Nov 022014

Journey to Churchill

Journey to Churchill exhibit at Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park Zoo provides glimpse into northern landscapes and wildlife

(Updated April 2017)

The Journey to Churchill at Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba highlights the magic of the north. Along a ten-acre route, visitors view species in three distinct zones and experience a variety of landscapes. The exhibit includes signage, interactive displays, and audio-visual components reinforcing concepts of biodiversity, climate change, and conservation. The exhibit provides opportunities for research into animal behaviour as well as showcasing the North to the general public.

The town of Churchill, Manitoba is located along the western shore of Hudson’s Bay. Archaeological digs have uncovered evidence of human existence in the area dating back 4,000 years. Europeans built a fur-trading fort here in the late seventeenth century. Today Churchill is Canada’s only Arctic seaport. Tourism is a growing business as visitors come to see polar bears, beluga whales, and the northern lights. Spring and fall draw birders to the area to see the more than 250 species passing through on annual migrations.

Journey to Churchill tundra

Churchill is located at the transition zone between the Boreal Forest and the tundra. The Journey to Churchill exhibit recreates the landscape through the planting of shrubs, wildflowers and native grasses, changes in elevation, natural water barriers, and artificial rock formations.

snowy owls

Snowy Owls
The elongated shape of the Snowy Owl enclosure is designed to allow the owls to fly freely.




Muskox are not oxen, but are closely related to sheep and goats.

 Polar bear at Assiniboine Park Zoo Journey to Churchill exhibit

Polar bears are a main attraction of the Journey to Churchill Exhibit. There are three polar bear viewing areas – a glass window looking into the polar bear open field area, a glass window inside the Gateway to the Arctic building looking onto their water play area, and a 10-foot-wide underwater acrylic tunnel.

Polar Bear at Assiniboine Park Zoo Journey to Churchill exhibit

Polar bear viewed from underwater tunnel

Polar Bear at Assiniboine Park Zoo Journey to Churchill exhibit
There are currently 9 polar bears, orphans rescued from the north. Orphans Nanuq, which means polar bear in Inuit, and Siku, which is Inuit for ice, are the most recent additions.

Two of the most popular bears were returned to Toronto Zoo in the fall of 2016. Hudson, known as “Hudson the ham”, was a star attraction and the face of Journey of Churchill for many. He was born in 2011 to one of Toronto Zoo’s polar bears. She rejected her three cubs. Zoo staff intervened and rescued the two remaining cubs. One did not survive injuries. Hudson, born with a healthy appetite and strong will, survived. He became known as a ham because of his gallivanting around his enclosure and antics for guests. He was moved to Assiniboine Park Zoo in January 2013 when the Toronto Zoo needed to find a new home for him. Humphrey, Hudson’s little brother, came to the Assiniboine Park Zoo in the fall of 2015. 

Find more information on each of the bears here.

Polar Bear at Assiniboine Park Zoo Journey to Churchill exhibit

Feeding time

There are information signs posted throughout the exhibit and interactive displays providing information on the animals, the landscape, and the people of the North. You can find out what the animals prey on, who their predators are, what they eat in the wild, what they are fed in the zoo, and a variety of other facts. A 360-degree Aurora Borealis Theatre screens a short film about the Churchill area, its wildlife, and the four seasons through the eyes of an indigenous family, ending with a fabulous Northern Lights display. I recommend taking a few minutes to watch it.

Here are a few tidbits of information I picked up on my visit:

  • Muskox communicate by using scent from a gland near their eyes.
  • In the 1800s, muskox declined severely due to commercial overhunting. In 1917, Canada introduced laws to protect them. Although they are no longer found in Manitoba, the population has rebounded in other parts of their range.
  • Polar bears have a strong sense of smell and can detect a seal’s breathing hole from 1 kilometer away.
  • Beluga whales lack a dorsal fin. This enables them to swim freely beneath sea ice.
  • Abundance of caribou once meant life or death to the Dene people. Today hunting remains significant to the Dene culture.

Windows along one wall of the Tundra restaurant overlook the polar bear enclosure. Polar Playground is an indoor play area designed as an Arctic wonderland. Children may want to spend time in this area as part of their visits. Birthday party packages can also be arranged.

Journey to Churchill vegetation display

Vegetation display

Churchill town replica

A facade resembling the town of Churchill

northern transportation

On display are a variety of transportation methods important to the area:
All terrain vehicle, snowmobile, modern dogsled, motorboat, kayak

bear trap

Churchill residents have learned to live with and respect polar bears, but
occasionally a wandering polar bear poses risk to its citizens.
A bear trap, such as the one in the photo, is baited with smelly seal meat.
When the bear tugs on the bait, the door closes behind him and he can now be moved or sedated safely.

air and rail

Air and rail transportation have played an important role in Churchill’s development.

There are no roads into Churchill. Primary transportation is by air or rail. The Journey to Churchill exhibit offers people who may never have the chance to visit Churchill an opportunity to gain appreciation for its landscape and life. However, the portrayal is so intriguing you may want more and may be inspired to plan your own trip to Churchill.

Churchill weather station
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  23 Responses to “Journey to Churchill”

  1. It is good that you do not have to travel the whole world in order to learn about it! This park looks like a good alternative for many people to discover the beauty of the world.

  2. Although hard to get to, looks like a great place to enjoy nature!

  3. I’ve never heard of Churchill! Other than the man, of course, but I love these pictures Donna! This looks like a great and unusal get-away. Particularly in that the only way in is by air or rail. Thanks for introducing us to this!

  4. I have long wanted to go to Churchill to see the polar bears in the wild. Thanks for sharing this exhibit!

    • I’d like to see the polar bears at Churchill too. How close, I’m not sure. But, after seeing this exhibit, I realize there is likely a lot than just polar bears to see in Churchill, although polar bears and whales remain the prime attractions.

  5. I had not idea that you can’t get to Churchill by road! I bet it would be a great train trip. I’d love to see the bears sometime.

  6. I’ve been to Churchill, and it is amazing to see the polar bears in their natural habitat. I also saw a lovely white arctic fox when I was there. This zoo exhibit looks like a good. one.

    • It would be amazing to see the polar bears in their natural habitat. I think the zoo exhibit is well done, but I haven’t been to Churchill to compare and assess how well it portrays the area.

  7. I would definitely love to get to Churchill to see polar bears in the wild. I loved your interesting snippets of information too 🙂

  8. It looks like you have to work a little bit to get to Churchill but appears to be well worth the effort! And the area offers so many things to see including one of my “bucket list items,” the northern lights, in additions to all of the fascinating creatures. The more posts of yours that I read, the more I feel an urge to say “Canada, here we come!”

    • The northern lights can be spectacular. I’ve seen them a few times – there are sometimes visible in southern Manitoba. I imagine they are more spectacular the farther north you get. And more frequent.

  9. Oh my goodness Donna how do you always manage to find such interesting things to show us and tell us about? I love tagging along with you on your outings!

  10. Those are some nice pictures. Churchill looks nice.

  11. All I could think of was Winston! Thank you for introducing me to another city I have never heard of! I go on a wonderful journey with you every week.

  12. […] the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and watching polar bears from the underwater tunnel at the Journey to Churchill exhibit at the Assiniboine Zoo. Other Manitoba experiences include a popular folk festival, a […]

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