A sunny Wednesday morning in Winnipeg seemed like the perfect weather for the 25 participants of the Churchill Economic Development tour to depart on Calm Air Flight 300 to the Polar Bear Capital of the World.
However, foggy conditions in Rankin Inlet, NU resulted in the flight being cancelled and some anxious moments before Calm Air was able to secure an alternative flight an hour later. The tour was back on track! A cloudy, overcast morning greeted the delegation in Churchill, but the excitement on the faces of the participants, the majority of who were visiting the northern community for the first time, was clear.
The first stop on the tour was an introductory meeting with the Town of Churchill and the Churchill Chamber of Commerce. Mayor Mike Spence highlighted the challenges the community has faced over the last two years with the loss of the Port and the rail line. But both Mayor Spence and Churchill Chamber President Dave Daley expressed optimism for the future of the community now that new ownership is in place and encouraged tour participants to look for opportunities while they toured the area.
Following a tour of the Town Centre Complex which includes a hockey rink, curling rink, K-12 School, Bowling alley, swimming pool, library, and health care facility, the delegation boarded their bus for a tour and meeting with officials at the Port of Churchill.
There is no question the 90-year-old facility has seen better days, but Port Manager Bryan Caron provided indicated investments are currently being made to return the facility – which has been virtually mothballed the past three years to full operational capacity once again.
Caron indicated that 160,000 tonnes of grain are scheduled to arrive at the Port in the coming weeks, and that transport ships will arrive in mid-August.
The first day concluded with a reception sponsored by BDC at the Town Centre Complex where delegates got an opportunity to network with local business owners and municipal officials.
The weather on day two of the tour was once again grey and cool but that did not dampen the spirits of delegates who were excited to don bright orange wetsuits and board three Lazy Bear Zodiacs to have the opportunity to venture into the Hudson Bay and get up close and personal with the Beluga whales that make the Churchill River home in July and August.
The Belugas did not disappoint – thousands of the curious whales provided participants with 90 minutes of memories they will never forget. After disembarking the boats, participants got back on the bus and took part in tours of Great White Bear Tours, the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, and Frontiers North Adventures which highlighted the importance of polar bear tourism to the community.
The delegation ended their day of tours with a stop at Itsanitaq Museum, which houses a collection of Inuit carvings and artifacts that are among the finest and oldest in the world. Both Lonely Planet and Canadian Geographic have shared that this facility is a place you should discover.
Just as delegates gathered at the Seaport Hotel for dinner with community members, the fog began to roll in to the community once again. As dinner was concluding, and delegates were preparing to depart for the Churchill Airport for the flight home, we received word that the reduced visibility as a result of the fog would not allow the plane to land in Churchill and our flight was cancelled. However, Calm Air staff quickly jumped into action and were able to accommodate delegates the following day on both morning and evening flights.
The bonus day offered additional opportunities such as a visit to the Arctic Trading Company, where owner Penny Rawlings showed how customized leather mukluks, slippers, and mitts are made in the community. Delegates also toured Goose Creek with Sea North Tours owner Dwight Allen, and Wapusk Adventures with owner Dave Daley, where they met with over 30 racing sled dogs – each with their own personality and style – plus a trappers cabin, groomed trail system, custom designed tour sleds and even resident gray jays. It is a true northern dog sled experience!
All in all – while the weather may not have cooperated – delegates of the Churchill Economic Development Tour were excited about the potential that exists in Churchill, and look forward to continuing the relationships that were developed in the community.
Economic Development Tours are an initiative of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce supported through the Churchill Regional Economic Development Fund by Western Economic Diversification, Community Futures Manitoba, the Province of Manitoba, BDC and Calm Air (the official airline of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce).