Finding Our Way North

Here on the internet, time and space get crunched, so in back-to-back posts we’re going from the heat of Las Vegas to the icy temperatures of northern Manitoba.  You’d better bundle up.

In planning FEAST, one of our most difficult tasks was figuring out how to get to Nunavut.  While we’d originally intended to visit Iqaluit (the territory’s capital) from Ottawa, we abandoned that plan both for logistical and financial reasons; it’s an expensive trip, and after four and a half months on the road, our change bucket was getting low.

Our dear friends at Travel Manitoba, however, proposed this: on our way back from Newfoundland, we should park our car in Winnipeg, ride the VIA Rail train up to Churchill, and fly from Churchill to Rankin Inlet, a town in southern Nunavut on the western shore of the Hudson Bay. 

When VIA Rail offered to donate our train tickets and Calm Air gave us a discount on the flight, it all (unbelievably) fell into place.  It’s a strange feeling to have a wildly far-fetched plan actually come to fruition.

My friend Heidi asked her relatives in Winnipeg if someone could keep our car while we were gone, and her Aunty Lorna and Uncle Andrew stepped right up.  They took us in both before and after our northern adventures, and treated us like family.

So, after Newfoundland, we made our way back to Winnipeg, where winter was moving in!  The negative temperatures literally shocked our skin, and made us thankful for the winter clothes loaned to us by Jenessa and Ian, friends of Dana’s who'd lived in Iqaluit for several years. 

I’m not entirely sure what we would have done without this winter gear - particularly the Canada Goose down coats – but I know it wouldn’t have been pretty.  Before that, our plan had been to find some cheap 'new' jackets at Value Village.  Oh my, our ignorant souls.  

Andrew and Lorna packed us snacks for our journey north (including Lorna’s amazing homemade farmer sausage buns, adorably called ‘meat buns’), and in mid-November we boarded the train to Churchill.

At first, we thought we’d be bored by a 48-hour train journey.  We’d become accustomed to constant roaming, and there are few places you can ‘explore’ on a moving train.  Funnily enough, by the time we reached Churchill, we were wishing the trip was twice as long. 

Neither of us had realized how much we needed a break from the internet, and our own self-inflicted work schedule.  We found peace in our simple routine of moving between the cabin and dining car, talking, watching movies, reading, and staring out at the ever-changing landscape.  Somehow, the time went by too fast!

Even sleeping on the train was a special experience. 

In the evenings, our room attendant would come by to transform our cabin, Inspector Gadget-style, into a bedroom.  A bed pulled out from the wall, the couch turned into another, and a third DESCENDED FROM THE CEILING.  We didn’t even need that one, but he showed us anyway, just to see our jaws drop in wonder.

Tucked neatly into our beds, we were rocked to sleep as the train moved slowly through the night.  The first morning, we awoke to see the world transformed into a pristine white landscape.  The further north we went, the shrubbier the trees became, all bent in one direction with their backs to the wind.

We got off when the train stopped in Thompson, and trudged through deepening snow into town. 

There, we bought ourselves a bottle of wine for the evening, which we enjoyed with our second (huge!) bag of meat buns from Lorna.  We could not have been more content, and by the time we reached Churchill the next morning, we were train devotees.  

While Winnipeg had been heading into the cold season, winter had fully descended on Churchill by this point.  Hoods up and gloves on, we left the station on an intensely bright morning, and came across this little guy on the town’s main stretch. 

Snowmobiles are the transportation of choice, and they zipped past us as we found our way to our bed and breakfast.

When we’d first planned on going to Churchill, we put up a post on our blog asking if anyone had connections there.  We were hoping to find a friend of a friend’s floor to sleep on, and received all kinds of lovely responses right away.  One of those emails was from Lynn and Gord Martens, who wrote and offered us a place at their Bear’s Den B&B.  Just like that. 

They could not have been more wonderful hosts, and we were so grateful to settle into their warm home while in Churchill.    


Coming up next: muskox for dinner, and our Wildly Idiotic Tourist Moment.  


*Thank you SO MUCH to VIA Rail for help with this trip - we literally couldn't have done it without you!