Flipping a track switch

Flipping a track switch

There are only two ways to get to Churchill, by air, or by train. If you’re on a timeline and a wimp, you could fly up from Winnipeg… But if you’re hardcore and love the journey as much as you love a destination, go by train. Really, it’s a better story.

So, what is it like travelling from Winnipeg to Churchill with VIA Rail?

The train to Churchill runs twice a week from Winnipeg, Tuesdays and Sundays. Sample one way *fares:

  • Economy seat escape fare $170
  • Economy seat regular fare $185
  • Upper berth $513
  • Lower berth $603
  • Cabin for one $773

*fares are an estimate and subject to change based on season etc.

Classes

Economy – Seats are large and comfortable, and has an outlet for electronics (which you’ll probably want). Food is available for sale in the service car, but it is best to bring your own. At night the seats recline. If they train is not busy try sitting in one of the four seat sections and reclining all the seats. That way it’s almost like a bed!

Upper or Lower Berth – By day this area of sleeper class is a couch, at night the couch pulls out to a bed, and another bed is lowered from the ceiling creating a bunk bed. Curtains are used for privacy from passengers walking to either their cabin, or to the dining car.  Linens, pillows, and a shower kit are included in this class.

Cabin for One – Built to be cozy, the cabin for one is not a good idea for those who are claustrophobic. During the day this cabin (which has a curtain for a door) has a single seat, as well as a toilet (which is made to look like a seat). At night the bed is either lowered down, or pulled out from the wall. The bed is comfy, but it also covers the toilet so you’ll need to use the bathroom down the hall. Linens, pillows, a shower kit, and all meals are included in this class.

Cabin for Two – This is the more popular sleeper class choice. By day the cabin has two leather chairs, and by night two beds (a lower and upper). Cabins have a bathroom with a toilet. Each cabin also comes with a vanity and sink. Linens, pillows, a shower kit, and all meals are included in this class.

Cabin for Three – This the perfect cabin for a family or a group of friends. The cabin for three has a couch and chair during the day, and three beds at night. There is a bathroom with a toilet, as well as a vanity and sink. Linens, pillows, a shower kit, and all meals are included in this class.

Food

The train ride from Winnipeg to Churchill takes two days and although you can purchase food on the train, it’s best to bring your own. Food on the train can be expensive, and if the train is busy there is a chance they may run out. Bring non-perishable snacks, water, etc. Food is not including on the journey for sleeping class passengers.

Tip: If the train is running on time you’ll have around a 5 hour stop in The Pas. A good chance to stock up on goodies if you’re running low. 

Heat Slows

In summer the train travel in Manitoba is subject to what they call ‘heat slows’. When the weather gets hot the tracks expand, which means the trains have to slow down. During these times the train can go as slow as 50km/hr. Great for sightseeing, but they can cause the train to be late, so keep this in mind when buying water and snacks for the journey.

Smoke Breaks

Smoking onboard any passenger train is illegal in Canada. If you’re a smoker, be smart and bring nicotine patches with you! There are several stops along the route to Churchill so you will have opportunities to get out and smoke from time to time.

The Journey

The train ride from Winnipeg to Churchill is gorgeous, especially after The Pas. The train travels through plains, boreal forest, and finally through permafrost and arctic tundra. In other words, it is drop dead gorgeous and you’ll want to enjoy the scenery and take photos along the way.

Tip: This train also acts as a commuter train, so if you’re in economy class there is always activity no matter what time of day or night. Bring ear plugs & a sleep mask with you for at night. And make friends during the day!

What to Pack

Churchill is in northern Manitoba, just off the Hudson Bay. The weather in Churchill can change very quickly, and ‘warm’ weather doesn’t last. Be sure you pack the following (no matter what time of year):

  • Thermal long sleeve shirts
  • Long pants
  • Wool socks
  • A fleece
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Scarf and gloves
  • Warm down jacket (yes, you can sometimes need this in summer!)
  • Camera and extra battery
  • Nicotine patches if you’re a smoker (for the train ride)
  • A big book
  • Swimsuit if you’ll be swimming or kayaking with Beluga Whales

Staying Connected

I’m not 100% sure why one would want to stay totally connected; unless you are dying to share photos and brag! Wi-Fi is generally available in restaurants like Gypsy’s, and most of the hotels in town. If you have a cell phone, stop by an MTS provider in Winnipeg to purchase a SIM card before the journey. MTS is the ONLY service provider that works in Churchill.

Where to Stay

Inside restaurant at Lazy Bear Lodge

Inside restaurant at Lazy Bear Lodge

Churchill may be small, but there are no shortage of places to stay! After all, tourism is a big part of the economy. That being said the room rates can spike by an extra $100 during Polar Bear season (Peak Season).

Bear Country Inn – Also near the train station the Bear Country Inn is small and cozy. Rooms are basic with comfy beds, and a desk and TV. The inn has a cafeteria and a gift shop.

Blue Sky Bed & Sled – Run by Gerald & Jenafor, the Blue Sky Bed & Sled is one of the best bed & breakfast options in Churchill. This is truly a home away from home, and Gerald is one of the best guides in northern Manitoba!

