The feeling is akin to being a kid on Christmas Eve, except we’re adults and it’s mid-November.
Parading off the plane and into the airport in Churchill, Manitoba, the year’s last batch of tourists are here to see a few of the town’s roughly 850 polar bears before they move on to the icier pastures of Hudson Bay to hunt seals.

polar Bears in Churchill: Your Next Bucket-List Adventure(©) Brett Gundlock / NAMARA

Most of the tour groups wear matching parkas to denote who’s with whom, including ours, all of which are Canada Goose and most of which sport a Polar Bears International logo patch. Over the last 10 years, the sale of these bright blue jackets, in addition to Canada Goose’s corporate donations, has contributed more than $1.3 million to PBI, the only non-profit wholly devoted to the animal.

Threatened by the effects of climate change, the bears caught a break this year with the sea ice coming in sooner than it has been for the last decade. This makes bear-finding a little trickier, though.

Polar Bears in Churchill: Your Next Bucket-List Adventure(©) Brett Gundlock / NAMARA

We head straight to Tundra Buggy One, PBI’s mobile broadcast and research station on permanent loan from Frontiers North Adventures. Also equipped with an electric fireplace and a liquor stash, it’s a long, slow but comfortable ride into the 850,000-hectare Churchill Wildlife Management Area where bears congregate in anticipation of the freeze.

A buggy congregation ahead signals there’s something to see, and an Arctic fox prancing by is a kind of wildlife-spotting amuse-bouche. Pulling up, we spot the backside of a polar bear behind a snowy ridge, barely perceptible against the backdrop. A head pops up and scans the landscape, followed tentatively by another—it’s a mother and her yearling cub. Along with others tuned in on to the buggy’s live cam, we watch them for an hour or so, hoping they’ll decide to take a stroll, but they decide to stay put. The drive back provides another kind of show. Very much like the Yukon variety Ted Harrison painted, the sunset is a gradient of orange to peach to yellow to pale blue. They only seem to look this way up North.

 Polar Bears in Churchill: Your Next Bucket-List Adventure(©) Brett Gundlock / NAMARA

Meaning “things from the past” in Inuktitut, Churchill’s Itsanitaq Museum allows one to get safely up close to a polar bear, albeit a taxidermic one, as well as a muskox and walrus. There are also cases of artefacts and objects from the Thule, Dorset and Inuit peoples, including snow goggles made of caribou antler and miniscule carvings cut into human teeth.

A brisk, six-minute walk from the museum is Hudson Bay Helicopters, where we depart for a whirlybird’s-eye view of the landscape—the quickest and sometimes only way to see certain areas this time of year. The chopper circles around the Prince of Wales Fort, over the MV Ithaca shipwreck and onto Wapusk National Park.

Polar Bears in Churchill: Your Next Bucket-List Adventure(©) Brett Gundlock / NAMARA

Along the park’s shoreline and onto the expanding sea ice is where we find the action. In a little over an hour, we see more than 30 bears. From above, against the cold wide open, they look stalwart, yet vulnerable too—and that’s precisely why PBI is keeping watch.


 Discover more info about Churchill at Everything Churchill.


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