With a Local: Churchill, Manitoba

Churchill, in Manitoba, Canada, is the most northerly town that I’ve yet visited.

It’s known as the ‘polar bear capital of the world’ due to regular visits by bears. Reputedly locals leave their vehicles unlocked, in case people on the street need to get inside of them to escape a marauding bear.

While in Churchill I chatted with Koral Carpentier, a tour guide who lives in the town.

Why should people visit Churchill?

It’s a unique destination. Definitely a hidden gem in Canada. There’s so much to see for nature lovers, including beluga whales and polar bears. For history lovers it’s extraordinary as well — a fascinating history. You have the Hudson Bay and the search for the Northwest Passage.

It’s a very special little town!

The Prince of Wales Fort at Church, a National Historic Site.
The Prince of Wales Fort, a National Historic Site.

What is your favourite location in Churchill?

My favourite spot is Cape Merry, it’s the spot on the coast where the river meets the Hudson Bay. Just incredibly beautiful. I’m a nature lover.

Churchill has something very magical to it and some people call it a seduction. There’s something that just draws people in. Cape Merry is where I first fell in love with Churchill when I first came here, back in 1991. It’s just across the river.

We have three national historic sites in Churchill. Cape Merry is the site of the gun battery on this side, the east peninsula, built to protect the fort on the west peninsula, just across the mouth of the river from here.

Our third national historic site is called Sloop Cove, also across river, and somewhat inaccessible. Many men who came here back in the 1700s, dealing with the construction of the Prince of Wales Fort left their names behind in the rocks there.

Where would you take people for a meal?

I would take them to the Tundra Pub – the Tundra Inn (34 Franklin Street; tel. +1 204 675 8831). It’s a local favourite: excellent homecooked food, lots of vegetarian dishes, also some good to wild meat dishes – elk meatloaf, for example. They make a mean vegetarian burger!

Remember it's cold up north. Pork strips and chips served at Gypsy's Bakery in Churchill.
Hearty food. Remember it’s cold up north. Pork strips and chips served at Gypsy’s Bakery in Churchill.

Where would you take someone for a drink in Churchill?

I have two suggestions. Also the Tundra Pub again. It’s a locals’ hang out. Rub shoulders with them, particularly in the polar bear season.

The Captain’s Cove is also very nice, that’s at the Seaport Hotel (215 Kelsey Boulevard; +1 204 675 8807). It has a nice ambience and sometimes good live music as well.

What is your favourite legend or piece of history associated with Churchill?

I love the stories associated with the search for the Northwest Passage. There are some good ones. The Jens Munk expedition was probably one of the most fascinating. The 1619-1620 expedition of over 60 men came searching for the Northwest Passage.

Due to circumstances they were forced to overwinter here. Jens Munk lost most of his crew, over 60 men that winter. He and two surviving crew members sailed back home to Denmark the following year. So that’s just one classic example of heroism and survival in the north.

At one of our national historic sites, at Cape Merry, there is a commemorative cairn. There’s actually another place across the river that very few visitors ever see, where one of the iron mooring ring left behind in the rock. We know where their overwintering site was, just a few kilometres down and across the river from here.

An Inukshuk outside of Churchill's Itsanitaq Museum.
An Inukshuk outside of Churchill’s Itsanitaq Museum.

What would you recommend if people have a day or two extra?

In October and November people come first and foremost for the polar bears. Getting out on the tundra and spending time with the bears is extremely important.

In the summertime the whale watching is extraordinary. I’d be spending time on the river for sure. We have pretty amazing opportunities here in July and August to paddleboard, kayak and snorkel with the belugas.

If you are lucky enough to find someone to take hiking then great. Yet there’s always the risk of polar bears, at any time of year. You want to spend as much time on the land as you can.

Further information

The Everything Churchill website has information about things to do and see in the town.

The Travel Manitoba and Explore Canada websites also have information about Churchill.

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An Inukshuk on the shore of the Hudson Bay in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. Inukshuk are standing stones erected by First Nations people.
An Inukshuk on the shore of the Hudson Bay in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. Inukshuk are standing stones erected by First Nations people.

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