In Town-Churchill, Canada

Polar Bear Facts/ Polar Bear High Season Tips/ Bear Lore/ Rules of Bear Safety 1/ Rules of Bear Safety 2/ Wildlife Management applied to Polar Bears\

Introduction to Churchill's Polar Bears/ Reasons to Visit/ Practicalities/ Churchill the Town/ Practicalities



Town Map It is very easy to find your way around town, almost impossible to get lost. Refer to this map as you read.

Health Care Shopping for Basics Shopping for Great Souveniers Banking in Churchill
Important Credit Card Information Car Rentals Driving in Churchill Lodging in Churchill
Fun things to do in Churchill--Boat, Tundra Buggy and Helicopter tours. The Great Hudson Bay Dip and Relay Race Polar Bear Safety Tips and Issues Wildlife Management activities

Getting There

I forgot to put the Churchill Northern Studies Centre in my table of contents! Visit it!

Akujuit Aerospace Incorporated/SpacePort Canada Private space port being developed outside of Churchill.

Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, a town of approximately 1,100 permanent residents, stands between the western shore of Hudson Bay and the Churchill River.

Whether you travel independently or as part of a package tour, the town of Churchill will serve as your main base camp. Although definitely "no-frills," the town contains stores, services, restaurants, and medical facilities necessary to service its approximately 800 permanent residents as well as visitors.

Health Care

If you break your leg, get mauled by a polar bear or suffer an allergic reaction to the local bug bites, you will be taken to Churchill's health centre. Hours for non-emergency care are extremely limited. If memory serves me right, the health centre is open 2:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Emergencies, if life-threatening, are dealt with any time. The clinic tends to be closed to non-emergency service on holidays, including Parks Canada Day.

Basic necessities

If you must sew up a ripped garment but have no needle and thread, or want to buy a pound of cheese or a liter of coke, you can find what you need at one of two food/sundry stores on, or just off, Kelsey Avenue, Churchill's main commercial street. These are businesses that primarily cater to local residents. Prices tend to be higher than what you are used to back home, and the choices aren't as varied as you'd find in, say, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Los Angeles or Chicago.

According to Joan, who works at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, she and other locals often do their serious shopping--including grocery shopping--down in Thompson, a 12-hour train ride south. Still, if you need what you need when you need it, chances are, one of the two general food/sundry stores--Northern on Kelsey Avenue or S&H, right around the corner facing Hudson Square, can supply something adequate, although probably not your first-choice brand or model.

A hardware store is also located on Kelsey across from Northern. It offers items typically found in such establishments. And some that aren't, such as bear spray.

A ten-minute walk takes you across town, to Bayport Plaza and Town Centre Complex. In Bayport Plaza resides North Star Tours, a travel agency that also sells some very fine tee-shirts not available elsewhere; a liquor store; a Parks Canada display room; a Royal Bank of Canada branch where you can exchange U.S. currency (and probably other national currencies) for Canadian; and the Churchill Fitness Club.

In Town Centre can be found a library, hockey rink, curling rink and a fast food restaurant. As far as I can tell, it is also somewhat connected to the Health Centre. The yearly Hudson Bay Dips are held on the beach just beyond Town Centre and accessible through it. You can walk from Kelsey Avenue overlooking the Churchill River to Town Centre overlooking Hudson Bay, in about 10 minutes. The view is nicer at Town Centre.

Banking in Churchill

You can exchange American currency for Canadian at the Royal Bank of Canada. Their hours are 10:00 a.m.-3:00 a.m. Monday through Friday. My encounter there was very pleasant and friendly.

Important Credit Card Information

The ONLY UNIVERSALLY ACCEPTED CREDIT CARD IS VISA. At least one car of the two rental places and one gas station does not accept MasterCard, Discover or American Express. The Eskimo Museum, where Inuit (Eskimo) soapstone sculptures can be purchased for absolutely the best prices in town, also turns down any credit card except for Visa. A few of the other shops selling tempting and lovely hand-made aboriginal art and other souveniers will take a variety of cards, but they tend to be more expensive. Visa is taken everywhere.

