Churchill, Manitoba, is famous for quite a few things—mainly its northern lights and polar bears, although the dog sledding adventure was also a big draw for me!
Churchill isn’t the easiest place in the world to get to, indeed some might say it’s pretty tough. While I flew in on one of those neat little planes that only holds a handful of people, (in fact, it’s so small you don’t even get a seat assignment!) you can also take VIA Rail.
Since the weather is usually a little milder by March, when I went, a few hardy travelers had elected to come by snowmobile. For those who miss the roads, Gillam, 170 miles south of Churchill, has the nearest roads outside of local travel around the airport and small community.
The thing that amazed me the most, since I live in the snow zone, was how white everything was. Back home, in Qu’Appelle, the snow blows, picking up field dirt, and makes our drifts more dirty gray than white. Churchill, however, had pure white snow that sparkled in the sunshine, and a sky so blue it seemed like I was looking up at an artificial dome of some sort.
I’d arrived with the knowledge that Churchill was on the tree line, but standing on the flat, flat snow in the town and seeing what looked rather like a hedge someone had planted, in the distance, was still a surprising sight. Even more surprising was the little ice hummocks on Hudson Bay, that had pushed up as the water froze below—they seemed to be beautiful carvings rather than something nature had created.
I couldn’t resist the glorious day with temperatures just below freezing, so immediately set out for a walk around town. First stop was the craft store, that seemed to have everything from fur parkas to hand-crafted moccasins and artwork. I couldn’t resist stopping to chat with some of the local artisans, who managed to answer my questions while their busy fingers worked away. A stone Inuksuk stood at the outskirts of town, providing guidance on the best paths to take on my walk.
The next day was dedicated to dogsledding, which was awesome. While my girlfriend bundled up in the sleigh, I stood on one side of the rigging at the back next to Dave—my job was to hold the brake or anchor into the snow when we stopped. The dogs started off, pulling us through a land of magic so quiet I could hear my own breathing, along with the crunching of the snow as we floated over it.
Taking the tundra buggy out over the same terrain that night provided an entirely different kind of experience. The immense vehicle crawled over the snow, giving us lots of time to sip hot chocolate and eat dessert while we waited for my other must-do of the trip—view the Northern Lights. The aurora borealis danced into the night right on schedule, filling the sky directly overhead with a multitude of colours ranging through whites, greens, and hints of reds.
And if you really want a treat in Churchill, check out Churchill Wild. The caribou, served with locally picked cranberries and wild rice, introduced me to some of the north’s most tempting main courses. Dessert, cranberry cake and blueberry cream cheese tart, finished off the best meal of the trip.
The polar bears, unfortunately, hadn’t made their way back to Churchill yet when I visited, so that gave me a reason to plan another trip to Churchill. Sometimes a trip can be disappointing when you have built up great expectations, but Churchill managed to surpass mine!
WHEN YOU GO:
Churchill, MB, Chamber of Commerce
Polar Bears, Fire & Ice adventures, Northern Lights — Aurora Borealis
Tundra Buggy Tours
Polar Bears, Northern Lights — Aurora Borealis, 2004 Ecotourism Award
Photos of the Northern Lights and the Tundra Buggy & Polar Bears are courtesy of Travel Manitoba. All other photos are by Linda Aksomitis.