Lazy Bear Lodge – Located on the main street towards the edge of town, the Lazy Bear Lodge is everything you think a lodge should be. It’s made with lodges, features the heads of dead animals on the walls, has a big warm fireplace, and a restaurant. Rooms are sparse, but cozy. The food in the restaurant is delicious, but a little pricey compared to other places in town.  Lazy Bear Lodge runs activities in summer and winter, but all activities are subject to weather conditions. This is the town’s ‘luxe’ accommodation.

Polar Inn & Suites – A 5 min walk from the train station the Polar Inn & Suites offers a microwave, TV, and free coffee in every room. The reception is open 24 hours, and wi-fi is available throughout the inn.

Tundra Inn – Located near the train station, the Tundra Inn is also home to the Tundra Pub, a poplar night spot with locals and travellers. Rooms are cozy, the food at the pub is pretty good and surprisingly affordable.

Tundra House Hostel – This would be the only hostel in Churchill so if you’re looking for cheap-ish accommodations Tundra House Hostel is it. The hostel has a full kitchen, a cozy common room, and wi-fi! Rooms are only available December to September (not during Polar Bear season in October & November).

Things to See & Do

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Gypsy’s Bakery – okay, this is more a place to eat. Gypsy’s Bakery is THE hottest restaurant in town. No, really! Gypsy’s has delicious pastries, weekly specials (like chinese food), hamburgers, hot dogs, beer. Pretty much everything. Wi-fi is available (just ask). I highly recommend buying some sandwiches and goodies here for the train ride back to Winnipeg.

Post Office – not only is the post office the place for mailing postcards, but it’s also the only place in town (and Canada) to get a special polar bear passport stamp. Score!

Dog Sledding – There are quite a few places in Churchill but my recommendation is Blue Sky Mush. Gerald is a top guide, has a healthy dog sledding team, and treats his dogs very well. You cannot find a more ethical choice.

Swimming and Kayaking with Beluga Whales – Lazy Bear Lodge offers several beluga whale excursions in July & August. You can book tours directly through them, but know that all tours are subject to weather.

Whale Watching Tour – In July and early August the Churchill River is FULL of Beluga Whales (by the thousands) and they are by far the friendliest whales on the planet. Sea North Tours offers zodiac whale watching tours. A zodiac is the best way to experience the Belugas, aside from snorkelling with the whales.

Churchill Northern Studies Centre – if you’re a science geek than a volunteer position with Churchill Northern Studies Centre may be the thing for you. As a volunteer you will work 36hrs a week and in exchange you will be given room and meals at the centre. If being a volunteer is not your thing, there are several educational programs that involve stays at the centre.

Great White Bear Tours – during Polar Bear season everyone wants to climb aboard a tundra buggy and go in search of Polar Bears. Great White Bear Tours are $400 per person, and you will be taken 23 miles from town to view the bears in their natural habitat. Children under 8 are not permitted on the tours.

Polar Bear Safety Tips

Polar Bear swimming in Churchill

Polar Bear swimming in Churchill

Churchill is known as the Polar Bear capital of the world for a reason. There are a lot of Polar Bears. While the majority of the bears are far from town during summer, some do stick around the edges of Churchill and have been known to wander through town at any time of day or night.

During Polar Bear season in October and November the number of Polar Bears on the edges of Churchill increase significantly as the bears wait for the ice to form on Hudson Bay so they can venture out for the winter.

Basically, Polar Bear encounters happen all year round and as such YOU need to be aware of a few things BEFORE you arrive in Churchill.

  • Polar Bears are vicious, far more vicious than grizzly, brown, and black bears.
  • NEVER look a Polar Bear in the eye
  • NEVER play dead in hopes that a Polar Bear will simply ‘toy’ with you and walk away. They won’t. They’ll tear you to pieces.
  • NEVER walk around the town of Churchill alone. Day or night. Take a taxi, or walk with someone carrying a gun.
  • NEVER walk among the rocks along the Hudson Bay. Bears can literally pop-up out of crevices in the rocks and there is no way you can out run a Polar Bear.
  • IFyou encounter a Polar Bear and he does not seem to be aware of you or concerned, stay calm, and walk away slowly. Never turn your back to the bear.
  • IF you are attacked by a Polar Bear DO NOT PLAY DEAD, fight back. Kick, punch, hit at the nose and eyes. Fight back with whatever you have on hand. This doesn’t mean you’ll survive, but you could.
  • IF you see a Polar Bear anywhere in Churchill CALL 204-675-2327 or 204-675-BEAR and report where you’ve seen it. This could save someone’s life, and the Polar Bear as well.

About The Author

I'm a travel writer and photographer who specializes in bespoke travel experiences. I write about boutique, savvy and cultural travel. My writing has been featured in Outpost Magazine, Travel + Escape, and UP! Magazine.

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5 Responses

  1. Craig

    I often pull up Google maps and zoom in on random places in the middle of nowhere and I always wonder what it would be like to visit that place. I have come across Churchill in my aimless map-surfing and after your post I am more interested than ever in visiting – especially by train! Seems like an adventurous place to visit

    Reply
  2. Frank

    Churchill is one of my dream destinations in Canada … maybe I’ll get to it next year after coming home from overseas!

    Reply
  3. Cjor

    Pamela,
    I’m a big fan of your posts and have used them on several trips.
    The photos are especially lovely.
    What photo software are you using? Lightroom? What filter?

    Thanks

    Reply

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