Polar bears have planted the Manitoba town of Churchill on the tourist map—it’s the easiest place to access that guarantees sightings. But it’s also a terrific spot for viewing the northern lights, as it experiences aurora activity more than 300 nights per year. Book a learning vacation at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre to study astronomy and northern lights photography. Or reserve a room at the NHA’s rolling sleeper-train Tundra Lodge for unparalleled proximity to bears in their natural habitat coupled with a chance to see the lights.
It’s an ethereal, otherworldly landscape of crystalline icebergs, like gigantic diamonds, jutting out of shimmering glassy seas amidst blinding whitewash of ice. Animal movement confuses the eye. The Canadian Arctic archipelago is home to 20% of the world’s polar bear population. Expeditions are pure whimsy. Get close to Polar bears in a tiny Tundra buggy, protected as the bears jump up. Kayak amongst Beluga whales and Seal River and luxuriate in nature’s son-et-lumiere phenomenon, ‘Aurora Borealis’ Northern Lights. Churchill attracts thousands of visitors in autumn, when polar bears move back to settle on ice over Hudson Bay. It’s one of few human settlements where polar bears live wild. Wilderness lodges built on the bear migration route are truly once-in-a-lifetime experiences. According to a recent study funded by the WWF, shrinking arctic ice is driving polar bears to extinction. Now is the time to visit.
The permanent residents only number about 700 people. The major draw for tourists are the polar bears. The bears gather late in the fall waiting for the Hudson Bay to freeze so they can go out onto the ice to hunt seals.
Churchill (2006 Population 923) is a town on the shore of Hudson Bay in situated at the estuary of the Churchill River at Hudson Bay. The small community stands at an ecotone, on the Hudson Plains, at the juncture of three ecoregions: the boreal forest to the south, the Arctic tundra to the northwest, and the Hudson Bay to the north. Wapusk National Park lies immediately southwest of Churchill. It is most famous for the many polar bears that move toward the shore from inland in the autumn, leading to the nickname "Polar Bear Capital of the World" that has helped its growing tourism industry. Other popular nicknames include "Beluga Capital of the World." Canada's only significant port on the Arctic Ocean, Churchill is linked to the rest of the world only by the train (which is how I got up here) and plane (which is how I left on Calm Air). One of the more interesting buildings in Churchill is the Town Center Complex. This huge structure contains the public schools, the health centre, a hockey rink and other indoor activities. It was built assuming a certain population growth that has not yet happened in Churchill, and as a consequence, their are budgetary issues. There is also beach access from the back of the Centre and is the site of the annual (July 1st I believe) Hudson Bay dips.