Tourists are no longer allowed to swim or snorkel with the beluga whales in the river, so some creative guide came up with AquaGliding. One might wonder what AquaGliding actually is. We kind of did too. Well it’s a thick foam mat that is towed behind a zodiac. You sit or lay on the mat and play with any beluga who decides to come close. We were outfitted with high end dry suits and a PFD. This year we had to bring our own mask and snorkel but Lazy Bear would normally have those too. The river is very murky, though, so we probably would not have seen much through the mask anyway. A very early 7am we were out on the Churchill River. The couple who was supposed to join us flaked out, so it was just the two of us. For the first 30 minutes or so we saw whales but nobody came to play.
Eventually the whales decided we were interesting and came to check us out. The mat got nose bumped and quite a few swam under and came up for air right next to us. At one point Dave was so close to petting one. They did like to check out the GoPro but the tannic acid from the tundra in the water turned it tea brown and the visibility was about 1’. In the next few photos the whiter area with the beluga smile, that is the whale. Terrible shots for sure, but it shows how close they came. All told we probably had 20 or so close enough to see their smiles.
We even had a very curious harbour seal check us out. He popped up three or four times wondering what the heck these stupid looking seals were doing on the mat. We offered to share our mat with him but he was having none of that.
At 10 am we were done and headed back for a late breakfast. Once sated we got the chance to wander around the town of Churchill. It is a pretty small place (maybe 4 blocks wide and 10 blocks long) but full of interesting statues, murals and fun signs.
About 50% of the local population is on some sort of government assistance and there are many townhouse/apartments that are empty. This is normal, and not due to Covid. Although that isn’t helping matters for sure. This is a town in transition. Before the military pulled out in the 80’s there were 8000 or so residents. The grain terminal closed, further cutting jobs. In the late 90’s the eco tourism started. That is what is sustaining the town now. But only about 700 permanent residents are left. Ironically most of the serving staff and all the guides we have here are from Winnipeg or BC. None are local. Not sure why that is. The stores here are having a hard time finding staff this year we are hearing. Could be the late start of the tourist season, could be CERB making it easy for folks to not work at a very tough job a long way from home. Who knows. Everyone we’ve met has been super friendly and helpful. I’m sure we stick out as tourists. All of the lodge guests are Manitobans. We are the only out of province travelers.
We also toured a few more of the stunning murals around town. They are amazing to see.
Down on the east side of town is a beach area. A great place to walk to and there are inukshuk, including this huge one below as well as an old boat made into a viewing platform. Just up the hill above is the new town building. It houses the pool, hospital, theatre, rec centre, elementary school and a bunch of other stuff. Right across the street is the bank and the post office. There is one gas station, two grocery stores and 3 restaurants. Yes one of the restaurants is a pub. And true to form, there are 2 churches and 3 places to drink. It is to be noted that there is no homelessness here. Your either freeze, or get eaten or take up residence in one of the many government subsidized housing complexes.
Nobody here locks their car doors and every one leaves the keys in the cup holders. It’s just custom. You don’t exactly borrow other peoples vehicles but you may need to escape a bear. No homes or doors are locked either. I guess when there are 700 locals and no road out of town theft isn’t too much of an issue. Getting snacked on by a bear is.