main image: Glacially polished banded coloured marble on Baffin Island. Ilkoo Anguikjuak of Clyde River in the distance on a cool, windy day. His early childhood was spent at his family’s camp just a few miles south on raised beaches at the end of Sam Ford Fiord. His folks harvested narwhales and seals from the sea and hunted caribou inland. Mountains and glaciers all round were set aside to focus on what the Inuit call Beautiful Rock.
Where: Northern Arctic territories in Northern Quebec
Best season: only trek friendly in the warmest summer months, June & July
Best sights: Snorkelling with Beluga Whales, spotting polar bears
Remember to bring: all weather gear, your own wet suit
Watch out for: the class V rapids on the Great Whale River – you will need proper rafting experience
Experience the spectacular cultural and natural diversity of life in Northern Canada, at the edge of the Arctic. The region surrounding Hudson’s Bay is mainly tundra – a rocky land home to a vast array of plant-life but few trees. The most famous inhabitants of the area are polar bears and beluga whales. Hudson’s Bay was once a prime area for the fur-trading interests of Britain and France.
Local native Cree and Inuit nations still hunt to survive, though these days they use high-powered rifles instead of harpoons and all terrain vehicles dominate the landscape instead of snow-sleds. Nonetheless, many of their native traditions, such as respect for the land, still survive.
Steve learns the ancient Inuit art of soapstone carving
– Rafting down grade IV rapids on the Great Whale River. These rapids have only been run once before our Trekker Steve Dunn plunged down them
– Learning how to make a traditional Cree teepee and cooking fresh trout Cree-style
– All terrain ride along the coast of the Belcher Islands to camp with the Inuit
– Arctic snorkeling with beluga whales
– Taking a helicopter flight over the tundra to spot polar bears
Our Journey Path
Trekker Steve Dunn begins his journey on the remote, pristine and thunderous Great Whale River in Northern Quebec, where he runs the Grand Canyon-sized rapids with native Cree guides. By following their customs and rituals, he learns about their spiritual connection to the land which is under threat from industrial development.
Steve then flies to the Belcher Islands in Hudson’s Bay. All terrain vehicles are the preferred mode of transport here, and Steve takes a journey along the crashing waves of the coast to stay at a traditional Inuit camp. He tastes Inuit delicacies, tries his voice at throat-singing and learns from Inuit Elders the ancient art of soapstone carving. Next, he journeys to the other side of Hudson’s Bay where he snorkels with the Beluga whales that converge each summer at the mouth of the Churchill River. He also travels by helicopter to spot polar bears waiting for the winter ice floes to arrive to take them back out to sea.
Steve spots a Beluga whale
The weather in Northern Canada can change dramatically in a short period of time during the summer months. Prepare for all conditions by bringing lots of layers and waterproof outerwear.
Make sure you’ve had some rafting training before you go down the Great Whale River. The rapids range from Class IV to a low Class V.
Alcohol is banned in Sanikiluaq on the Belcher Islands. It is illegal to bring it into the town, so be prepared for a sober visit.
Churchill is accessible by train and plane only. It’s a 36 hours train journey from Winnipeg, but the flight only takes two and a half hours.
You’ll need to bring your own dry-suit gear if you wish to snorkel with the whales. There are no dive shops in Churchill.
The best time of year to see whales is July and August. The best polar bear time is mid-October to mid-November.
Did You Know?
The Great Whale River is so powerful that the Quebec government wants to damn it to create hydro-electric power. The project was put on hold after protestors, including Robert Kennedy Jr. convinced New York state not to buy the power for environmental reasons.
The world’s largest caribou herd migrates across the Great Whale River. Ancient paths along the rivers banks mark their route, as do the shedded caribou antlers that can be found in the area.
Steve Dunn goes Arctic snorkeling in Churchill, Manatoba
The Cree nation has a tradition that every fish taken from the river must be kept for food, regardless of the size. It is considered disrespectful to fish for sport and put back what the river has offered you.
The Belcher Islands are the southernmost territory of Nunavut, Canada’s recently created Inuit territory. These islands have only been inhabited by “white people” since 1918.
Churchill Manitoba is called the “Polar Bear Capital of the World.” It’s the most accessible place in the world to view polar bears in the wild and it is also the best place to see Beluga whales.
Churchill has a ‘polar bear jail’, where wayward bears are kept if they are caught ambling into town. The bears are kept in the jail until October when the ice floes arrive to take them back out to their usual habitat.
The Treks in a Wild World crew was guided on the Great Whale River by:
Earth River Expeditions
180 Towpath Road
Accord, New York 12404
Tel: 1-800 643-2784
Tel: 1-914 626-2665
Tel: 1-914626-4423 (fax)
and by Jimmy and Vera George
Cree Nation of Whapmagoostui
While in the Belcher Islands the crew were guided by Bill Fraser of:
Qikiqtait Tour and Outfitting Company
P.O. Box 218, Sanikiluaq, Nunavut
Tel: 1 (867) 266 8623
Fax: 1 (867 266-8844
The crew went snorkeling with whales with:
Sea North Tours
Churchill, Manitoba ROB 0E0
Tel: (204) 675-2195
The Treks in a Wild World team was assisted by the tour operator:
173 Ragsdill Road
Winnipeg, Manitoba R2G 4C6
Tel: 1(204) 949-2050
Fax: 1(204) 663-6375
Toll Free in North America 1(800) 663-9832
For more information on the Belcher Islands and Nunavut contact:
P.O. Box 1450
Toll free in North America: 1 (800) 491-7910
Outside North America: 1(800) 979-6551
Fax: 1(800) 979-1261
For more information on Churchill contact:
7th Floor – 155 Carlton Street
Toll free in North America 1(800) 665-0040
Outside the US: 1(204) 945-3777
Fax 1(204) 948-2517
The Treks in a Wild World crew travelled to Churchill Manitoba with:
NT X0C 0G0
Tel: 1(867) 645-2992 or 1(204) 888-0100
Fax: 1 (867) 645-2330
While in Churchill they stayed at:
The Aurora Inn
PO Box 1030
Tel: (204) 675-2071
Fax: (204) 675-2875
The crew travelled with:
Tel: 1 800 361-2965 or 1 514 636-9445
In Sanikiluaq they stayed at:
The Treks in a Wild World crew stopped off in Montreal where they stayed at:
The Hilton Montreal Airport
12505 Cote de Liesse
Tel: (514) 631 2411
main image: By Mike Beauregard from Nunavut, Canada – Beautiful Rock, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23227321