Welcome to Churchill!

The next several posts will be (mostly) non-birding related, so bear (har har) with me. Mrs. Lonely Birder and I spent several days in and around Churchill, Manitoba during the annual Polar Bear migration. The bears are heading to Hudson Bay in anticipation of the sea-ice forming so they can start hunting seals. The bears have been doing this for milennia, but Churchill is a comparatively recent obstacle for them. This means that bears occasionally make their way into town or near the airport. When this happens, the bears need to be encouraged to leave, and fatal encounters are exceedingly rare (for both bears and humans).

We stayed at The Bear’s Den Bed & Breakfast, met some fine people and had a great time. Here is a gallery of photos from around Churchill. The stone structures you see are called inuksuit (the singular form is inukshuk) and inunnguat (singular form is inunnguaq)According to The Canadian Encyclopedia:

Inuksuit are placed throughout the Arctic landscape acting as “helpers” to the Inuit. Among their many practical functions, they are used as hunting and navigational aids, coordination points and message centres (e.g., they might indicate where food was cached). In addition to their earthly functions, certain inuksuk-like figures have spiritual connotations, and are objects of veneration, often marking the spiritual landscape of the Inummariit — the Inuit who know how to survive on the land living in their traditional way.

The Inuit also construct a stone figure called an inunnguaq (plural inunnguat), which means “in the likeness of a human.” This familiar stone figure with head, body, legs and arms is often mistakenly referred to as an inuksuk. Its purpose is more symbolic than functional. Because of its humanoid appearance in the likeness of a little person, its image has become a popular cross-cultural symbol.

Most non-Inuits refer to both as inukshuks. I am not sure if any of the ones in town are “actual” inuksuit or inunnguat or if they were constructed for tourists.

An inunnguaq on the shore of Hudson Bay

The tallest building in town is the Holy Canadian Martyrs Roman Catholic church. It’s steeple is visible from almost anywhere, and so it provides a good landmark when you’re first venturing out into town. There’s a really cool “eskimo” museum next to the church showcasing local indigenous art and historical artifacts.

On the north end of town, overlooking Hudson Bay, is the Town Complex. This huge building houses the heath clinic, school, a pool, skating rink, playground and other community spaces. The Canadian Government built it for the town to serve as a safe place to learn and play. It’s especially important because winter temperatures can drop to under -40°C (same number for °F)

“The Complex”

We arrived on Halloween, which is usually a big deal at the Lonely Birder house. It’s a huge deal for Churchill. The government authorities and volunteers keep a perimeter watch around the whole town to keep Polar Bears away so the kids can trick-or-treat in safety. There are several large costume parties (for kids and adults). We were so exhausted from our travel (we had to get up at 3:30 to get to the airport in Orlando) that we ended up missing the big party at The Seaport restaurant, but we were settled into the B&B as kids came to trick-or-treat.

Halloween is a big deal in Churchill…

The only birds present in town were numerous House Sparrows and quite a few Common Ravens.

I suggest using Google Map’s street view to get a good sense of the town’s layout and what businesses are there.

We had a great time, and there was lots to do, as you’ll see in upcoming posts!

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