This past week I was able to spend several days in Churchill, Manitoba. The remote northern community has long been a favorite for international visitors who have wanted to see polar bears or beluga whales in their nature habitat. For nature lovers, the opportunity to see the northern lights dance across the sky is another attraction.
Getting to Churchill isn’t always easy. While many fly into the remote community, I decided to take the train from Thompson as part of a larger northern visit. The distance between Thompson and Churchill is less than 300 kilometres but the train ride itself is a scheduled 16 hours, giving you an indication that it is not a fast-moving train! But the slow ride provided an opportunity to view the northern terrain and was a uniquely Manitoban and Canadian experience.
The opportunity to visit Churchill was partly an outreach opportunity during my time as Premier, but more about ensuring that when international travel is again allowed more freely and safely, that regular tourism is quickly returned to this community resting on the shores of Hudson Bay. The roots of Churchill date back even further than the 300 year-old stone fort that was established by the Hudson’s Bay Company, so it has survived many challenges, including more than a few rail line disruptions.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new challenge to Churchill. With millions of international tourism dollars being lost in Manitoba because of the pandemic, local attractions over the past 19 months have relied much more heavily on Manitobans or domestic travel from within Canada. Even with the border opening to vaccinated Americans, it doesn’t make up for the loss of the broader international travel market.
Part of my time in Churchill was about ensuring that international diplomats located in Canada are ready and excited to promote Churchill in their own countries when international travel begins to normalize. In my time as Deputy Premier, and now for a short time as Premier, one of the most common things I hear from foreign diplomats is the desire to visit and promote Churchill.
For many around the globe, Manitoba generally and Churchill specifically is known as the Polar Bear capital of the world. It is one of the reasons that I recently introduced legislation that would make the Polar Bear one of the official emblems of our province. It builds upon a common recognition of our great province. As we look to a future beyond the pandemic and the world begins to travel again, we need to continue to look at ways of promoting the many vibrant and amazing things there are to see in our own province. Churchill is one of the most unique places, not only in Manitoba, but in the world. It truly is a jewel in our own back yard.