Polar bear in fireweed - Photo Credit: Dennis Fast
Churchill Wild’s remote polar bear ecolodges on the Hudson Bay Coast were featured in the Financial Post as “the” cool adventure vacation spots for viewing polar bears, swimming with beluga whales and enjoying culinary delights! The article, entitled, At their leisure, also talks about where people are spending their money on holidays and includes vacation ideas from Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
Below are a few excerpts of what the Financial Post had to say about Churchill Wild.
“Roughing it in style is the vacation trend du jour. At the Seal River Heritage eco-lodge on the Hudson Bay Coast, Manitoba’s happy few explore the depths of nature by day in one of the planet’s most rugged environments. Then it’s nice nights with gourmet fare and proper drinks in a chic wilderness outpost.”
“It takes time – and money – to get there. After a flight to Churchill, it’s a 30-minute transfer by Turbo beaver float plane to the 12-room hand-made lodge completely lost in the tundra. Remote yes, but animal-wise, this is where the action is. Stalk polar bears near the Seal River estuary or swim or snorkel with the belugas, then come back to the lodge to embark on a culinary adventure.”
“The gourmet fare prepared by Helen Webber, matriarch of the foodie family who own the lodge, makes the 100-mile diet seem so south of the 49th parallel. Almond-crusted lake trout, slow-roasted barbeque caribou sandwiches and cranberry cake with warm butter sauce, are examples of her dinners sourced from within walking distance. Guests have been so impressed with the food that they insisted Ms. Webber do a cookbook. Her Blueberries and Polar Bears cookbook was the first of what would become a series and a Canadian bestseller.”
We visited Seal River Heritage Lodge on Churchill Wild’s Great Ice Bear polar bear tour at the end of October 2009. I have always had a huge fascination with polar bears and was extremely excited about visiting the Seal River area in search of polar bears. I tried not to get my expectations too high however, telling myself that we might only get a distant glimpse of a bear.
How wrong I was!
As soon as our plane touched down at Seal River, we could see several bears around us. Within an hour, there were two bears play-fighting a few feet from the front door of the lodge – amazing! I felt like I had died and gone to wildlife heaven!
We were lucky to get a mixture of conditions – the weather was dry and bright when we first arrived, but we then had plenty of snow and at one point the temperature cooled down to -27 degrees.
High and Mighty - Photo Credit: Claire Wilson
Our whole three days at the lodge were jam-packed with photo opportunities. Terry and Andy, our friendly and knowledgeable guides, were ready to take us out for hikes at any opportunity, and we saw plenty of bears every time we ventured outside. Everyone learned a great deal about these majestic animals and their environment, and every day we all came back with full memory cards on our cameras. My husband Pete and I took about 3000 photographs between us!
I was absolutely stunned when I recently received an e-mail advising me that three of my entries had made it into the semi finals!
One photograph entitled “High and Mighty” (Semi-Finalist in the Category Animal Behaviour: Mammals) was taken on our first full day at Seal River when we went for a long group hike. The two bears seemed to want to perform for the cameras!
Clash of the Titans - Photo Credit: Claire Wilson
I shot “On The Rocks” (Semi-Finalist for the Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife) the next day, literally feet from the lodge. And the third photograph I submitted, “Clash of the Titans” (also a Semi-Finalist in the Category Animal Behaviour: Mammals) was taken on our last morning at Seal River Heritage Lodge just a few minutes before we had too, reluctantly, leave this wonderful location.
We had such a great time with Churchill Wild! I can’t wait to return for our next adventure!
Churchill Wild Polar Bear Photo Safari host Dennis Fast participates in international photo competition
Friday, 28 May, 2010 00:35Written by Polar Bears with Pens
Professional photographer Dennis Fast is building an international reputation for himself and Churchill Wild is proud to count him among those who are responsible for our success. Dennis was recently selected to be one of 20 photographers in a contest organized by the The Images for Conservation Fund (ICF), which offers prize money of $180,000 and world-wide recognition to the participants.
After almost a decade of being our unofficial resident photographer Dennis now hosts many of our Polar Bear Photo Safari tours which run in October and November. If you take a look around the Churchill Wild Web site many of the beautiful wildlife and landscape photographs are his work.
by Elaine Peters
(This article orginally appeared in, and is reprinted courtesy of, The Carillon Newspaper – May 13, 2010)
It is possible that photographer Dennis Fast could receive recognition for his photography on a world scale. He was accepted into a month-long photo competition in Texas, competing against 19 other professional photographers representing eight countries: USA, Canada, Mexico, France, Holland, Italy, and Argentina. The only other Canadian was from Quebec.
The first step was to be accepted as one of the contestants. The deadline was February, and that had come and gone. But when a couple of contestants dropped out, Dennis was phoned. He felt a little like he came in through the back door. Technically, in order to be considered professional, contestants were supposed to receive 80 percent of their income from photography. That was not the case with Dennis, yet when he told them that he had a couple of books out and had done some other work, that was good enough. He was in.
Dennis Fast with wife Frieda. Ready for their photographic adventure!
