No roads lead to Churchill, but it's worth the trip
Churchill, Minitoba — This remote city, located 1,000 miles by train north of the provincial capital of Winnipeg, is one of the few places in the world where you can see polar bears on the street. You can also watch whales out on Hudson Bay, or rub elbows with Eskimos, Cree Indians, and Chippewas, or visit an Eskimo settlement within the confides of the town. And, for those who like to combine studying with experiencing, Churchill has an Eskimo museum which is perhaps the finest of its kind in the world.
A prime visitor's activity here is bird-watching: 61 different species of birds have been spotted in this area by one of many stateside Audubon societies regularly sending groups here.
Churchill is a naturalist's rendezvous. Bird-watchers are joined each spring by butterfly watchers, botanists, and biologists. Here, at the mouth of the Churchill River, fresh and salt water habitats mingle where the great Hudsonian life zone meets with the fascinating Arctic life zone.
In the summer churchill is a busy port handling billions of bushels of wheat in the 12 weeks when Hudson Bay is not frozen. (When I visited the third week in June, the bay was -- as far as the eye could see -- a vast ice field, with some floes far larger than any of the three motels on Bernier Street, Churchill's main avenue.)
In the stores are parkas, mukluks, Eskimo stoneware sculpture, and Indian beadwork. A favorite shopping spot of course, is the Hudson Bay Company. Prices for merchandise (and for food and accommondations) seem surprisingly reasonable considering the long trak all goods must take to get here.
The Churchill Whaling Center, the Churchill Hotel-Motel the Polar Hotel, and the Hudson Hotel all ofer a range of accommodations and information for guests.
Although they are busy with cars and trucks, Churchill's streets quite literally go nowhere. No roads lead here. The closest highway is at Gillam, 191 miles to the south, along the Canadian National Railroad route.
Churchill's roads -- one can see scarcely call them "highways" and even "streets" seems an exaggeration -- go through Fort Churchill, where the airport is located, four miles away, and out to a rocket relay station -perhaps a dozen miles in all. Then the roads loop back to Churchill again.
Rental cars and taxis are available for those who want to take a closer look at the tundra and muskeg, go bird-watching, track down an Eskimo cemetary, or visit a fine old freighter of World War II vintage, the Itahaki, where locals and visitors often have a picnic at low tide. The ship mysteriously grounded here.
Access to Churchill is by rail or air only. Rail connections are from Winnipeg.
Coach seats are inexpensive, starting at $37 one way upper berth starts at $ 12, lower $21, and roomettes, designed for one adult, start at $30.
Train No. 93 departs Winnepeg on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, at 5:40 p.m., arriving in Churchill the second morning at 8:00 a.m. Some 30,000 passengers are carried yearly.
Transair flies daily -- our flight was on a comfortable new Fokker F-28 jet -- with economy fares at $174 plus tax, round trip. Excursion flights are approximately $50 less on 4-14-day excursions, even less for 8-30-day excursions.