I have traveled to many places around the world but I really don’t know much about my own country. Most Canadians are a bit snobbish about the Prairies, claiming there is nothing to see.
I had no idea what to expect when Travel Manitoba invited me to come for a week and see beluga whales in Churchill, Manitoba but was really intrigued to go up north as I’ve never been more than 200km from the US border.
Eagerness aside, I was still apprehensive about Churchill. I would never describe myself as a nature lover. I don’t really camp. I have decided I hate hiking. I definitely do not seek out birds with binoculars.
Hayley, our Frontiers North guide, explained to us that there were no roads to Churchill and the town restaurants order food two weeks in advance so if we order caesar salad and it comes with iceberg lettuce that was just part of their reality. Fortunately caribou was available and I was happy to try it for the first time.
But Churchill has overwhelmed me in so many ways. The town is so small and many tourists would consider it underdeveloped for tourism sneering at their lack of supposed sophistication.
But this is where Churchill does things right.
Over the last year and a half I have visited so many towns that exist solely for tourism and become Disney-like characters of their once reality. Fishing villages become marred with 5-star hotels and beach cabanas that charge you ten times as much for that manufactured authentic experience.
I hate it.
But here in Churchill, instead of feeling like you are a parasite. You are a visitor in a town that already exists. There is no theme park to amuse you or 10-course tasting menu. There is an open-mic night at the local pub but that’s as developed as it gets.
I love it here.
It means locals don’t look at you with disdain, thinking you are a tick that burrows into their skin they have learned to accept. Here people seem genuinely happy to welcome you to their home.
There are no tourist restaurants and regular restaurants, there are only a handful of restaurants and everyone eats there.
Our first day we went out onto the water to see beluga whales. While Churchill is most famous for its polar bear population, thousands of beluga whales migrate here in the summer to feed, give birth and molt their skin.
As soon as we stopped the boat these gigantic creatures swam up to the boat, curious to see who was on their territory. It was incredible to see wildlife so close.
On the way back home in the boat we somehow caught ourselves next to a group of bulls barreling down the river after food, it was like a scene from Wild Kingdom. I cannot express the exhilaration to be caught up in this moment of nature, like you were an insider witnessing something really special.
Whether you call yourself a tourist or traveler we are all seeking this elusive authentic, slice of life experience, and it’s ironic that I had to come back to my own country to find it.
I am so excited for this next week, to explore land that I never thought I’d visit. I came home exhausted from travel but discovering my own country is amazing has rejuvenated me.