The following account was originally published on Ebushpilot.com back in 2006. The original story and pictures, written by John S. Goulet, can be found here.
The Seal River Heritage Lodge Pancake Breakfast
Klaus and I have finally made it.
We are greeted to the Lodge by hosts Mike and Jennie Reimer. August is the prime of their season and they are busy guiding the guests to the various sites. The lodge is perfectly placed on a spit of sub-arctic tundra surrounded on three sides by the Arctic waters of the Hudson Bay.
As we sat down in the dining room we could view the ocean waters from any of the three large picture windows. Mike has spotting scopes and binoculars handy to help spot the numerous water and shore birds of the area, and to scout for the whales off shore as they break the surface to spout.
The main attraction is the beluga whales which you can see by the thousands as they swim in and out of the North and South mouths of the fabulous Seal River. They come in with the rising tide and leave with the ebbing tide. Mostly they congregate in the mouth of the river where you can visit them in the clear waters using the rubber rafts and small outboard motors. Like shooting fish in a barrel – except you do the shooting with a camera. Mike arranges the rubber rafts for us to leave on a guided tour early the next morning.
At day break I stand on the watch tower over the lodge scanning the bay for water spouts. The rising sun saturates the backdrop sky a gumdrop orange.
As the whales blow the saltwater, back-lit by the sun, into a sparkling diamond spray we set off across the open water. Within 20 minutes we spot whales. These are large with huge black backs and a fan spray blow as they surface. We try to get near them, but they continue to swim off. They are definitely not beluga whales. My best guess is that they are the huge majestic bow whales. Bow whales were hunted commercially until only about 20 years ago and are still considered a rare sighting in this part of the Hudson Bay. We consider ourselves very lucky to have spotted them. We quit the chase and head to the mouth of the Seal River.
Long before we ever reach the Seal River, however, we can see the blow from a distance. With a sea-spray that reaches up to 90 cm the blow is very visible. We are already in the midst of belugas.
They are heading in the same direction and swimming with a purpose. We are sailing with a purpose. They are after the shallow river protein such as worms, crustaceans, shrimp, clams, snails, crabs, and small fish. Fish such as capelin, char, sand lance, smelt, flounder, herring, and cod, are usually taken in deeper water but can be caught much easier in the restricted river mouth. The total take of 25 kgs per day is not much by whale standards, but still a lot of lunch that eventually adds up to 1500 kg of adult male whale.
The beluga can stay submerged for 15-20 minutes and travel up to 2-3 km under water on one dive. That is one of the reasons the river mouth is such a great place to get close and see the whales. The space is restricted and the whales surface more often to spy hop their way around the smaller areas. In the estuaries they usually only stay submerged for only about 2 minutes, and make 1 or 2 surfacings before the longer 1-2 minutes dive.
Before long we are surrounded by whale pods cruising by. These pods are mostly small family groups, but the larger pods can reach up to 10,000 individuals. We can see them clearly, but somehow they are still cautious and do not come too close. Some of the mothers are followed closely, almost as if they are lashed to their backs, by awkward gray calves. Breeding in May means our calves were 3-4 months old. Occasionally we can hear their squawk-like calls. Like other whales, the beluga use echo-location to find their way around and to find food.
After an exhilarating several hours of watching the whales, we decide to stop for our own lunch. Mike and Quentin, his friend and acting guide, tied the two rubber rafts together so we can all share our meal and our experiences.
As we drifted along in this peaceful inner sea and quietly chatted with our fellow rafters, we noticed that the whales were finally starting to show some interest in us. I felt that when the two rubber rafts rubbed together they produced a squeak that the whale’s natural curiosity could not resist.
As an experiment, I tried to make the rafts squeak more frequently, but it took a special combination that could not be duplicated easily. I tried rubbing my Gortex pants on the rubber raft but that was too soft a squeak. Finally, Mike caught on to what I was doing and rubbed his own rubber rain slicker pants on the rubber of the raft. That was the magic we needed.
The squeak he produced drove the whales crazy with curiosity and within minutes we were surrounded by over 50 whales in different pods jostling us for a closer look at what was making that peculiar noise. We pulled out our cameras and were snapping incessantly as they spy hopped closer and closer. Mike put his hand under water and the friendly beluga were swimming so close he could feel the flow of their wake.
