Churchill’s Bears, Whales and Northern Lights
Canada's only sub-Arctic seaport, the town of Churchill* has made its international reputation as the Polar Bear Capital of the World. This community of hardy northerners sits on the bears' annual fall migratory route back to Hudson Bay from the Arctic tundra. But Churchill boasts even more natural wonders. Whether it's dazzling Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis, the aerial drama of migratory birds overhead, or deep, rich summer and fall colours of tundra mosses and wildflowers, or thousands of curious beluga whales in the Churchill River, Churchill is filled with life.
Day 1 - Lords of the Arctic
The best time of year to catch sight of polar bears is in October and November, when these massive beasts move from their summer habitat on the tundra back to seal-hunting territory - the pack ice that forms every winter over Hudson Bay. The unique local tundra vehicles, designed to move smoothly over snow and ice, protect passengers from curious or hungry bears.
Day 2 - Hear Sea Canaries Sing
From late June until mid-August, thousands of beluga whales or "sea canaries" - named for their underwater vocalizing - feed in the Seal and Churchill rivers emptying into Hudson Bay. Some tour operators enable visitors to listen in on the belugas, and adventurous travellers can kayak or snorkel with these friendly, curious sea mammals.
Day 3 - Want a Night Light?
At night under clear winter skies, the highest intensity of aurora activity in the Arctic happens over this region, so chances are good for a genuinely dramatic display of Aurora Borealis - dancing "light curtains" glowing green, red, yellow and white. Watch outdoors or enjoy comfortable viewing inside the Tundra Domes, with its plexi-glass covered seating areas.
Day 4 - Scenic Beauty, Tundra-style
The sub-Arctic summer landscape offers up surprising bursts of colour. More than 400 native plants species can be found here, from mosses and lichens to bearberries and yellow willows. Look for the delicate beauty of dozens of varieties of wildflowers, and keep an eye out for woodland caribou and nesting swans.
Day 5 - The Sky's the Limit
In spring and fall, birders flock here to watch avian migrations as northern species, including bountiful snow and Canada geese, head north or south. Tundra and taiga provide habitat for more than 200 species of native birds, including a large variety of hawks and falcons like the gyrfalcon and peregrine falcon. Snowy owls are common here, as are tundra swans, terns, and gulls. Harlequin ducks and the rare Ross' gull are less commonly seen, but when they are, it's the sight of a lifetime for an avid birder.
Day 6 - Human History
In and around town, the Eskimo Museum houses soapstones sculpture and artifacts, and Parks Canada Visitor Receoption Centre explains the area's natural and human history. Pick up local crafts like carvings, prints, beadwork and moccasins in town shops. Near town, the National Historic Sites of Cape Merry, Prince of Wales Fort, and Sloop Cove offer eloquent testament to the fierce challenges early explorers faced. The Churchill Northern Studies Centre offers public courses in Arctic studies. Once you've spent time here, you'll agree: this really is a different world. Refer to the Tour Operator section on page 42 for a list of Churchill packages.