There are approximately 800-900 full time residents of Churchill, a town that is just 20 square miles in area. There are no roads leading into or out of Churchill – the only access is though rail or air – and those methods of transportation can be quite sporadic, especially during the long brutally frigid winter. The main street can be walked from one end to the other in 15 minutes. However, walking in Churchill is not like a walk in the park – one must be constantly vigilant for polar bears, who in season can number up to 60 or so at a time.
This is why it is illegal in Churchill to lock your car, truck, etc- they become vital escape enclosures when a bear is rambling down the street.
Churchillians take this in stride- many of them are Bear guards – traveling with a rifle slung over their shoulders, not to shoot at, but rather to scare the bears into leaving. And they are quite successful – there hasn’t been a severe bear attack since 1983.
Another distinction of Churchillians is their ability, rather by necessity due to the remoteness and lack of many everyday services, to take on multiple jobs. Our main local guide Jud is a woman of all trades. She is a guide, a bear guard, a driver of school buses as well as Arctic crawlers:
Jud is also a mechanic, an electrician, a church organist and guitarist, a hockey player, a fisherman and lumberjack for the town as well as a longshoreman for the freight train which carries desperately needed grain, groceries, vehicles, clothing etc (runs only sporadically in non winter season and the Winnipeg–Churchill train is a semiweekly passenger train that runs between Winnipeg and Churchill, Manitoba. It is the only dry-land connection between Churchill and the rest of Canada). Recently the town went over 500 days without train deliveries after severe flooding. Jud has long dreadlocks and wears no-nonsense all-weather gear, yet her sunglasses are bedazzled with rhinestones, her mukluks (soft leather boots) are intricately and colorfully beaded and when she is not working loves wearing flowing bohemian dresses – a woman of unending talents with a quick wit. We all fell in love with her. Here is Jud checking out a famous crashed plane interior for bears before we explore:
Most of the Churchillians uncomplainingly take on multiple roles as the town is so often totally isolated from the rest of the world. Wally and Dawn Daudrich, the husband/wife team that owns the Lazy Bear Lodge also excel at multitasking. Firstly they built the lodge, using hand tools and with the help of local craftspeople, over a 10 year period starting in 1995. Construction materials included 90% recycled logs that were harvested after fires ravaged the area in 1990 and 1997. The interior features recycled lumber salvaged from the old Canadian National Railway Warehouse as well as from a local old church and a community hall. Wavy, antique window glass was recycled from an historic 1800’s Hudson’s Bay Trading Post. Talk about eco-friendly!!
The Daudrich’s run the lodge we stayed and also manages a newly created large greenhouse that they hope will eventually supply all Churchillians with fresh vegetables. They provide culinary classes for tourists – I prepared and cooked a delicious pan roasted char (white fish) covered with a French cream sauce glaze with roasted vegetables:
They hold musical concerts for the town – I think Wally plays the accordion and Dawn sings. And they are raising 5 kids. And I have never seen two happier people.
Churchill also has social welfare services that provide medical, educational and emotional support for the populace at large as well as the many indigenous people. I got to meet a few and was honored to be able to hear their first hand stories of growing up in Churchill. Sadly many of them now live in poverty on reservations in the area.
Churchillians are true frontier people who live happily in tandem with the wonderful wildlife and they are fiercely protective of their wild neighbors. Many of the adults look no older then their teenage children, but a lot of the men sport big bushy beards that no doubt provide warmth during their brutal winters when the temperatures without windchill can get to 50 below zero Fahrenheit. They are also quite fond of hearty meals of bison, elk, fried potatoes, creamy soups, fresh made bread and loads of pies and home made ice cream and their breakfasts are supersized with fluffy eggs, bacon, more potatoes and homemade thick porridge. I did partake, probably too much, straying away from my usual Greek yogurt, oatmeal, salads and chicken, but when in Rome… I am back on the nutrition wagon now.
The locals are immediately open and friendly and make you feel you are part of a large family. Such a warm, tightly knit, generous and friendly people – I was sorry to say goodbye.