Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Churchill Polar Bears, November 2014 Introduction

 Winnipeg Union Station

I am embarking on my fifth visit to Churchill, Manitoba to observe and photograph polar bears. This year I am travelling independently, but alongside the Great Bear Foundation’s party. They provide an ethical and economic means of travelling to this area and I would recommend travelling with an organised tour unless you have extensive experience of the area.

View of Manitoba from the train

There has been recent discussion on Facebook of the economic benefits to Churchill of a road construction, but this seems unlikely in the near term and it would compromise the appeal of its isolated, frontier feel. The 2 days and nights train journey is both relaxing and exhilarating as the prairies turn to boreal forest and then tundra. My first sight of snow this year allowed me to forget completely about fatigue from the 3 flights to reach Winnipeg from the UK before joining the train.

The twin engines (to reduce the risk of breakdown in such remote country)

I saw the twisted remnants of train wreck en route, with the remains of grain cars visible at the side of the track. It is challenging to maintain the track on permafrost where the active layer melts each spring. The derailment on June 12th interrupted the passenger train service for a month, cutting off isolated northern communities beyond the reach of roads. Yet it did at least put paid to ill conceived plans to transport oil by train this season, though the greater danger though to wider ecosystem would be an oil spill in Hudson Bay.

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