Jack’s trip to Northern Canada’s Arctic

Many years ago, in the 1960s, while attending a lyceum program at a high school, my interest in polar bears piqued. A local professional photographer presented a program of slide pictures of his recent trip to Northern Canada’s Arctic region to explore the life of polar bears. Thirty years later my wife and I were able to travel to the Northern Arctic Canadian City of Churchill, Manitoba to spend a day observing the white mammoths.

The trip was the result of another bus tour to Nova Scotia in 1993. Our bus driver asked for suggestions for future trips. I indicated a long-held desire to see the white bears. Two years later, in the bus companies’ brochure, a trip to the Arctic city of Churchill was described and we signed up for the five-day trip. 

With great anticipation, during the last week of October, we begin our journey northwest to Devils Lake North Dakota from the starting point in Marshall, MN. Then crossing into Manitoba, Canada on the western border for the first night’s stop.

The next day was a long haul to Thomson, Manitoba in the center of the province. Roads ended at Thomson, so we left behind our tour bus and boarded a train for an overnight run to Churchill. 

Sleep was difficult to come by for two reasons. First, the seats were not made for comfortable sleep, and second, we were intrigued by the white countryside, as well as the diminishing size of the pine trees. The size of the trees continued to shorten until there were none.

The train stopped on occasion to let native Canadians on board. They would lie down in the aisle of the train car to catch a few winks before arriving at the station in Churchill.

We were shuttled to a lodge for a good breakfast to fortify us for a long day on the tundra. Next, we boarded a large converted flat-nosed bus. The bus redesigned for travel on the tundra’s permafrost ground. This was accomplished by making it a six-wheel drive. This would keep the bus moving after sinking into the permafrost ground. Buses were referred to as Tundra “Buggies”.

These “buggies” also had a steel-plated deck at the rear for picture taking and closer viewing of the bears. My wife was taking pictures of the bears while leaning over the side of the steel-plated deck and was warned that bears have a ten-foot reach.

Male bears were expressing their “maleness” by wrestling with one another. After skirmishing for about five minutes they would rest before the next encounter. Even though the temperature was at freezing level and snow on the ground they would take a break to cool down from their physical activity.

Our tundra buggy was parked next to a tundra motel on wheels. This was set to serve avid bear watchers for night viewing. Armed with infra-red cameras they were able to record the night activity of the bears.

As you probably know, the bears on the shore of Hudson Bay are waiting for the bay to harden into ice. By this time of the year, the bears need to refuel with seal meat.

The winter is spent by the bears hunting the seals. The rich seal oil meat sustains the bears and their offspring.

Our return home was via Churchill to Thompson to Winnipeg for an overnight stay. The next day we returned to the start, Marshall, MN. Thus, an earlier life desire was fulfilled.

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