Churchill, Manitoba: Polar Bear Capital of the World
By Krista DeKuyper | February 27, 2018 |
Welcome to this eighth article of our “Popular Visitor to Canada Destinations” blog series. Today we look at Churchill Manitoba Polar bear capital of the world. Famous for its safari-style polar bear tours, beluga whale watching and dazzling displays of the Northern Lights!
The town of Churchill is located on the shores of Hudson Bay in the far north of Manitoba, Canada.
It is just south of the Nunavut-Manitoba boundary, and is situated at the mouth of the Churchill River.
Churchill has a very small population of roughly 900 full-time residents, and is known as the “polar bear capital” of the world.
For a Google map of the Churchill Manitoba please click here.
Polar Bear Tours
Tourists come to Churchill, Manitoba from all over the world to see polar bears up close in their natural habitat.
Polar bears are the largest bears in the world. Fully-grown males can weigh over 600 kg (1,300 pounds), and measure over 3 meters (10 feet) long.
Polar bears are the only bears that are totally carnivorous. They rely on a traditional diet of seals, although they will also hunt and feed on walrus and beluga whales. They will also scavenge off of walrus and whale carcasses if they can find them.
Tours are best booked during the fall, when the bears begin moving out of the tundra (their summertime habitat) to go out on the pack ice and hunt for seals during the winter months.
Prime polar bear viewing times are from October to November, although you can also see the bears during the summer and winter as well. (To find out the best time to visit Churchill please click here).
The most popular method of getting next to the bears is by safari-style tundra vehicles that are designed for both bear protection and optimum viewing.
Note, however, that you can also see the polar bears up close by staying inside a fortified compound or by going out with an armed guide on the tundra.
NEVER approach polar bears by yourself! These bears are extremely dangerous, and have been known to attack and prey on humans. The safest form of interaction is inside a fortified vehicle or compound.
Other Churchill Activities
- See the beluga whales that frequent the Churchill River after the ice breaks up. You can see the whales by boat, and also listen to them if you book a boat that has underwater hydrophones and headphones installed. If you are the adventurous type you turn it up a notch by kayaking or even snorkelling with these gentle beasts!
- Many people visit Churchill in the spring and fall to watch over 250 species of migratory birds. Just some types of birds that nest and/or pass through Churchill are hawks, falcons, snowy owls, tundra swans, terns and gulls (including the rare Ross’s Gull).
- Experience some real northern tradition and go on a dog sledding adventure.
- See the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) in all their majesty. These lights are caused by the interaction of charged solar particles in the upper layers of our atmosphere, and can be very colourful, especially during their peak times (January to March).
- Explore the local habitats such as the tundra and sea shores.
- Polar bears have the best sense of smell of any land animal in the world. They can easily smell a seal from over 30 km (about 20 miles) away, and can also smell a seal that is 3 feet beneath the ice from over half a mile away!
- Polar bears are the largest land carnivores in the world.
- The big hump on the heads of Beluga whales is called a “melon”, and is used for echolocation.
- There can so many belugas in the area (during the summertime) that they can outnumber the human population of Churchill by over a thousand-to-one.
- Churchill has also been referred to as the “beluga capital” of the world.
- There are no roads that go to Churchill.
- According to Inuit legends Nanuk (their traditional name for polar bears) was the master of all bears, and Nanuk determined if their hunt would be successful.
- Churchill is one of the three top places in the world to observe the northern lights.
How to Get to Churchill
There are two ways to get to Churchill: by train or air.
The train for Churchill leaves from Winnipeg every Tuesday and Sunday, and is roughly a 48-hour journey.
You can fly into Churchill via Calm Air Airlines, and the flight time from Winnipeg to Churchill is around 2 hours.
For more detailed information see the Travel for Wildlife web site, which has some excellent traveling tips to Churchill.
People visiting Churchill can stay in one of the numerous inns, bed-and-breakfasts, hotels or lodges in Churchill.
Note that some of these places (such as the lodges) also offer guided tours, well worth checking out!
For more information see the Everything Churchill web site.
Emergency Medical Insurance
Make sure that you have travel medical insurance coverage if coming to Canada. Hospital bills here can end up being very costly.
Visitor to Canada insurance is the best type of emergency medical coverage to have, since it has several advantages over typical travel insurance policies purchased outside of Canada.
We hope you enjoyed this article about Churchill, Manitoba, the polar bear and beluga whale capital of the world.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about medical insurance when visiting Canada. We are experienced, licensed Canadian insurance brokers and we are here to help.