Car and Bike Rentals

Car rentals cost about $60/day (in July, 1996) with no discounts given for long-term rentals. You are responsible for returning your car with a full tank of gas. I have also heard from people at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre that it is possible to rent bikes for about $8 per day. On a bike, you are pretty much limited to the main road, unless you have the leg power to pedal on gravel.

In November 97, gasoline cost $0.90(CDN) a liter. The gas station on Kelsey Avenue at least accepts VISA as well as cash.

Two car rental places exist: Polar U-Drive and Tamarak rentals.

If you plan to stay at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre during summer, you should seriously consider renting a car. The place is 17 kilometers outside of town, inside the Cape Churchill Wildlife Management Area.

Once winter has descended and the road ices over, it's probably not worth it. You won't be able to explore the gravel back roads, because it's too treacherous. If you are not used to driving on iced-over roads, don't even think about it. I am from S. California, totally unused to ice, and rolled a Suburban I had borrowed from the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. Luckily, no one was hurt and they were able to retrieve the car from where it had rolled, down a shallow hill.

If you are staying at the Centre and want to go into town (but are car-less) the people there will kindly let you come along if you want to bum a ride, assuming someone happens to be going. If you are a photographer, a scientist, or anyone else who needs freedom to explore the area at will, you should consider car rental a necessity.

Make sure you are able to remove the spare tire and jack in your rental car. When I had a flat tire on my last Sunday there on a hot July afternoon, I opened the trunk and discovered to my horror that the spare tire and jack were bolted down. I had no wrench or anything, and I couldn't get the bolt loose with my bare fingers. I ended up having to walk approximately three miles through an area where two male polar bears had been sighted earlier that very morning and a mother and cub a few days earlier. Worse, I had something else going against me at the time, the scent of which is known to attract bears.

The problem with all the gravel back roads is that they meander around all the many ponds and marshes--not a problem for drivers, but hell to walk when you are a bit thirsty and nervous about the likely proximity of polar bears. I sang loudly, to let any bears know I was coming, so as not to startle them. Polar bears get REALLY ANNOYED when they are startled.

A location that is only about one mile away if you are a bird, demands a three, four or five-mile hike. Luckily for me, Ray, technical director of the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, was out in the back country that morning emptying a tanker truck filled with gray-water. From afar as I approached, that big old ugly sewage truck looked beautiful!

Driving in Churchill

Driving up there is both a joy and a challenge.

A single paved road extends from slightly north of Churchill to the Churchill Northern Studies Centre parking lot. All other roads, leading off the main road, are gravel. Potholes on the main road are notorious. Speeding is impossible. You can never get lost ( unless you are there in winter and get caught in a blinding blizzard) because the gravel roads either go just so far then peter out (forcing you to turn around) or else they curve back around and re-join the main road.

Some of the views from this road, however, are stunning. In July, there is a stretch that goes through about a mile of solid MacKenzie's vetch (aka "Sweet Vetch"), a lupin-like flower that blooms pink-purple and gives off a sweet aroma. Its flowers colored both sides of the road as far as I could see. In summer, all the many small lakes and ponds look like blue jewels set in green or flower colors.

The view from the back gravel roads is even better, because the terrain varies wildly from flat tundra to remnant boreal forest, ponds and eskers, marshes and exquisite piles of boulders into which grow, in July, wild rock gardens. It is sunny most of the time in July, and the cloud formations are amazing. Driving on gravel can be a disconcerting experience to someone used only to asphalt-covered streets and freeways, however.

The beaches, although potentially very dangerous due to the constant potential of a bear encounter (male bears often come up onto the rocky beaches in summer), are accessible from the main highway and are really stunningly beautiful. You need to hike a bit to get down to the water, however. In general, don't give into the temptation to swim unless you are in a very protected area, because the tides and currents can be dangerously strong. Most people will not be tempted, however, because the water is cold.

I was told by my friends at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre that if my car were to break down, I would be perfectly safe in bumming a ride from strangers. People help each other out up there and, its remote location and inaccessibility by road is a natural deterrent to crime.

Revised 5/30/97

Go to Churchill Northern Studies Centre

Go to Practicalities

Go to Reasons to get an idea of the region's wonderful attractions.

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