Churchill, Manitoba, is known as Canada’s polar bear capital. In the fall, particularly during October and November, migrating polar bears travel through the land around this tiny Canadian community, waiting for the ice to freeze along Hudson Bay, where they’ll hunt for seals over the winter months. Churchill is one of the few places in the world where travelers can observe polar bears in the wild.
In the summer, Churchill is busy, too, as visitors come to see the beluga whales — often more than 50,000 of them — that swim into Hudson Bay.
During the long winter months, the polar bears and belugas are long gone, and Churchill seems to hibernate. But the region’s dry climate and frequently cloud-free skies make it a good spot for viewing the northern lights.
I had the chance to explore the Churchill area in March, hoping to see the famous aurora and also learn something about the culture of this northern Manitoba region. Our base for this trip was the Tundra Inn, a simple 31-room lodge in town.
Here’s the scoop:
Frontiers North Adventures, which runs a variety of Churchill tours throughout the year, operates the Tundra Inn. One thing visitors to Churchill should know is that the town has nothing resembling a luxury lodging. Most accommodations, like the Tundra Inn, have basic facilities for travelers who are spending most of their time adventuring outdoors.
Facilities and Services
The Tundra Inn’s lobby lounge is the property’s living room, with overstuffed couches and chairs for hanging out.
Adjacent to the lounge is a small kitchen, stocked with coffee, tea, and self-service breakfast items — cereal, yogurt, toast — that guests can prepare for themselves. During the polar bear spotting months of October and November, the inn offers a more expansive breakfast buffet.
Guest Rooms and Amenities
The Tundra Inn’s guest rooms cover the basics — decent beds, a comfortable lounge chair, a small desk — with amenities that include TVs, mini-fridges, and coffeemakers.
The bathrooms have been updated, and mine was wonderfully warm — a benefit when the outside temperatures were regularly below -15F.
The property does have free Wi-Fi, although I found the signal from my room to be frequently quite weak, even for simple online tasks like email. It was a little stronger in the lobby lounge.
The Tundra Inn is in the center of town, a short distance from Churchill’s small Itsanitaq Museum, which has an extensive collection of Inuit art.
Parks Canada runs a Visitor Centre in the town’s VIA Rail train station, with interesting exhibits about the region’s history as a fur trading post.
Depending on the season, you can arrange polar bear tours, whale-watching cruises, or snowshoeing adventures. On our Frontiers North excursion, we rode a Tundra Buggy across the frozen river for an afternoon of snowshoeing across some beautifully remote territory with expansive views over Hudson Bay.
A highlight of my Churchill stay was a winter-only experience — a meal at Dan’s Diner, a pop-up restaurant inside a Tundra Buggy that had been converted into a wonderfully secluded dining room.
This multi-course feast started with salt-roasted beets served with Swiss chard and wild rice, followed by parsnip soup topped with locally harvested currents. We continued with dishes like potato gnocchi with roasted oyster mushrooms, braised bison jowl, barley pilaf, and locally-caught pickerel, wrapping up with a sour cream panna cotta served with a spiced rhubarb compote, beet curd, and a crispy granola-like topping made from puffed Manitoba wild rice and grains.
Our meal was all the more remarkable, since it was prepared in a Tundra Buggy — essentially a big bus — and served in the frozen wilderness, where you’d think that sourcing such fresh ingredients would be impossible. Kudos to chefs Jared Fossen and Paul Eccles.
After dinner, we put on every article of warm clothing that we brought (plus more that the outfitter provided) and went out to spot the northern lights — an amazing finish to a one-of-a-kind evening.
Many guests stay at the Tundra Inn as part of a multi-day adventure package, but throughout most of the year, guests can book individually. Double rates start at CAD$155 per night in the off-season, $185/night in July and August, and $305/night during the peak polar bear spotting months of October and November. Check rates at TripAdvisor.
While you don’t choose the Tundra Inn for its extensive facilities or stylish guest rooms, it’s a comfortable base for some of Canada’s most spectacular outdoor adventures — in any season.
Hotel feature by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller. Northern lights photo © Mike Gere of Jasper Photo Tours. Other photos © Carolyn B. Heller. Frontiers North Adventures and Travel Manitoba arranged my stay at the Tundra Inn as part of a trip to Churchill and Winnipeg.