The tip of my paddle sliced through the cold arctic waters of the Hudson River, a loud burst of air and mist erupted from the water. I watched as a smooth, silky white body of one of Churchill Manitoba’s yearly visitors, the belugas, gently peeked out of the water. As I swivelled my head I realized I am completely surrounded. I let out a nervous laugh & quickly decided that it was time to make friends with these 2000 lb cetaceans.
Paddling with Churchills Belugas
My sea kayak glided towards a pod of belugas headed straight for me. I worried that I found myself in an arctic version of chicken that I have yet to learn the rules to. Thankfully, they all dove before impact and barrel rolled underwater, studying the kayak and no doubt wondering what this cold, wet, bearded fellow above is all about.
I soon discovered that belugas love playing cat and mouse. Chasing a colourful kayak through these cold waters is considered a good time by belugas, and judging by how much I abided, I have to admit it’s my kind of game as well. After an hour of padding with pods of these magical creatures, encouraging as many to follow in my wake, they had all but completely wore me out.
An Encounter with an Infant Beluga
As I rested, watching the 4 other paddlers in my group laugh at the excitement of seeing belugas at every angle, I dipped my hand into the cold waters, hoping to get my newfound group of underwater friends attention. A grey juvenile beluga swam closer, inspecting my hand. We maintained eye contact, starring into one another’s eyes, studying. I held still, hoping with all my might that this young beluga might see me as friend and not a foe. The juvenile gracefully floated closer, nudging my hand with his nose. Suddenly he (or she) swam away, only to return a few seconds later to touch my hand again. “Hello to you too“, I quietly said. I pulled my hand from the water in shock, and yelled to the group “I just touched a beluga!“. Jealousy erupted in our group, as I spent the last hour kayaking in complete disbelief, laughing and shaking my head, wondering how I got so lucky. This was hands down one of the highlights of my life!
Polarbears & Belugas
While many people head north in search of polar bears, I traveled north to Churchill for the belugas. Not only because summer is their high season, but because as a child I was Raffi’s biggest fan, belting out the words to “Baby Beluga” louder than Axl Rose could scream. Despite being such a huge fan of his hit song, I had never seen a beluga in real life. I was convinced that this summer was to be the one that changed that, looking back, that was one of the best goals I had set in a long time.
Churchill’s Kayak & Beluga Experts
The folks at Sea North Adventures offer travellers a wide range of adventures, including kayaking & snorkelling with belugas, exploring the Churchill Fort, or hopping on a zodiac in search of polar bears. The staff at Sea North Adventures have to be some of the hardest (and friendliest) workers in Churchill. When you don’t see them touring people through the frigid waters of the Churchill River, you might find them serving guests at the Tundra Inn Pub.
VIA Rail from Winnipeg to Churchill
I boarded VIA Rail’s “Hudson Bay” train from Winnipeg to Churchill, a 40 hour ride that let’s you truly experience the vast distances and picturesque landscapes of the Canadian prairies, the boreal forest, and the sub-arctic tundra. This is by far the cheapest way to get up to Churchill, and despite the long hours on board a train, you’ll find that it’s just part of the journey. Part of what makes Churchill so intoxicatingly alluring! Be sure to try and remember your fellow VIA Rail passengers names as you’ll likely be seeing them throughout town when you arrive. While flying is an option to get to Churchill, VIA Rail is significantly more friendly on the budget, and in my opinion a better way of traveling to this small northern Canadian town.
Churchill is for the Adventurous
Churchill brings about a certain type of traveller. You’ll find that they all have something in common. Whether it’s their desire for the great outdoors, an insatiable quench for adventure, or a passion for arctic wildlife, you’ll come to realize those you meet in the small town of Churchill are here for a lot of the same reasons as you. What’s more shocking than this is the fact that residents of Churchill continue to possess these same qualities, and best of all, they’re willing to share their slice of heaven with visitors from all over the world. With a population of under 1000 people, you’ll come to find that each and every one of them have a story worth listening to. Be sure to take the time to listen, next to the belugas and polar bears, they’re the most interesting form of life this far north.
Special thanks to the folks at Frontiers North Adventures, Sea North Tours, and the warm folks at Tundra Inn for helping out with my Churchill Adventure. Another thanks to the helpful staff at Travel Manitoba for bringing me in to cover the region.
Please forgive the Instagram quality photos in this post, I wasn’t brave enough to haul my DSLR out for this kayak trip and I only ended up having my Waterproof Case for my iPhone to snap these.