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Arctic

Visit Wild Churchill Without Leaving Winnipeg at the Assiniboine Park Zoo

Courtesy of Assiniboine Park Zoo

Courtesy of Assiniboine Park Zoo

By Dunja Kovacevic

Tundra Treasures

Peer into the little explored but often mythologized world of the Arctic tundra with the Assiniboine Park Zoo‘s landmark exhibit, Journey to Churchill. Cutting-edge technology, top of the line research facilities, unparalleled attention to authenticity and environmental stewardship have set the bar for polar bear conservation centres, now recognized as the “Manitoba Standard”.

Mother bear and cubs by Keith Levit

Mother bear and cubs by Keith Levit

Majestic Manitoba

The story of Canada’s north is still a largely untold one. With environmental crises looming, the role that Manitoba has in protecting the legacy of the north and shaping the narrative of future generations is becoming increasingly important. By dazzling the senses and engaging the public, Journey to Churchill represents a monumental step towards Winnipeg’s growing reputation as a global leader in environmental and human rights.

The ambitious exhibit is both a love song to the untapped beauty of the north and a ringing call to arms. Opened in 2014, it is the first exhibit of its kind, aimed at education about climate change and conservation issues focused on northern species. According to Margaret Redmond, President and CEO of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy (APC), Journey to Churchill is “unparalleled in the zoo world in terms of its focus on northern wildlife and the immensity of the space given.”

Photo by Brad McCann

Photo by Brad McCann

Polar Bear Pilgrimage

Some 10-12,000 eco-tourists and adventure seekers file northward to Churchill, Manitoba’s Arctic jewel, each year in search of the Great White. Aptly named the “Polar Bear Capital of the World”, the wind-swept tundra has become a mecca for the world’s largest terrestrial predators, located at the crosshairs of their migratory patterns. Thrill seekers take to the frozen expanses of the tundra to catch a glimpse of these incredible carnivores.

While nothing can mimic the heart-pounding adventure of interacting directly with the bears in their icy environment, Journey to Churchill offers and experience of observing polar bears and other northern species undetected. Within the expanse of the exhibit are four main areas: the Wapusk Lowlands, Gatewa to the Arctic, Churchill Coast and the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre.

The Gateway to the Arctic contains polar bears and their primary food source, the ringed seal, in adjacent pools separated only by a thin clear wall. Expect dynamic interactions between the animals, who are able to see and smell one another through the wall, as they pivot and thrash in the exhilarating quickstep between predator and prey.

Perhaps most exciting is the Sea Ice Passage, a 10-foot wide acrylic tunnel that serves as the primary vantage point for viewing polar bears and ringed seals beneath the water. The exhibit functions as a “living laboratory” says Redmond, presenting rare and unique opportunities for field researchers to observe behavioural patterns of polar bears and seals beneath the ice.

Along with boundless roaming space, the exhibit features an on-site state-of-the-art research facility. The International Polar Bear Conservation Centre not only promotes conservation research, but is home to the only transition centre for orphaned and at-risk polar bear cubs rescued by Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship. At the centre, they are rehabilitated before being relocated to designated safe areas.

Courtesy of Assiniboine Park Zoo

Courtesy of Assiniboine Park Zoo

Staggering Specs

In order to begin construction on the exhibit, 86,699 metres of earth had to be transported. The tundra area of the exhibit, home to caribou, musk ox, snowy owls, and arctic foxes, covers 3,714 square metres. Polar bear roaming grounds within the exhibit span an immense 9,507 metres squared. Pools for polar bears and seals contain a total of 1,959,714 L of water. The indoor Polar Playground and Tundra Grill alone house some 238 people. The cutting edge 360 degree domed Aurora Borealis Theatre measures over 13 metres in diameter, and 5.5 metres high. Despite these scale considerations, the zoo is making every overture towards sustainability, even seeing a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification from the Canada Green Building Council.

Courtesy of Assiniboine Park Zoo

Courtesy of Assiniboine Park Zoo

Gathering Ground

Parks and zoos have long been spirited gathering grounds for families and larger groups. With this in mind, the Churchill Coast area is focused on immersive family fun. Children can explore the Polar Playground, which is packed with interactive and educational activities such as a moving ice-mass floor that responds to footsteps. Parents can unwind at the Tundra Grill, a fast-casual cafeteria-style setting with massive windows overlooking Churchill.

Also located within the Gateway to the Arctic is the Aurora Borealis Theatre, which hosts a domed 360 degree viewing screen. An interactive video weaves the interconnected legacy between the people, plants, and animals of Canada’s north. At night, the room is transformed into a bewitching backdrop for storytelling and concerts while the Northern Lights play above.

Visit the Assiniboine Park Conservancy’s website for information on hours and admissions.

Read More

 

12 Best Places to See the Northern Lights

Labrador, on Canada’s east coast, is one of the best places to see the northern nights

We admit it, we’re a bit aurora borealis obsessed here at Where.ca. But can you blame us? Canada is one of the best places on Earth to see the northern lights in all their glory. Travellers interested in seeing the show should know that the phenomenon is most vibrant in winter, though they can be seen all year in certain spots. In this gorgeous slide show, we’ve singled out the best places to see the northern lights from coast to coast.

• Start the slide show for the best places to see the northern lights »
• See a map of all the best places to see the northern lights »

Arctic Summer: Alert, Nunavut

Submit your photo to our Flickr Group to see your favourite travel shot as part of our Photo Friday feature on Where.ca! We’ll credit you and link to your photo.

Why We Chose It

Occasionally we remember that Canada borders the Arctic and that there are places, like Alert, Nunavut—the most northerly inhabited settlement in the world—where ice floes are a year-round occurrence. Not only is the landscape stunning in its own right, the photographer has masterfully combined perspective, composition and just the right lighting to create an image that seems to go on as far as the eye can see. It really does seem like the end of the earth. Interesting side note: the photo was taken at 11:30 p.m.!

Photo by Jerome Lessard

Interview with Yukoner Murray Lundberg of the ExploreNorth Blog

Murray on the Haines Road between the Yukon and Alaska

Ever vacation somewhere and wish you never had to leave? Well, Murray Lundberg actually made it happen. In 1990, five years after his first vacation to the Yukon and Alaska, he saw a job for a tour bus driver in Whitehorse and left his Vancouver-area home of forty years to resettle in the Canadian north. (more…)

Restored 1919 Film Gives Rare Historic Glimpse of Arctic Life in Canada

Still from 1919 film Romance of the Far Fur Country (Photo courtesy of the Hudson's Bay Company Archives)

Some of the earliest footage of northern Canada—a silent black-and-white film documenting a 1919 Hudson Bay Company expedition—has been restored to a full-length documentary. The film had been gathering dust in a London archive for 50 years but was recently restored and is being shown in select Canadian towns and cities. (See clips of the original footage.) (more…)

Afternoon in Nunavut

Every Friday we feature an inspirational travel photo of a Canadian destination taken by one of our readers.

Photo by Steve Sayles

Why we chose it: Twilight appears in the early afternoon at this time of year in Nunavut. Despite the potential emotional effects of winter’s dark days, it makes for a great photo! This image really captures the wide open spaces we enjoy in Canada. (more…)

Lunar Eclipse Meets Winter Solstice, Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories

Every Friday we feature an inspirational travel photo of a Canadian destination taken by one of our readers.

Why we chose it: Nearly a year ago (December 21, 2010) a lunar eclipse coincided with the winter solstice—only the second time this has happened in 2,000 years. Northern Canada was one of the best places on earth to see the coppery red glow cast by the full moon as it moved through the centre of the earth’s shadow. (more…)