The Northern Lights in Canada: Seeking The Aurora Borealis In Churchill

Never in a million years did I envisage seeing the Northern Lights in Canada – especially during the summer months, when the nights are so light. It was early August when I visited the tiny town of Churchill in Canada’s Arctic. As the Calm Air flight from Winnipeg landed and the plane’s doors opened, I was half expecting to feel a gust of coldness pin-pricking my face. It was actually quite warm – with a subtle freshness in the air, similar to a cool spring day in England.

Minutes earlier – as the flight began to descend – I’d been glancing out of the window at the strange and beautiful landscape below. Lush greenery was broken up by numerous water pools and there was no ice in sight. This world below was alien to me; I’d never seen anything like it. Just several hours after this awe-inspiring arrival I was staring up at the star-lit sky, watching the Northern Lights intermittently appear.

the airport in Churchill, Canada

This completely unexpected encounter with the Aurora Borealis was no less than amazing. It was dinner time by the time the group had arrived at the Tundra Inn in Churchill and, after having a meal, everybody started to retire for the day. It was around 10pm and I switched off my light and began to drift away in anticipation of the beluga whale watching tour the following morning. Then there was a knock on my door.

It turned out that a member of the Frontiers North Adventures Big Five Safari tour I was on had been keeping tabs on an astronomy tracking website and had noticed that there was a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights in this part of Canada. “Some of us are driving down to the beach in an hour if you want to come,” I was told.

sunset in churchill, canada

Of course, I didn’t even have to think about it. This was a no brainer decision. Sleep was immediately put on the back burner and I dug out my thermal, weather-proof coat. Although Churchill can be relatively warm during summer days, as soon as the sun goes down, so too does the temperature. If you’re out at night, you’ll feel the Arctic breeze. It’s freezing and you need to wrap up well.

Before long, several of us were excitedly packing into the mini bus en route to the beach. At this point, we were all hopeful about seeing the Northern Lights in Canada, but understood the limitations there were at this time of the year. It never gets ‘pitch black’ dark in Churchill in the summer and therefore – even on a clear night such as this – a lack of visibility was inevitable.

beach in churchill, canada

We parked up at a car park behind the beach and waited for a sign. For more than an hour there was absolutely nothing. Every now and then, we would all huddle out of the relative warmth of the bus to get a clearer look at the sky, but it was beginning to feel like the show was never going to begin. Then in the early hours of the following morning, it finally happened.

Dancing in the sky were the green hues of the Northern Lights. They were not bright and vivacious like they can be on darker nights, but they were there. I was seeing this amazing natural phenomenon for the first time in my life.

northern lights in canada

northern lights in canada

Then the lights disappeared and, shortly after, we were told to leave by a warden as a polar bear had been spotted in the vicinity. I was glad I didn’t bump into a bear, but the following day I spotted a polar bear  on rocks while out on the beluga whale tour.

Have you seen the Northern Lights in Canada or anywhere else in the world?

8 Comments

  1. January 23, 2013 / 11:52

    The Northern Lights are definitely one of the things I’d love to see one day. Though I get put off a bit by stories of people who do expensive trips and never see a thing, so good to hear that you can get lucky too when you don’t expect it!
    Lucy recently posted..A first-timer’s guide to PetraMy Profile

    • January 27, 2013 / 15:55

      I know what you mean about it being hit or miss with these things. It’s the same when it comings to seeing animals of the safari – there’ll always be those times when there are no bears or big cats about during the slot that you’re out an about! Sometimes it’s down to luck. I think with the expensive trips, you’d need some kind of guarantee. With the Frontiers North Adventures in Manitoba the beluga whales sightings were guaranteed, due to the sheer massive numbers there during the summer. There was a good chance of seeing a polar bear – which we did – but the black bear remained illusive in Riding Mountain National Park on the occasion we were there (although loads had been spotted the week before!).

    • January 27, 2013 / 15:47

      That must’ve been incredible! I know it’s possible to see them here in the UK – especially when you get really far out into the countryside where there’s less light pollution. There’s an astronomer based in Lincolnshire, where I once worked, who got some amazing pics of the lights. I never seen them though.

    • January 27, 2013 / 15:45

      It’s something I’ll never forget. It’d be great to see them again someday!

  2. January 30, 2013 / 14:29

    Awesome! Even though we’re always feating Aurora photos on LBW, I’ve still never seen one myself….one of these days!
    Adventure Travel Nick recently posted..Ha Long BayMy Profile

    • February 3, 2013 / 19:28

      The photos on your site are phenomenal! Some of the people in my group has SLRs and were able to capture the colour more vibrantly. My little digi didn’t fare as well!