Most in Canada know about the Polar Bear Tours provided by tour operators in the north of Canada. How much longer these tours will be available is in question. The Polar Bear population in Canada is about 15,000 and includes about 13 groupings of bears. Of those 13 populations 5 are in high decline, 5 are stable and 3 had insufficient data according to the WWF (World Wildlife Federation).
The main threats to the Polar Bear population is the rapid decline of sea ice due to climate change creating a reduced hunting and feeding ground and because of the increased activity of oil and gas drilling operations in the north.
When you think Polar Bears many think Churchill, Manitoba. Churchill is a small sub-arctic community situated on the banks of the Churchill River, on the shores of Hudson Bay, in the northern region of Manitoba, Canada. Churchill is a historic destination, a popular tourism destination, a shipping port and a base for arctic research.
Churchill, Manitoba is surrounded by eco systems. The Arctic Tundra and the Hudson Bay are positioned to the north of town. The boreal forest to the south. Underneath Churchill is the Canadian Shield, lichens and permafrost. And… there are trees too – mostly black spruce – many stunted and twisted by the winds.
The main industries in Churchill are tourism, shipping and research. Canada’s only prairie port operates in Churchill. The Port of Churchill on the shores of Hudson Bay ships grain around the world and shuttles supplies to remote northern villages.
Churchill is also the hub for arctic research. The Churchill Northern Studies Centre attracts researchers from around the world to study arctic environments and wildlife. It is also a local attraction and there are tours and guides provided at the facility.
The northern region of Manitoba, Canada is home to many species of wildlife including polar bears, beluga whales, seals, caribou, foxes, gyrfalcons, etc. Wildlife is a big part of the tourism industry. And because of wildlife tourism is a year round activity.
Churchill is referred to as the, “Polar Bear Capital of the World”. Every year the bears come ashore between October and mid- November. They are waiting for the freeze up of Hudson Bay so they can go feed. Tour companies operate big tundra buggies providing a safe environment for the ever-popular polar bear tours.
During the winters the polar bears draw allot of attention… but during the summers the beluga whales in the Churchill River cause all the commotion. Over 3000+ beluga whales swim up the Churchill River every year to feed, breed and molt their winter skin. Tours on boats and kayaks provide up close sightseeing opportunities.
Birding attracts hundreds to the region as well in the spring and fall. During the bird migration seasons there are over 250+ bird species sighted in the region including bird species like the Ross’s Gull, Snowy Owl, Sandhill Crane, Tundra Swan and Gyrfalcon.
For months the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) are the big attraction up north. The best time to view the dancing skies exploding with color is between January and March. During this time the days are shorter, the nights are longer making it prime time for viewing.
History is also a big part of tourism in North Manitoba. It is a two part history in Churchill. There is the history, traditions and cultures of the Inuit, Cree and Dene First Nation people. And there is the history of the forts and fur trading posts of the European settlements.
Many of the historical sites are attractions. Attractions include the Eskimo Museum, the Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site of Canada (accessed by boat or helicopter only), York Factory National Historic Site of Canada and the Cape Merry Battery Historic Site of Canada.
Other attractions include the Boreal Gardens (farm market green houses), Churchill Northern Studies Centre and the Parks Canada Visitor Reception Centre.
The community of Churchill provides many of the important services required by travelers like accommodations, restaurants, grocery store, gas stations, gift shops, bank, post office, internet, coffee shops, pub, liquor store, tours, guides, outfitters, attractions and transportation (car rental, taxi, rail and airport).
In the summer months, the activities in Churchill best enjoyed include wildlife watching, birdwatching, sightseeing, flightseeing, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, hunting and fishing.
During the winter months, depending on the weather conditions of course, the activities best enjoyed include the Northern Lights, wildlife watching, flightseeing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, dog sledding and snowmobiling.
The parks in the region are mostly wilderness parks – some left untouched by man. The parks include the Wapusk National Park, the Akudlik Marsh, the Churchill and Cape Tatnam Wildlife Management Areas, Goose Creek, the Sand Lakes Provincial Park, the Numaykoos Lake Provincial Park and the Caribou River Provincial Park.