Canada & Alaska

Michele & Stephen's trip in 2013

What to do in Churchill

If you ask a travel agent what to do in Churchill you will discover that there are two primary attractions, beluga whales and polar bears. You will also discover that each are best seen as part of an expensive package tour that includes your air fare, hotel and tours in Churchill. You may also be told that the beluga whale season and polar bear season do not overlap.

[Un]Fortunately for us the only time we could visit Churchill was in early September, too late for the beluga whales and too early for the polar bears.

We visited Churchill by train from Thompson (16 hours), stayed at the Tundra Inn and had a one day tour with Mark Ingebrigtson of North Star Tours.

To understand the atmosphere of Churchill you have to remember that the town is surrounded by hundreds of hungry polar bears that can, and occasionally do, wander thru town.

On the Saturday before we visited Churchill a polar bear attacked a man outside the Gypsy Bakery in the centre of town. As reported by the BBC.

Although people do stroll around Churchill apparently unconcerned there are constant reminders of the risks and many people use their cars/utes/ATVs even for very short journeys.

In town parked cars are always left unlocked so that they can be used as a refuge if a bear walks round the corner.

On our first half day in Churchill we ate at the excellent Gypsy Bakery (see above).

There is very little alternative out of season.

We also visited the impressive Eskimo Museum run by the Catholic Church.

On day two Mark picked us up from our hotel at 09:00 (ish) in an old school bus.

There is lots to see in Churchill between the beluga whale season and the polar bear season. For example the arctic loon (Gavia arctica).

Also of interest is Miss Piggy a crashed C-46 aircraft that was operated by Lamb Air.

Whilst we were photographing Miss Piggy Mark pointed out the polar bear resting on the rocks about 50 metres away!

Our next visit was to Cape Merry to view the Prince of Wales Fort, built by the British over 40 years and surrendered to the French in 1782 without a shot being fired.

Note the white flecks in the sea are beluga whales!

Mark felt that our initial polar bear encounter was not sufficient and we returned to Miss Piggy from the other direction. Note the sleeping polar bear bottom left! Not visible to us until we were about 10 metres away.

Before most of our group had arrived (we were 500 metres from the relative safety of the bus) our polar bear woke up and started to take an excessive interest in us. Mark suggested a slow orderly retreat.

Bears that enter the town are detained in the polar bear jail for 30 days, without food, then taken well out of town by helicopter. We watched a mother and her two cubs being deported.

Cub one, heavily tranquilized, goes in the helicopter.

Followed by cub two.

Followed by mother tipped unceremoniously into a net...

...slung under the helicopter.

Off to a new life well away from Churchill (or not, many bears return).

We found the Tundra Inn and Mark Ingebrigtson of North Star Tours extremely helpful and we saw everything we hoped to see in Churchill. Both are highly recommended.

However those of a nervous disposition might find the more formal (and armed) approach of the larger operators more to their taste.