On March 12, 2010 Dennis and Frieda Fast set out on their great adventure. One week before the competition started, there was a big event where all the contestants were gathered together. Photographers were paired with landowners by a draw from a camera bag. Once on the 90,000 acre ranch, Dennis had from April 1-30 to shoot with Frieda as his official assistant. The pressure was on. The weather was cool, 24-25 degrees Celsius instead of the usual 35-37 degrees.
When intermittent rains destroyed the roads on the ranch for ten days, the pressure increased. One 4X4 left foot-deep ruts. Eventually Dennis and Frieda were given the use of an ATV so that they could resume their photography. The silver lining to this cloud was that the rain brought out creatures that would not otherwise be seen, for example, toads only come out after rain.
The Images for Conservation Fund (ICF) was running this competition for the third time. The first competition was in 2006 and there were 100 contestants. By now it had been narrowed to 20.
The competition takes place every second year in the Rio Grande area near Laredo, Texas, near the Mexican border. The goal is that ranchers would become open to other uses of their land besides hunting, with the photos from the competition being used to promote photography tourism. One hundred and eighty thousand dollars in prize money is on the table. The top prize is $80,000 to be split 50/50 with the ranch owner whose land the photographs were taken on. This year’s winning photos will be published in a book.
The winners will be announced July 10, 2010. Before then Dennis has to sift through 175,000 photographs and choose the best ones to submit. He can only submit 40: ten of birds, ten of mammals, ten of insects and ten of reptiles.
Wish to see Polar Bears in Churchill comes true thanks to Make-A-Wish Foundation and Churchill Wild
Wednesday, 18 November, 2009 16:34Written by Polar Bears with Pens
The 7-hour journey begins tomorrow at 5 a.m. where we make our way to LAX for our flight to Winnipeg. After an overnight in Winnipeg we catch a short flight to Churchill, Canada (population 900). The next morning we will take a turbo beaver plane to Seal River Lodge, which is located in the wilderness of the Northern Manitoba Tundra. Seal River is a natural habitat for wildlife, in particular the Polar Bears.
POLAR BEAR CAPITOL OF THE WORLD
We now find ourselves in Churchill, Manitoba a small town 800 miles north of Winnipeg, in the frozen sub-arctic tundra. Its latitude is 57 degrees north. This small community has one main street, no traffic lights, bill boards, only one paved road, and no cell phone towers. We got off the 26-passenger plane, where we were greeted by Rose who works for Seal River in Churchill. Rose organizes guests, as wall as supplies for the lodge. She took us to Helen Webber’s home where we would be staying while in Churchill.
After we met Helen, saw our rooms and got cleaned up, we visited Brenda at the Northern Images arts shops. This particular store is part of a co-op program across northern Canada that allows the northern and local goods to be showcased. Brenda explained to us the native ways of life such as trapping, and living in the North. She then showed us many of the clothing items that are still used today. Some of these items include seal skin coats for the children, Caribou fur outer shoes, and a special infant-carrying jacket.
Eye to eye with the mighty Polar Bear
After we met with Brenda we walked down the street to dinner at the Northern Nights Hotel and Restaurant. Being a remote town in the middle of nowhere, everything is flown in, delivered by train, caught or picked off the land. Most of the meat up here is fish, Snow Geese, or Caribou which can all be found right outside. All the restaurant menus depend on what is available at the time of year.
The next day we got up and had breakfast with Helen, who was renamed the “President of Churchill” by my father. Being an established chef with lots of cookbooks, Helen’s breakfast was amazing. Afterwards, Rose came to pick us up to go to the tundra buggy docking station. We went over safety instructions and then headed off to see some Polar Bears!
Early the next morning we were driven to the airport. We quickly boarded the small 8-passenger turbo beaver and flew for about 28 minutes. While flying we spotted both Caribou and Polar Bears. We then landed on the short gravel runway and were at Seal River Lodge. Just as we were taking off our coats and boots, we were greeted by an unexpected visitor; a huge Polar Bear!! It came right up against one of the windows in the main living room, not even two feet from where I was standing!!! The guides were telling us that he usually came around when the plane flew in and was given the name Bob and the role of the greeting committee.
After the excitement we waited for the other people to arrive, had lunch, and then it was out into the wild. We hiked for two hours and saw five bears as well as ptarmigans (birds), snow buntings (birds), a snowy owl, and an arctic hare.
ARCTIC EXPLORER HOME AT LAST
We have gone from -20 degrees to +85. I had so much fun but I’m happy to be home. Although I am upset to be away from the cute but not too cuddly Polar Bears. I learnt so much about all the animals, the natives and the culture of the north. It was great to learn so much from the locals too. One thing I love about Churchill and Seal River is that the people are so consciences of their environment and go out of their way to be very eco friendly. It’s all about the animals. I know we could learn one or two things from them!
Since inception in 1980, Make-A-Wish® has helped make over 225,000 wishes come true for children around the world. Make-A-Wish® in Canada consists of eight regional Chapters and the Canada Office, which is located in Toronto, Ontario. We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.