Getting to Churchill
There are many reasons for visiting Churchill on the Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba. A chance to see polar bears and beluga whales are two of them.
Although Churchill is nothing like as far north as Prudhoe Bay or Inuvik you can not drive to it. The only ways to get to Churchill from the south are to fly or take the train. Flying is expensive, the train on the other hand is incredibly slow.
One advantage of the train is that it is not expensive if you forego a sleeper. (If you do want a sleeper you will need to book many months in advance. Some of the people we met in Churchill had booked their sleeper a year in advance!)
The other advantage is that the train journey can be fun and a certain camaraderie develops between you and the other passengers (who you will keep meeting in Churchill).
You can take the train from Winnipeg (40 hours) or from Thompson (only 16 hours). We chose to drive up to Thompson and leave Man in the McReedy campground which provides a free shuttle service to and from the train station.
You can leave your vehicle at the station but this is not recommended as Thompson is referred to as the crime capital of Canada.
The train to Churchill has a lot of very bad press on-line. It is said that it is often delayed for many hours or even days, that it is very uncomfortable, and that the food is inedible or even unavailable. When we took the train (September 2013) none of this was true.
Our train was clean, modern and less than half full when it left Thomson (admittedly 1.5 hours late!)
If you are traveling economy it is advisable to bring your own pillow and blanket (or you can buy them on the train). You may also wish to bring your own wine/beer/spirits suitably re-packaged to look like a nonalcoholic drink.
If you can find two empty adjacent seats you can rotate them to face each other by folding the foot rests as shown, then pressing the lever indicated and yanking hard!
This is what the locals do in "their" carriage. (Because the train stops at lots of small stations en-route you may find only Churchill bound tourists in your carriage.)
The dining car actually has a full kitchen and apparently in the past a chef produced fresh meals, now however, they only serve re-heated microwave meals. Far from gourmet, but quite edible and relatively cheap.
There are occasional impressive views from the train...
...however most of the journey between Thompson and Churchill is in the dark.
There are thirty-eight stations between Thompson and Churchill, each one is an isolated community, only connected to the outside world by the night train three times a week. The train only stops by request. Our neighbors on the train were from Pikwitonei (population 80), a mother and son from a family of nine.
None of the vehicles above can drive anywhere outside the community and they all arrived by train.