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.
By Mike Reimer
Why? For how long?? Don’t we all cringe when your partner floats that question?
In this case it’s me (Mike) dodging the query from Jeanne as I packed up in the middle of Polar Bear season to head to PURE in Marrakech, Morocco.
PURE Life Experiences is where “the world’s finest creators of travel experiences meet” and this is Churchill Wild’s second year. The event is invite only and there is an extensive screening process to be approved.
This prestigious experiential/luxury travel show brings together all the best in adventure travel products on the planet for 4 days of intense marketing discussions, networking, and possibly just a little bit of fun. (But mostly hard work, honest!)
Leaving behind a lodge full of happy guests surrounded by polar bears is really not that big a deal when you have a rock solid, dependable, professional staff staying back to “hold down the fort” managed by Jeanne, the Arctic Queen.
Bear season has been fantastic this year – one of the best, in fact. We have had daily polar bear sightings and spectacular photo ops highlighted by great Northern Lights. Also both red and Arctic foxes, Gyrfalcons, and Snowy Owls are being observed. As much fun as PURE will be, I can’t wait to get back to the lodge.
See you soon.
(PURE Life Experiences runs from November 1 – 4, 2011)
Imagine what it would be like to get a polar bear for your birthday! Is that even possible? And if so, how would you gift wrap it? And how would you give it to the person?
The answer to question one is… not quite, but close!
The answer to question three will have to wait until the end of this story.
Reach for the Rainbow, a non-profit organization which has pioneered the integration of children and youth with disabilities into the mainstream of society at summer camp programs throughout Ontario, provided the gift wrapping via its 24th annual Crystal Ball Fundraising Gala this past November in Toronto.
Churchill Wild provided the polar bears, in the form of a trip for two to their Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River Heritage Lodge, as one of 13 featured live auction items at the gala. The top prize was a BMW which went for over $130,000.
“It is due to the generosity and support of donors such as Churchill Wild that Reach for the Rainbow can deliver the integrated opportunities we do, to close to 700 children with disabilities across Ontario each year,” said Jennifer Jeynes, Reach for the Rainbow’s Manager of Communications & Public Relations.
“The amazing team at Churchill Wild have really stepped up to aid the charity, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to be associated with such a wonderful company which provides the ultimate experience of adventure and exploration!” Churchill Wild’s Polar Bear Photo Safari gives professional, amateur and hobbyist photographers the chance to walk with polar bears for incredible on the ground opportunities.
Churchill Wild’s Director of Marketing & Communications Rick Kemp worked with disabled children for eight years and identified Reach for the Rainbow’s Crystal Ball Gala as an ideal event to support. His enthusiasm and the worthiness of Reach for the Rainbow’s goals made it was an easy sell to Churchill Wild owner’s Mike and Jeanne Reimer.
“Churchill Wild is a family business,” said Mike. “And when it comes to family, it’s really all about the kids.”
The winning bidder for the Polar Bear Photo Safari has been a guest of Fuel Advertising at the Crystal Ball Fundraising Gala for the last few years. Every year she buys her Christmas gifts at different charity events. This year was a little different – she wanted something unique and very special.
“I wanted a spectacular once-in-a-lifetime gift,” she said. “My husband is an avid photographer, he’s always had an interest in it. I think he will be blown away with this because it’s something he would not have discovered himself. He’ll be very surprised!”
Especially when he reads this, on February 4, 2011:
Happy Birthday Bob! — Love, Nicole
Text and photos by Nolan Booth
We pieced together some of our notes to describe a week in the life of Dymond Lake Lodge at the Great Ice Bear Adventure. We’re always happy when Mother Nature cooperates with good weather and plenty of polar bears, but we know full well that she is always in charge!
This week’s guests are a very interesting and diverse group of Swiss, English and New Zealanders. They took a day to start talking, but the polar bear action really helped. They definitely feel special to have had one bear travel all the way home with them and walk right past the camp, and another sleeping 25 feet from their front window. They’ll be telling these stories forever…
The weather has gone from warm to cold and snowy and back over the last few days. It’s windy now and the snow is melting. Our Inuit couple, Peter and Mary, who graciously offered to visit Dymond Lake to teach our guests a little bit about their culture and their way of life, have been working hard. Peter is constantly carving antlers into tools, toys and games. Mary is always cooking bannock or sewing.
The Inuit couple have set up a summer tupik to show us what they would live in while traveling and hunting during the summer months in the north. The tupik is constructed of about 20 caribou hides and long skinny timbers.
