The Hudson Bay stretches across 316,000 square miles (819,000 sq km), a massive body of salt water carved into eastern and central Canada that spends half the year frozen over. The bay is fed by freshwater rivers and snowmelt, as well as saltwater from the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, and the result is a nutrient-rich marine ecosystem that attracts beluga whales, polar bears, and many migratory bird species. The first European explorers arrived in 1610, and the fur trade thrived here in the centuries that followed. Though Inuit peoples lived on its shores for millennia, today there are few human inhabitants outside frontier towns like Churchill.
The capital of Manitoba, Winnipeg is poised at the confluence of two rivers and once played an important role in moving merchandise—from furs to grain—across the continent. Today the city is full of historic architecture in its frontier homes and rail depots, and its cultural scene is world-renowned.
Set on the southwest coast of the Hudson Bay, the tiny town of Churchill was first settled in the late 1600s when the Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading post nearby. A number of defensive sites, including the 18th-century Prince of Wales Fort and the ruins of Cape Merry, attest to the area’s role in the fur trade. Along with these sites, the town’s Eskimo Museum is a simple but intriguing tribute to the culture of the region.
Both lodges are located on the coastal tundra at the edge of the Hudson Bay—Seal River Heritage Lodge is just north of Churchill, and Nanuk is on the southern shores. While in the depths of winter this area is invariably frozen, snow-covered, and home only to the hardiest creatures, life blooms here in the summer and fall months. Fireweed turns the landscape fuschia and unusual arctic flora grow in the bogs left by snowmelt. In early summer, polar bears come ashore and spend the warmer season roaming through the grasses and on the shore. About 100 bird species can be spotted, including ptarmigans, Smith’s longspurs, and long-tailed jaegers.
Beluga whales migrate to the shallow waters of the Seal River estuary every summer to breed. At the height of the season, thousands can be seen lolling and swimming in the waters. Other wildlife include caribou, colored and arctic fox, wolves, moose, and a quirky ground squirrel called a sik sik.
While the lodges are far from towns or villages, human presence in the region does go back some 4,000 years, and the Cree, a First Nations tribe, still have communities in the region. Evidence of pre-Inuit sites has been found near Churchill, and preliminary archaeological digs are also taking place within a few miles of Seal River Heritage Lodge. South of Nanuk Lodge, York Factory still stands, a relic of the fur trade that thrived here for some 250 years, and is now a national historic site.
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