One particular mother and calf would not leave us alone. She came by time and time again with the little one close on her back. The little gray beluga seemed to love these frequent visits as he hopped up higher each time to look see. When we finally left hours later we had several pods follow us almost all the way home. They could not leave us alone. Nor did we want to leave them, but the day was coming to a close and we had to return to base.
Spending the day with these fellow creatures of curiosity was one the most incredible one on one, or animal family to human family, experiences I have ever had in the wild.
And at Seal River there is so much more nature to go one on one with.
From the Lodge you can take guided interpretive nature and culture walks where you can see caribou, bald eagles, Canada and Snow geese, ptarmigan, sik siks, and polar bears.
Along the interpretive walks you get to visit ancient Dene and Inuit camping sites, outlined by either the weathered tent poles the Dene used, or the tent circle of stones that the Inuit used to anchor their skin tents. The sites have been investigated by archeologist Virginia Petch and the walks have been mapped by GPS to make sure you can see the most with the least trouble. The walks are tough but worth it.
That evening Jeanne, Mike’s partner and wife, prepares us an incredible dinner of arctic char, garden peas, and homemade red river cereal bread. Dessert is a (locally picked) cranberry crumble and coffee.
After dinner the sun sets in a glorious blaze of orange to end a perfect day. I am to take an evening stroll on the runway’s high point of ground where the evening breeze will keep the bugs swept away. The night is perfectly clear and I can see the planets of Jupiter followed by Venus and a host of northern stars. The night air is cool and I fall asleep deep into the dead of the night.
The next morning the sky is blue blazon with the gold of sunrise and Jeanne serves us the most fantastic sight we have seen since leaving Nigeria 3 weeks ago. Canadian pancakes topped with butter, maple syrup, and as a special treat, blueberry compote made with fresh picked local blueberries. The ending to our trip could not have been any more special. We have flown over 10,000 miles to have breakfast in Canada. Perhaps next time you can join us.
To experience what John wrote about above check out our Birds, Bears & Belugas Adventure Safari. This one of a kind summer experience takes place at the Seal River Heritage Lodge during July and August.
So often news stories involving polar bears consist of experts predicting the end of our beloved polar bear. Doom & gloom is effective in an awareness campaign but never fun to hear about.
So how about some positive news from waaaay up north? Well… positive for polar bears and possibly ice caps (not to be confused with the popular Canadian “Iced Capp”).
It seems Alaska is getting a lot of the white stuff this year. According to meteorologist Shaun Baines, Sarah Palin’s home state is on track for snowiest winter on record:
About 150 miles to the southeast (of Anchorage), the Prince William Sound community of Cordova, which has already been buried under 172 inches of snow since November, could get another 7 inches today
… It has been difficult to keep up with the shovelling – and 8ft walls of snow line either side of her driveway. After snow fell off her roof she cannot see out either the front or back of her house.
… If it keeps up, Anchorage is on track to have the snowiest winter ever, surpassing the previous record of 132.8 inches in 1954-55, meteorologist Shaun Baines said.
Snowboarding anyone? All we can say is “Wow”…
Hopefully the Hudson Bay polar bears that hang out at Seal River Heritage Lodge don’t decide to relocate to Alaska. We’ll have to make sure we don’t mention this to them.
Elsewhere there have been numerous news stories and YouTube videos of polar bear cubs popping up. We’ve posted a few to our Facebook page but this one was an absolute cuddly little doll! The latest comes out of the Scandinavian Wildlife Park and appeared in the Washington Post’s “Kids Post” section.
Meet Siku! Internet sensation!
This baby polar bear was born November 22 at the Scandinavian Wildlife Park in Kolind, Denmark. But because his mother couldn’t produce milk to feed the cub…
Keepers named the cub Siku, which means “sea ice.”
Well, I guess there is little extra “sea ice” this year after all. Always good news.
The valiant Prince William came to Canada recently to show off his new bride Kate. There was a huge media blitz and Canadians were genuinely excited and gracious hosts.
Churchill Wild sent out the invitation but we did not make the itinerary. Maybe next time. We’re sure there are many Seal River alumni (see our Trip Advisor reviews) that would vouch for the suitability of our lodge.
During their whirlwind tour of our homeland the Premier of Northwest Territories gifted the royal couple some fabulous polar bear bling.
Some people are making a fuss about it. We think it was a nice gesture:
We wonder if the Churchill Wild logo would look good encrusted with diamonds. The polar bear brooch is worth around $30,000 dollars (19,000 British pounds). A Churchill Wild limited edition logo brooch? We may never know…
Finally, no scan of the news for “polar bears” is ever complete without one of these:
Yes – every year around this time people strip down and brave the frigid waters for their local “polar bear club”. It is hilarious to watch from the warm comfort of your recliner in front of the television.