Today Peter surprised me and built a one man igloo with the little snow we have. He shoveled a small pad on the ground and then cut blocks from a snow drift that had formed behind one of the cabins. As expected, the little snow hut is quite warm once you get in and block off the door. It takes nothing more than a candle and some body heat to stay warm inside.
No polar bear sightings yet but all guests are sleeping and I can hear “Mr. Big” back behind the garage. Right now our igloo blocks have shrunk by half so it may turn into a doghouse unless it gets colder soon. Busy day checking all systems, everything is running smooth. Just have to get rid of the Martin in the garage. He keeps eating anything that’s fuzzy.
Six polar bears today – amazing how things change, but once again, Mother Nature dictates the pace up here. A mom and two cubs hanging around the wind sock; a big male circling camp all day; two 3-year-old bears dancing on the ice outside the dining room. Tonight we took the guests out with the spotlight after dinner just to hear the bears sparring – thumping each other, their claws scraping the cracking ice in the dark – eerie and amazing.
New group of guests in today and the polar bears are already here. All outgoing guests are extremely happy. Sam (our dog) got to show off his skills tonight after another bear walked right across the step of my cabin while Peter was on his way outside to have a cigarette. I told him he now has a choice between smoking or getting eaten by a polar bear that has now patterned him and knows that he comes out every couple of hours. He says he’ll take his chances… and keeps me laughing while dancing around the cabin yelling “Polar Bear! Polar Bear! Polar Bear!” over and over.
Just came back and had a bear sleeping on the road 20 feet from the Wilson cabin. Woke everyone up and they had a great first day. Thirty photo-ops, lights on and off, then informed the guests I would have to chase the bear off later so that I wouldn’t have to sleep in their cabin tonight. The big bear is now sleeping and doesn’t even notice me yelling at him. Guests had a good laugh and in the end the bear did too. One screamer and two crackers had him sleeping 200 yards back in the bush. George and Sam are on high alert while I sleep… until George gets me up to see the northern lights… Maybe tomorrow I’ll get a nap in.
I think we have five different bears visiting us regularly and they have become more active over the past few days. One is big and I was standing 30 feet from him last night. He does not like it when I yell at him and for now I’m hoping it stays that way because the garage door he was prying at doesn’t stand a chance.
More bears today, banging on the garage, walking between the cabins, interrupting my speech. The guests love it but George does not like the bears looking into his bedroom. Tonight I will get little sleep. The big polar bear is walking around the cabin again. Thank goodness for the compound fence and George or I wouldn’t get any sleep.
Four wolves at the end of the runway, not sticking around but will be back. Five polar bears roamed passed the compound fence before the sun came up and one decided to stay awhile… sleeping 10 feet from the fence.
Good morning Mr. Big!
Churchill Wild’s remote polar bear lodges featured in Financial Post as one of Canada’s elite adventure vacation destinations
Churchill Wild’s remote polar bear ecolodges on the Hudson Bay Coast were featured in the Financial Post as “the” cool adventure vacation spots for viewing polar bears, swimming with beluga whales and enjoying culinary delights! The article, entitled, At their leisure, also talks about where people are spending their money on holidays and includes vacation ideas from Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
Below are a few excerpts of what the Financial Post had to say about Churchill Wild.
“Roughing it in style is the vacation trend du jour. At the Seal River Heritage eco-lodge on the Hudson Bay Coast, Manitoba’s happy few explore the depths of nature by day in one of the planet’s most rugged environments. Then it’s nice nights with gourmet fare and proper drinks in a chic wilderness outpost.”
“It takes time – and money – to get there. After a flight to Churchill, it’s a 30-minute transfer by Turbo beaver float plane to the 12-room hand-made lodge completely lost in the tundra. Remote yes, but animal-wise, this is where the action is. Stalk polar bears near the Seal River estuary or swim or snorkel with the belugas, then come back to the lodge to embark on a culinary adventure.”
“The gourmet fare prepared by Helen Webber, matriarch of the foodie family who own the lodge, makes the 100-mile diet seem so south of the 49th parallel. Almond-crusted lake trout, slow-roasted barbeque caribou sandwiches and cranberry cake with warm butter sauce, are examples of her dinners sourced from within walking distance. Guests have been so impressed with the food that they insisted Ms. Webber do a cookbook. Her Blueberries and Polar Bears cookbook was the first of what would become a series and a Canadian bestseller.”
