Walking Amongst Polar Bears In Churchill

A huge polar bear pawprint could be seen in the sand, fresh from just a few hours earlier. With rocks obscuring the view, there was a real chance that this giant arctic creature could be lurking nearby.

I was part of a group hiking on the tundra in Churchill, Manitoba, and this area was known locally as Polar Bear Alley.

I guess it made sense then that this was a popular spot for polar bears to roam.

Just look at the size of this print…

You might be thinking: “Are you crazy?”

But, we were with a local tour guide, Paul Ratson, who knew the area like the back of his hand and carried a gun with him at all times as a necessary precaution.

Polar bears were not the only possible danger to watch out for. One of the areas where we went walking was a former military bombing range and there was a sign warning us to keep an eye out for explosive materials…

We were told to keep close together and, unsurprisingly, everybody did.

During the day, Paul drove the tour bus to various spots, allowing us to enjoy the stunning scenery and learn about the landscape.

The tundra during the summer is a stark contrast to what it looks like during the colder months, when everything is covered in a sheet of snow and ice.

It comes alive with colour and is extremely beautiful to see.

Ithaca: a shipwreck on the Churchill coast

Standing out dramatically on the lansdcape is a shipwreck that has been a feature of the Churchill landscape since the 1960s

Greek freight ship Ithaca got into trouble during a storm and eventually hit a reef, which ripped out the base, causing it to run aground.

All of the crew members managed to escape, but the ship’s shell has remained in the same spot ever since.

Apparently, it is a popular spot for local teenagers to hold raves.

And a plane wreck…

A cargo plane, known locally as Miss Piggy due to its shape and ability to hold a lot of freight, crash landed a mile short of the runway in 1979.

Some of the crew members were seriously injured, but all survived.

So, there is a shipwreck and a plane wreck out on the Churchill tundra.

We were warned not to venture too close as there was a rubbish dump behind the plane where a particularly large polar bear likes to hang around.

Our guide Paul not only knew the tundra really well, he actually lives out here. In fact, one of the stops on the Nature 1st bus and hike tour was his home.

The first thing I noticed on arrival were the large number of old school buses scattered around.

These are used for various tours and were obtained from auctions in Calgary.

Paul explained how he had managed to electrocute himself whilst watering his plants earlier on that day. His home has an electric fence around it, as a precaution against the polar bears.

In fact, he said his alarms had gone off in the early hours of the morning, as a polar bear was snooping around on the roof.

Polar bear jail

Bears that venture too close to town and are deemed a potential danger to humans are placed in the polar bear jail, a building comprising of concrete cinderblocks, for 30 days and then helicoptered out to a suitable location, where they usually continue heading up north away from Churchill.

This jail was opened in the 1980s.

Churchill has to be patrolled 24/7 during the polar bear season.

Bears that venture into town are tagged and, tragically, if they return more than three times, then they can be shot on the spot.

“The ideal solution for the bears would be for us to go away, but that is not going to happen so we have to learn to co-exist,” explained Paul.

Did we see any polar bears?

There were no polar bears spotted on this trip, but I did see one from a whale watching boat a couple of days earlier, walking along some rocks…

 Have you ever visited Churchill or would you like to?



  1. August 29, 2012 / 06:09

    Good for you making it to the Churchill area. That is a trip that I hope to do one day.

  2. August 29, 2012 / 06:13

    What a great experience for you, one many Canadians have yet to experience (including me)

  3. August 29, 2012 / 07:46

    That’s crazy there’s a plane and ship just chilling out there. I really like your picture of the polar bear – I feel like it’s rare to see an image of one that doesn’t have a white, snowy backdrop.
    Gina recently posted..One Day in NapaMy Profile

  4. September 5, 2012 / 20:20

    Great to travel with you here. Your blog and images take me back to Polar Bear Country. Great travelling with you, Alison, and hope to see you again sometime. Are you in Banff now, or out “east”? Let me know if you want a home in the Ottawa area to use as basecamp!

    • September 5, 2012 / 23:09

      Hey Katharine, cheers for your comment and it was lovely travelling with you as well! I’m actually already in your neck of the woods as a WWOOF-er on a farm in Perth (just arrived). I’m flying home from Toronto at the beginning of October and plan to go back to Ottawa for a day or two in a couple of weeks, before heading to Montreal and maybe NY. I wouldn’t want to impose, but it would be great to meet up in Ottawa.
      Alison recently posted..Stoney Nakoda Nation Performance In BanffMy Profile

  5. Annie
    September 10, 2012 / 19:01

    it’s really sad that the military used to use such a beautiful area as a bombing range :(

    • September 10, 2012 / 20:02

      I know, it always seems to be the way.