While we have to commend those brave souls who peel and dive into the cold water we find ourselves contemplating the addition of our own “polar bear challenge” during the Great Ice Bear Adventure at Dymond Lake EcoLodge.
Nahhh… wouldn’t be a big seller. That’s what Dymond Lake looks like when it starts freezing up in October/November (sans swimmer and umbrella). Floating balls of ice. Wanna jump in?
Actually, when Churchill Wild’s guests get into the water in the summer for a beluga swim the Hudson Bay waters are just as cold (or colder) than what most “polar bear clubs” would experience. Wanna try it? That’s our extremely popular Birds, Bears & Belugas Adventure which takes place during July and August at the Seal River Heritage Lodge.
Our guests wear heavily insulated dry suits to keep them from freezing up. This photo is courtesy of Mark Seth Lender who was up last summer for our Birds, Bears & Belugas Adventure. Mark has a series of blog posts on his site about his time at the lodge. They are accompanied by some incredible pictures. Check them out.
Mark has a syndicated column and is a frequent contributor to Living on Earth (PRI) a nationally syndicated radio program on NPR. He’s putting the final touches on his Churchill Wild segments and they will be airing in the coming months. Stay in touch with us through our newsletter, blog, Facebook and Twitter for air dates.
That’s all for this time. Thanks for reading.
A seasoned adventure traveler, writer and editor with world-wide safari experience, Katie wrote a story about her Churchill Wild experience for NUVO entitled A Canadian Safari – Churchill, Manitoba: the polar bear capital of the world, which appeared in their Spring 2011 Issue. Below are a few excerpts from Katie’s Story with a link to a PDF of the story at the end. Enjoy!
First polar bear
I see the first bear in the distance. A big, beautiful Ursus maritimus. Adrenaline kicks in and the quiet chatter halts, followed soon after by the clicking of camera shutters and zooming of lenses. Our guides remind us to be silent – although this bear is familiar with the presence of people by now, we don’t want to disturb or frighten it – and we take a few steps forward until I’m standing about 10 metres away from this larger-than-life beauty. I eye the guns slung over our guides’ shoulders: loaded, and a necessary precaution, they are very rarely used, and only to scare off an approaching bear. Nothing stands between us and this wild animal but a short distance and a few rocks; polar bears are capable of running up to 40 kilometres an hour.
A fight in the morning
One foggy morning, I awaken to an early morning knock on my bedroom door and a commotion outside. A night watchman stands guard over the lodge each night, eyes peeled for curious bears and Northern Lights. I’m expecting flashes of green and blue aurora borealis, but out of the main-room window is a more unexpected early morning sight: far in the rocky distance, two bears are stretched up on their hind legs, standing at least eight feet tall, their furry arms in the air like boxers, jabbing, dodging, and blocking each other, paws flailing. Their show of strength is spellbinding. I want to get closer. I walk with my guide until we come within about 15 metres…
About NUVO Magazine
Inspired by quality, NUVO is a lifestyle magazine for the Canadian sophisticate. It is our mandate to create an editorial environment that is stimulating, evocative, entertaining and informative, and relevant to both the amateur and the connoisseur. The NUVO reader is the inquisitive, culturally aware, well-travelled urbanite who appreciates a blend of insight and entertainment. We share the NUVO reader’s discerning taste in travel, food and wine, film and TV, fashion, art, architecture, design, business, automobiles and music. NUVO features the finest in writing, photography, illustration, design and production. Our commitment to quality is essential to being a leader in the magazine industry. It is thus our assiduous intention to craft a magazine that is quite simply unlike any other.
Walking with polar bears… in the summer? Perhaps our guests say it best! What’s on your bucket list?
Our Birds, Bears & Belugas summer polar bear trip has become a hot ticket item among bucket-listers, especially at the trade shows we’ve been attending. That’s understandable. After all, where else in the world can you actually walk on the tundra with polar bears?
Our remote location north of Churchill, Manitoba on the coast of Hudson Bay is part of a vast coastal polar bear waiting room, where the bears dream away the summer while they wait for the sea ice (their personal hunting ground) to return. Bears saunter by our Seal River Lodge on a daily basis, providing fabulous polar bear viewing, photography and video opportunities. They often come right up to the lodge windows and the front door! The scent of the gourmet meals at Seal River Lodge is probably part of the reason they visit so consistently, but we don’t feed them.