Churchill Wild guest Claire Wilson makes semi-finals in Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition
by Claire Wilson
We visited Seal River Heritage Lodge on Churchill Wild’s Great Ice Bear polar bear tour at the end of October 2009. I have always had a huge fascination with polar bears and was extremely excited about visiting the Seal River area in search of polar bears. I tried not to get my expectations too high however, telling myself that we might only get a distant glimpse of a bear.
How wrong I was!
As soon as our plane touched down at Seal River, we could see several bears around us. Within an hour, there were two bears play-fighting a few feet from the front door of the lodge – amazing! I felt like I had died and gone to wildlife heaven!
We were lucky to get a mixture of conditions – the weather was dry and bright when we first arrived, but we then had plenty of snow and at one point the temperature cooled down to -27 degrees.
Our whole three days at the lodge were jam-packed with photo opportunities. Terry and Andy, our friendly and knowledgeable guides, were ready to take us out for hikes at any opportunity, and we saw plenty of bears every time we ventured outside. Everyone learned a great deal about these majestic animals and their environment, and every day we all came back with full memory cards on our cameras. My husband Pete and I took about 3000 photographs between us!
Upon returning home, I was so proud of some of my photographs that I decided to send a few into the Wildlife Photographer of The Year competition, now in its 46th year and organized by The Natural History Museum, London and BBC Wildlife Magazine. This is a huge competition which has tens of thousands of entries from all over the world every year. Last year there were over 43,000 entries, and apparently there were well in excess of this amount for 2010.
I was absolutely stunned when I recently received an e-mail advising me that three of my entries had made it into the semi finals!
One photograph entitled “High and Mighty” (Semi-Finalist in the Category Animal Behaviour: Mammals) was taken on our first full day at Seal River when we went for a long group hike. The two bears seemed to want to perform for the cameras!
I shot “On The Rocks” (Semi-Finalist for the Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife) the next day, literally feet from the lodge. And the third photograph I submitted, “Clash of the Titans” (also a Semi-Finalist in the Category Animal Behaviour: Mammals) was taken on our last morning at Seal River Heritage Lodge just a few minutes before we had too, reluctantly, leave this wonderful location.
We had such a great time with Churchill Wild! I can’t wait to return for our next adventure!
Churchill Wild Polar Bear Photo Safari host Dennis Fast participates in international photo competition
Professional photographer Dennis Fast is building an international reputation for himself and Churchill Wild is proud to count him among those who are responsible for our success. Dennis was recently selected to be one of 20 photographers in a contest organized by the The Images for Conservation Fund (ICF), which offers prize money of $180,000 and world-wide recognition to the participants.
After almost a decade of being our unofficial resident photographer Dennis now hosts many of our Polar Bear Photo Safari tours which run in October and November. If you take a look around the Churchill Wild Web site many of the beautiful wildlife and landscape photographs are his work.
The Arctic Photo Safari that Dennis hosts provides professional and amateur photographers the opportunity to experience ground-level photography with breathtaking landscapes and wildlife including polar bears - and don’t forget the incredible displays of the Aurora Borealis.
Check out Dennis’ work on the Churchill Wild Web site, on our Churchill Wild Facebook Page and on his own personal photography Web site for some spectacular polar bear photos and examples of what you could add to the brag bin of your personal photograph collection.
If you think you might be interested in visiting our Polar Bear Eco Lodges for one of these photo tours please e-mail us and we’ll send you all the information you need. We only run six Polar Bear Photo Safari Tours a year so space is limited.
by Elaine Peters
(This article orginally appeared in, and is reprinted courtesy of, The Carillon Newspaper – May 13, 2010)
It is possible that photographer Dennis Fast could receive recognition for his photography on a world scale. He was accepted into a month-long photo competition in Texas, competing against 19 other professional photographers representing eight countries: USA, Canada, Mexico, France, Holland, Italy, and Argentina. The only other Canadian was from Quebec.
The first step was to be accepted as one of the contestants. The deadline was February, and that had come and gone. But when a couple of contestants dropped out, Dennis was phoned. He felt a little like he came in through the back door. Technically, in order to be considered professional, contestants were supposed to receive 80 percent of their income from photography. That was not the case with Dennis, yet when he told them that he had a couple of books out and had done some other work, that was good enough. He was in.
On March 12, 2010 Dennis and Frieda Fast set out on their great adventure. One week before the competition started, there was a big event where all the contestants were gathered together. Photographers were paired with landowners by a draw from a camera bag. Once on the 90,000 acre ranch, Dennis had from April 1-30 to shoot with Frieda as his official assistant. The pressure was on. The weather was cool, 24-25 degrees Celsius instead of the usual 35-37 degrees.
