Weather: overcast with long rainy periods
Air temperature: 10° C, 50° F
Wind: 24 knots
Our first full day in Churchill began with a road trip around the area to help us become oriented on this small peninsula flanked on one side by the waters of Hudson’s Bay and on the other by the Churchill River. We enjoyed scenic viewpoints along the way, including one with a massive stone called Inukshuk (traditionally a way marker in the landscape), backed by white capped waves pounding the shores. The scenery was very photogenic and of increased interest because of the prominent sign warning of bears in the vicinity.
The name of the settlement of Churchill is synonymous with polar bears who wander into town in search of food at this time of year, while they are waiting for the ice to return and allow them to walk out to the ice edge to feed on seals. The Polar Bear “jail” on the outskirts of town was on our itinerary. This is where renegade bears and indeed repeat offenders are housed until they can be taken by helicopter away from the settled area and back into the wild.
Our journey took us to the view point of Point Merry where we could see one face only of the Prince of Wales star-shaped fort, built in the early 1700s on the other bank of the Churchill River. Our vantage point was another bastion with cannon remaining in situ. A brief and impromptu visit to a (now redundant) military complex with a rocket launcher still in place, reminded us of the military significance of this location, where once 6,000 homes had housed military personnel at Fort Churchill, and where today only streets and intermittent military structures peppered the landscape.
The final part of the tour included a visit to the newly constructed Centre for Northern Studies, a research institute for all things Northern and where students from around the northern lands from Canada to Russia are brought together to pursue research objectives in a wide range of scientific projects.
Despite deteriorating weather, our afternoon Zodiac cruise on the Churchill River, amongst the multiple Beluga whales with their darker calves was indeed a highlight. Appearing as cresting waves, we were delighted to see these serene creatures at close hand and it certainly seemed that they enjoyed our company as well.
Later in the afternoon Juan, one of our onboard geologists gave a presentation on The World Oceans.
With rougher waters ahead, we made our preparations for departure from Churchill in the early evening, heading north to our next stop of Arviat for the following day.