And if the polar bears are not in our back yard, peering in the lodge windows or lazing around the front door, we’re out on the tundra looking for them. And we do find them!
We’ve got beluga whales here too, and as weather permits we’re out on Hudson Bay in the Zodiaks jumping into the water and snorkeling with these ghostly white creatures. The polar bears, like the people, are interested in the belugas too (though for slightly different reasons) and we’ve actually seen them hunting beluga whales from the coastal rocks.
This isn’t polar bear watching from a buggy, this is on the ground viewing up close and personal. With gourmet meals in a remote fly-in polar bear lodge that would be considered luxurious by arctic standards. You have to be a bit of an adventurer to enjoy it, but that’s precisely why Birds, Bears & Belugas is making it on to so many bucket lists.
Perhaps our guests tell it best…
We had outstanding up-close-and-personal access to polar bears and belugas that we would never have dreamed possible. We felt we were visitors in the bears’ home (rather than being at a zoo where humans are in control), yet we always felt safe. — Kerrie
There is NOTHING like walking amongst the top predator of North America that makes you acutely alive! The appreciation for every nuance of a glance or shuffle increased my awareness 100-fold. And to swim with belugas too??? Incredible, and unbelievable! Magic is an overused word, but it was indeed magic. I am so thankful I got to experience it all! — Leslie
Hosts Mike & Jeanne Reimer and their top-notch crew hosted us like family, feasted us like royalty and sent us home shaking our heads and still wondering, “was that for real?” There is simply no wildlife viewing experience that tops this in North American, and probably in the world. Just how close do you get? While filming a bear that came up to greet me through their lodge’s observation fence, I smelt his hot breath. And while hiking the tundra, our guides often determined that it was safe for us to get within a 100 feet of them. — Paul Schurke, Great Northern Adventure Blog
More from TripAdvisor.com
My family and I have recently returned from Canada and we had an amazing six days at The Seal River Heritage Lodge. It is a remote lodge which you reach by float plane from Churchill. We saw lots of polar bears and had an amazing experience swimming with beluga whales in the Hudson Bay – a once in a lifetime experience. The lodge was very comfortable and had great views out onto the Hudson Bay and the food was superb. The guides were amazingly knowledgeable about the local wildlife and were so welcoming with our 2 children aged 11 and 12. Our daughter made a plaster cast of wolf prints, which she was able to bring home. Great experience would thoroughly recommend it to anyone. If you go, say hello to the belugas and polar bears for me. — Mrs. M. Smith
The reason I chose Churchill Wild over all other Churchill tours was the fact you go out hiking in bear country… Unbelievable! — Irish Captain
I am a wildlife photographer and have traveled to all seven continents pursuing great photographs of earth’s most amazing creatures. Polar bears were right at the top of my “amazing creature” list, of course, so finding the right venue to photograph them was of major importance. It’s important to note that I am somewhat tough to please regarding photographic opportunities. So, where do I go and how do I get close to the bears with unobstructed views in a safe environment? Polar bears do have a reputation, you know. OK, there are the tundra buggies out of Churchill. Do I want to spend all day in a crowded vehicle and then photograph bears from 12 ft. above them? Then, what about Norway? Do I want to attempt to view the bears from a long distance aboard a ship around Spitzbergen with the possibility of not even seeing a bear? For me, the clear answer to these questions was a resounding “no”. — Larry G. Kinney
For help in taking Birds, Bears & Belugas summer polar bear watching off your bucket list, call Churchill Wild Toll Free at 1.866.UGO.WILD (846-9453) or 1.204.377.5090. You can also e-mail us at email@example.com.
Polar bears, sandhill cranes, moose, wolves and whales make first week of Birds, Bears and Belugas a hit
In our first week of Birds, Bears and Belugas we spotted not just polar bears but also sandhill cranes, lots of wolves (with cubs!) two moose and a large numbers of beluga whales.
Our first meal interruption occurred last week when a polar bear showed up just as everyone was coming into the dining room for breakfast. We’ve been getting the boats in the water on a regular basis morning and night, weather and tides permitting.
Guests had a fabulous trip by boat to Hubbard Point, 77 kilometres Northwest of Churchill on the Hudson Bay Coast. It was almost too foggy to see but we still saw seven polar bears at close range and had one of our best beluga whale swims ever!
