. These large people movers designed to brave the elements also provide a sense of luxury in the Arctic ice world. The one from Frontiers North included two fire places, a functioning bathroom, Chesterfield couches and space for all your gear. Also loaded with supplies such as water, hot chocolate, snacks and even at times of celebration (after viewing the Northern Lights) a few adult beverages too.
We took the Tundra Buggy across the terrain at night to find a dark viewing location for the northern lights, but we also took the Tundra Buggy out for a spin one morning to visit a cabin and do some snow shoeing. The scenic stillness and silence of winter in snow shoes made a lasting impression. Beautiful.
Eskimo Museum and Inuit Art
Eskimo is a term not often used publicly in Canada anymore. Apparently it is not a nice word. Who knew? However, in Churchill it is still used as the name of the local museum (a surprise for some Canadians on my adventure) since it still best describes the culture and artifacts inside.
The Assistant Curator gave us an overview of the Eskimo Museum and then we walked through single floor looking at all the exhibits. This particular piece made me smile because it represented happy times and fun. Although created for kids, all art or sculptures were small until the indigenous people started a more westernized lifestyle with permanent settlements. Big Inuit sculptures such as ones made from whale bone were just too heavy to carry in such conditions, they are essentially modern art.
Churchill Northern Studies Center
Just a few miles out of town at the Churchill Northern Studies Center science meets the arctic climate. There is much to learn and tourists can even take learning vacations and spend time at the center – it is not just for scientists.
On our visit, in the most extreme weather conditions I’ve faced (until that evening when capturing the Churchill sunset) we exited the bus for a photo opportunity amongst igloos created by the Study Center. Foolishly removing my glove to take a photo on my iPhone, I felt the initial sensation of frostbite. We didn’t last long in the -45 degree cold with strong winds, nope, but we did brave it long enough to have photographic evidence.
Sure Churchill will always be my Northern Lights, a trip that changed me and made me feel so alive, so wide awake. But I discovered more, I discovered a destination filled with Arctic adventure, many I enjoyed and some I want to return for when the weather is a bit warmer.
Stay adventurous, Craig
Special thanks to Travel Manitoba and Frontiers North for providing passage to the Arctic world in Northern Canada.