Kathryn & Jeff at a Polar Bear Crossing

Churchill is known as is the “Polar Bear Capitol of the World”. It sits on the western edge of the Hudson Bay in the far northern part of Manitoba. This is where the polar bears collect and hang out, waiting for the Hudson Bay to freeze over and the seal hunting season to begin.

What is Churchill?

Churchill is a modern-day frontier town in the subarctic. There are less than 800 residents in a town that makes up about 6 small square blocks. Walking across town takes about 5 minutes.  There are no roads into town. A train travels 3 days to bring in supplies from Winnipeg over 620 miles away. There is a small port that freezes over by November, and a small airport (no TSA here). Polar Bear season is the highlight for the locals as it draws the excitement of visitors, both the bears and the tourists. One can imagine the local bar is the happening spot and the only spot where anything happens. Since polar bears don’t wear masks and the Canadian’s are strict on their Covid policies, Polar bears wait outside looking for a row with an inebriated soul who may stumble out. 

Tour Highlights

Although steeped in history, we struggled with the thought of spending 6 hours touring the town while awaiting our final flight to the lodge. We hit the highlights with our guide Jennifer: the general store, the old fort on the point (Cape Merry), a few local painted murals, and the polar bear jail. I kid you not, the frisky bears get into trouble and get themselves locked up.

Imagine our excitement when we found out that our return trip through Churchill also came with a 6 hour local tour, this time with Koral (just like the coral sea but with a “K” she said). Just when we thought we couldn’t be impressed anymore, she wowed us with a revisit to our favorites and added a few more unique stops – again, I kid you not:

  • Welcome to Churchill sign (there are two: one painted by the locals and the “official” town sign)
  • Local Beach – only the bears swim here
  • Hospital complex
  • Itsanitaq – One room Museum on Eskimo History
  • Tour of the local murals – new murals, old murals, mural history and artist history
  • Miss Piggy – The airplane remains from 1979 crash (Curtiss C-46 “Commando” twin-prop cargo aircraft – used in WW2)
  • Train Station – a 1920’s restored building
  • The Transfer Station – You know the local guide is stretched for ideas when the tour includes a visit to the dump.
  • Local school – This year there are a 159 enrolled from K-12

Here’s some photos to give you the essence of Churchill:

Miss Piggy – C-46, nicknamed as such as it is rumored to have carried pigs and it was a hog for carrying cargo. 

Only polar bears allowed on the beach. People must walk elsewhere.

Inuksuk art also used as signage for directions, if only there was somewhere to go.

Chess anyone? On exhibit at the local Itsanitaq Museum

One of many local murals

Another polar bear mural in town

Another mural from a local artist

An official stamp!

The highlights of the tour had to be the post office stop for a stamp in our passport, “polar capital of the world” and a return visit to the polar bear jail (just to see the door open and close as a new occupant went in). Note, we didn’t see the frisky occupant, just the truck that went inside. And yes, we learned the best kept secret for the local eatery – the hospital cafeteria. 

Just in case you ever find yourself in Churchill, you’ll be in the know for the can’t miss sights.