Handed out the first certificates of the season on July 27 and everyone is leaving happy!
Churchill Wild chef and owner Jeanne Reimer will have a chance to showcase her family’s award-winning Blueberries and Polar Bears Cookbook series and more on July 31, 2010 when their exclusive polar bear eco lodges participate in Food Day Canada 2010.
“We’re very proud to participate in Food Day Canada,” said Reimer, who is clearly looking forward to the challenge. “It’s very exciting for us!”
This year, Food Day just happens to coincide with Churchill Wild’s Birds, Bears and Belugas tour, an exclusive wildlife viewing vacation on Canada’s rugged Hudson Bay coast on which international guests have the opportunity to walk with polar bears, swim with beluga whales and experience the wonders of the ancient tundra landscape, spectacular coastal views and of course… the fabulous food!
Jeanne’s mother Helen Webber is the co-author of the bestselling Blueberries and Polar Bears cookbook series, all the books in the series having been inspired by the most requested recipes at Webber’s Lodges and Churchill Wild.
The culinary expertise in the Webber and Reimer families now spans multiple generations, with husbands and wives, children and grandchildren involved in blending tradition with imagination to come up with fabulous creations that satisfy even the most discerning palate.
So while the guests are working up an appetite viewing wildlife, hiking the tundra and taking photos, Jeanne Reimer and family will be preparing culinary delights ranging from appetizers to gourmet dinners – all prepared with a nod to local culture and traditional resources. Jeanne has yet to decide what will be served to celebrate Food Day 2010 but promises it will excite the taste buds and do Canada and their International guests proud.
Churchill Wild’s imaginative creations will be eligible for awards in three different categories including Innovation, Adaptability and Hyper Local.
The Innovation Award will be presented to restaurants and individuals who approach food in a new and exciting manner. This can be done to solve a problem or just to add creative flare to a traditionally prepared dish. It can include one ingredient in a dish, or all ingredients in the dish. Or perhaps, there’s an interesting story behind the entire menu! Regardless, this award will be great testament to a Canadian chef who is always pressing the limits of food preparation.
The Adaptability Award takes into account that some of us are at a distinct disadvantage in terms of cooking regionally and locally. Living in a small farm community certainly has its advantages, whereas some urban centres are severely limited by what the local super market chain brings in. Canada’s climate is famously diverse and challenging. The Adaptability Award is presented to a restaurant and individual who exemplifies adaptability, given an environmental, social or other limitation.
The Hyper Local Award will be presented to the establishment or individual who redefines local ingredient sourcing. Perhaps all the items on the menu are local, or perhaps the greens were grown on the windowsill of the urban bistro, or the bees for the honey were kept on the roof! The salmon might have been line caught off the dock, or maybe the flour was milled on the premises. This award recognizes the importance of local sourcing, in terms of the economic and environmental impact, historic significance, or just for the fun of it!
Churchill Wild is one of over 130 food establishments participating in Food Day across Canada. To make a reservation at Churchill Wild, please contact them at the number below. For other restaurants in your region or across Canada, please visit the Events page at the Food Day Canada Web site.
About Food Day
Now in its eighth year, Food Day 2010 will honor establishments, restaurants and individuals who best exemplify the philosophy of “local, regional, seasonal” by presenting awards in several unique categories. Bronze, silver, and gold awards will be presented for exemplary skill, creativity and conscientiousness within the relevant category. The awards are sponsored by leaders in the Canadian food industry, and will carefully reflect the spirit and philosophy of each category.
Food Day Canada was founded by renowned culinary activist, educator, and writer Anita Stewart, who describes the celebration as a showcase of her life’s work. Stewart has been traveling across Canada since 1983, identifying and writing about its essential nature as a regionally diverse food nation. Before “local, regional, seasonal” was in vogue, Stewart was visiting the country inns, farmer’s markets, First Nations and lighthouses of Canada.
Today, many of Canada’s food industry leaders credit Stewart with influencing their style and philosophy. Stewart has 14 books to her name and hundreds of articles published in all major Canadian news and food publications. She broadcasts on CBC Radio One. She holds a Master of Arts (Gastronomy) and is an honorary lifetime member of the Canadian Culinary Federation of Chefs and Cooks. Stewart is supported by a team of dedicated media, marketing and restaurant pros at the tops of their fields, including some of the most notable culinary figures in Canada.