From the department of pre-pandemic travel (and Artful Living): Exploring the Polar Bear Capital of the World
In Minnesota, we like to think of ourselves as the North, but our state is really just the beginning of it. Farther north is a town overrun with polar bears. Knowing this made me feel like I lived in the South. It also made me realize I needed to go there.
To be fair, the polar bear capital of the world is close, but also far. Churchill, Manitoba, sits on the edge of Hudson Bay at the mouth of the Churchill River. The only way there is by plane or train. First, you fly into the provincial capital of Winnipeg then you board a propeller plane that takes you the rest of the way, landing at a small, one-room airport.
As we walked across the tarmac, a bitter wind took the temperature below zero even though it was only November. Inside, our group was greeted by a woman named Deb, who shepherded us onto a red school bus to Lazy Bear Lodge, one of several outfits running tours out into polar bear country.
Driving into Churchill, I could see this was a strange place. The population is right around 900 (899 with a baby on the way, Deb said), which is less than the number of polar bears living here. Every autumn, those thousand or so bears in Wapusk National Park, hungry from lean summer months, make their way toward shore, waiting for Hudson Bay to freeze so they can light out and hunt seals. Inevitably, a few wander through Churchill’s streets, root through garbage and occasionally prey on a person. Those troublemakers are trapped and taken to Polar Bear Jail for 30 days before being flown up the coast.
Close behind come some 10,000 tourists from across the globe eager to see the bears, a symbol of climate change despite their spectacular comeback from being decimated by hunting in the 1970s. Today, there are some 25,000 worldwide, up at least 50% since then.