Northern Journal, Canada, days 0 and 1: “Churchill, the polar bear capital of the world. I think I'm in heaven”

Rareș Beșliu, a photographer in love with nature and animal life, starts the photographic project North of words, a parallel between the Arctic regions and the impact of climate change felt in Romania. He went on a series of expeditions to the coldest areas of the Planet – Svalbard, Greenland, the Canadian Arctic Archipelago – and his stories and photos, collected under the Jurnal de Nord hat, will be constantly published on and in ” Weekend Truth”.

In Churchill, the bears roam like in the park. PHOTO: Rareș Beșliu

Days 0 and 1 —> December 2 and 3

Do you remember from the previous diary how difficult it was to get to Greenland, due to canceled flights (and boarding gate number 13, obviously)? Well, even though Canada is a long way away, I was lucky enough to get here without incident. In fact, everything was so smooth, that I'm a little sorry because I don't have much to tell in the diary.

The first stop was in Amsterdam, then Toronto, and the next in Winnipeg. Although it is a country where both English and French are spoken, with most people I understood more through signs. In the last 60 years, Canada's population has doubled, and this is largely due to the high percentage of immigration. What I really mean is that it's hard for me to eat healthy, the way my stomach needs it. And as if it's not enough that they have bad food (like in America, by the way), language is also a barrier. It seems to me that all the languages ​​of the earth are spoken and less and less English. Even so, with the waiter's Indian accent, I learned what sunny-side-up eggs are. I ate them with gusto and then drank water from the carafe placed on the table for free, available to the customers. It seems that here, as in Iceland or Norway, people are used to drinking water from the tap – a habit full of benefits for us and for nature, which I have learned since I see the world with others eyes, thanks to La NORD of words.

The frozen trees in Churchill.  PHOTO: Rareș Beșliu

The frozen trees in Churchill. PHOTO: Rareș Beșliu

During the short time I spent in Winnipeg, I stopped by a souvenir shop. Nothing interesting, until I flipped through a pamphlet that I opened fixed to the page where the story of Winnie-the-Pooh was written. You have only one choice to guess where his name comes from! This is how my story with bears in Canada begins…

…after about two and a half hours of flight, I landed in Churchill with the only airline that goes this far, Calm Air. There are no roads, so if you are sick of flying, there is only the train option (you arrive after two nights and two days).

Located just below the Arctic Circle, Churchill is a small isolated town in northern Canada, the nearest settlement being 400 kilometers away. It sits at the intersection of three ecoregions: the boreal forest to the south, the tundra to the northwest, and Hudson Bay to the north (if you feel like reading Wikipedia, well, that's where I got my info from). In summer, it is nicknamed the “beluga capital of the world”. Winter becomes the “polar bear capital of the world”. I think I'm in heaven.

From beluga to polar bear.  PHOTO: Rareș Beșliu

From beluga to polar bear. PHOTO: Rareș Beșliu

I didn't even get to the accommodation well and found out that a bear had wandered into town this morning. Excited, but with chills running down my spine, I asked when the last attack was in the area. I was told that in 2013, on Halloween. It's a holiday I don't quite understand, even less here where no one walks the streets at night and during the day people are armed and car doors are left unlocked so they can get in quickly in case of emergency (so it also happens in Svalbard, and rightly so, that thieves are not more dangerous than bears). It is then explained to me that all the children are supervised, escorted by the police and that a helicopter flies over the area every day since October 31st. To me, Halloween still doesn't make sense here, but what right do I have against the holidays?

We landed a few hours before dusk so it was a very short day. But I had time to notice the landscape, much more spectacular than I had imagined. Or maybe it's the lack of expectations again? Anyway, it's cool! The blizzard draws the expanses with snow and paints abstract shapes on the large, anthracite gray rocks. I've already seen more trees than in Svalbard and Iceland combined, and it makes nature look complete, even if there's a great expanse of white around. More than once I passed fir trees with branches on one side. I don't know what's up with them, but I promise to look into it. Would it be because of the wind, which I was hoping to get rid of after three weeks in Iceland? It looks like I just jumped from the lake to the well, here is the mother of the wind.

The bay hasn't frozen over yet, but the frost looks promising. It snowed timidly and I realized that it was the first flakes of this year. I may have been to the North Pole and Greenland, but there is no snow in the summer either, and besides, there are areas almost as arid as the desert, with little precipitation. I enjoyed the snow as a child and I think what are the chances of seeing it in Romania. It has eluded us quite a bit in recent years…

A city full of graffiti.  PHOTO: Rareș Beșliu

A city full of graffiti. PHOTO: Rareș Beșliu

As for the small town, I expected it to look the same as Longyearbyen, but it's much nicer and cozier, more welcoming. Maybe the snow also contributes to the fairytale atmosphere (I was in Svalbard in the summer), but also the murals you see at every step (made in 2017 by 18 artists from all over the world). I would like to have more projects like this – with a little effort, you can change the atmosphere of the place and make people happy. In Brezoi I saw mountains and fir trees painted on blocks and then I realized how a sad city can be cheered up.

After the short walk over the day, in which I realized that this place has much more to offer than I thought, we went to dinner. I met my colleagues: Bill and his wife, Jerrilyn (an elderly couple from the USA with impressive stories from all over the world), Aimée from New York (who is in Churchill for the third time) and James, our guide and the ranger who he'll watch our backs (literally). As Americans are very sociable and talkative, it was not difficult to talk about anything from the first meeting. I told them that in Romania, their bear is called Fram and I learned that Winnie the Pooh comes from Winnipeg, and they told me that Teddy Bear is from Theodor Roosevelt. History says that the president was out hunting, but when the black bear appeared, he refused to shoot it. Hearing this, a store owner in New York created a teddy bear named after him.

Photographer Rareș Beșliu and several other "beasts" from Churchill

Photographer Rareș Beșliu and several other “beasts” from Churchill

Although the restaurant is not far from the accommodation, we traveled by car, as everyone does here. I don't think I'll have the necessary time nor the opportunity to say that I went “on foot” through Churchill. When we got home, we were greeted by the dogs barking in unison. They saw the headlights through the window and camped over us with all the love and affection as if we were the masters. I would love to know their language and ask them what “show” they watched today? Of course, the window in the living room, as big as the entire wall, is like a television for them. I sit all day perched on the couch and watch passers-by. Not infrequently, passers-by have white fur. Some have bushy tails, others have big ears or are as heavy as a car.

I went to sleep thinking that I am the first Romanian in Churchill – or, at least, none of the locals and guides here have ever met another. It may sound arrogant, but it felt good to be a “pioneer”.