When intermittent rains destroyed the roads on the ranch for ten days, the pressure increased. One 4X4 left foot-deep ruts. Eventually Dennis and Frieda were given the use of an ATV so that they could resume their photography. The silver lining to this cloud was that the rain brought out creatures that would not otherwise be seen, for example, toads only come out after rain.
The Images for Conservation Fund (ICF) was running this competition for the third time. The first competition was in 2006 and there were 100 contestants. By now it had been narrowed to 20.
The competition takes place every second year in the Rio Grande area near Laredo, Texas, near the Mexican border. The goal is that ranchers would become open to other uses of their land besides hunting, with the photos from the competition being used to promote photography tourism. One hundred and eighty thousand dollars in prize money is on the table. The top prize is $80,000 to be split 50/50 with the ranch owner whose land the photographs were taken on. This year’s winning photos will be published in a book.
The winners will be announced July 10, 2010. Before then Dennis has to sift through 175,000 photographs and choose the best ones to submit. He can only submit 40: ten of birds, ten of mammals, ten of insects and ten of reptiles.
CHIEF ARCTIC EXPLORER
The 7-hour journey begins tomorrow at 5 a.m. where we make our way to LAX for our flight to Winnipeg. After an overnight in Winnipeg we catch a short flight to Churchill, Canada (population 900). The next morning we will take a turbo beaver plane to Seal River Lodge, which is located in the wilderness of the Northern Manitoba Tundra. Seal River is a natural habitat for wildlife, in particular the Polar Bears.
POLAR BEAR CAPITOL OF THE WORLD
We now find ourselves in Churchill, Manitoba a small town 800 miles north of Winnipeg, in the frozen sub-arctic tundra. Its latitude is 57 degrees north. This small community has one main street, no traffic lights, bill boards, only one paved road, and no cell phone towers. We got off the 26-passenger plane, where we were greeted by Rose who works for Seal River in Churchill. Rose organizes guests, as wall as supplies for the lodge. She took us to Helen Webber’s home where we would be staying while in Churchill.
After we met Helen, saw our rooms and got cleaned up, we visited Brenda at the Northern Images arts shops. This particular store is part of a co-op program across northern Canada that allows the northern and local goods to be showcased. Brenda explained to us the native ways of life such as trapping, and living in the North. She then showed us many of the clothing items that are still used today. Some of these items include seal skin coats for the children, Caribou fur outer shoes, and a special infant-carrying jacket.
After we met with Brenda we walked down the street to dinner at the Northern Nights Hotel and Restaurant. Being a remote town in the middle of nowhere, everything is flown in, delivered by train, caught or picked off the land. Most of the meat up here is fish, Snow Geese, or Caribou which can all be found right outside. All the restaurant menus depend on what is available at the time of year.
The next day we got up and had breakfast with Helen, who was renamed the “President of Churchill” by my father. Being an established chef with lots of cookbooks, Helen’s breakfast was amazing. Afterwards, Rose came to pick us up to go to the tundra buggy docking station. We went over safety instructions and then headed off to see some Polar Bears!
Early the next morning we were driven to the airport. We quickly boarded the small 8-passenger turbo beaver and flew for about 28 minutes. While flying we spotted both Caribou and Polar Bears. We then landed on the short gravel runway and were at Seal River Lodge. Just as we were taking off our coats and boots, we were greeted by an unexpected visitor; a huge Polar Bear!! It came right up against one of the windows in the main living room, not even two feet from where I was standing!!! The guides were telling us that he usually came around when the plane flew in and was given the name Bob and the role of the greeting committee.
After the excitement we waited for the other people to arrive, had lunch, and then it was out into the wild. We hiked for two hours and saw five bears as well as ptarmigans (birds), snow buntings (birds), a snowy owl, and an arctic hare.
ARCTIC EXPLORER HOME AT LAST
We have gone from -20 degrees to +85. I had so much fun but I’m happy to be home. Although I am upset to be away from the cute but not too cuddly Polar Bears. I learnt so much about all the animals, the natives and the culture of the north. It was great to learn so much from the locals too. One thing I love about Churchill and Seal River is that the people are so consciences of their environment and go out of their way to be very eco friendly. It’s all about the animals. I know we could learn one or two things from them!
I had an amazing trip!!!!!!
About Make-A-Wish® Canada
Since inception in 1980, Make-A-Wish® has helped make over 225,000 wishes come true for children around the world. Make-A-Wish® in Canada consists of eight regional Chapters and the Canada Office, which is located in Toronto, Ontario. We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.