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Posts Tagged ‘Seal River Lodge’

Churchill Wild celebrates 20th Anniversary! Thank You!

by Mike Reimer, Churchill Wild

Seal River Heritage Lodge 2013

Celebrating 20 years! Seal River Heritage Lodge 2013.

20 years? Say it isn’t so. Wow!

Seems like just yesterday we were flying north up the coast from Churchill to have a look at a couple of old tumbled down shacks near the mouth of the Seal River, with hopes of finding a spot for a polar bear lodge.

Dennis Fast shook his head in disbelief when he first spotted the site.

“You better buy it quick before Jeanne sees it!”

Seal River Lodge in 1993

What we saw from the plane in 1993!

Well, we made the plunge, and as they say, the rest is history.

The first few seasons were “interesting” to say the least, and thank goodness we had Jeanne’s parents Doug and Helen Webber backing the program with their years of experience in the fishing and hunting lodge business.

Our first summer (1993) was spent cleaning up the site and making the existing building habitable. It had been used previously as a whale research station and for some goose hunting, but had sat abandoned for many years. All the windows and doors had been knocked out by marauding polar bears; the swallows were nesting in the light fixtures; and the Arctic foxes had found it a convenient spot to get out of the wind for a bathroom break.

With much elbow grease, lots of paint, new beds, plumbing, electrical, roofing and some new doors and windows, we eventually had a place to call home. Of course, just to remind us of whose turf we were on, a curious polar bear smashed out one of the new windows in the first week before we had a chance to get some bars up.

That first season was not a real money maker to say the least, with only one client, but the adventure level was very high. We had an endless supply of new routes and trails to explore and establish!

Like most small businesses, Jeanne and I ran the whole show for a few seasons while we got our feet under us. Jeanne was chef/housekeeper/bear guard/hostess/expeditor/berry picker (with our kids as helpers) while I did all the other stuff, none of which I can seem to remember right now!

I do remember that our first bedroom, which eventually became the laundry room, was five feet wide by 14 feet long with Jeanne and I at one end and our girls — Rebecca, Karli and Allison — stacked three deep like cordwood at the other end. When Adam came along he slept on a shelf above our bed! All very cozy, the kids loved it and thought it was all one big adventure, though Jeanne had some other ideas at times.

Dining Room at Seal River Heritage Lodge

Dining Room at Seal River Heritage Lodge today. We've come a long way!

We discovered, much to our delight, that Seal River had an incredible array of flora and fauna. It was going to be a spectacular choice for an ecolodge! The mechanics of building and operating the lodge came naturally (mostly!) as we had both gained a wealth of very valuable experience working together with Doug and Helen at their lodges. They were pillars of much needed support in those early years.

Operating any sort of lodges or remote camps in the Arctic has its share of challenges, as the source of all supplies is usually hundreds of miles away. And they are being purchased from people who really do not have a clue as to how difficult it is to get anything to us.

Everything must be ordered weeks and sometimes months in advance, to be shipped by train from Winnipeg to Churchill where it can be flown to the lodge, or, in the case of building materials, dragged over the sea ice during the winter with our old 1956 D6 Cat. If anything breaks down you can measure in days and weeks the amount of time it takes to get a replacement part, and sometimes the season ends before the new parts arrive!

Our environment entirely dictates our activities, and on this type of jobsite you might find yourself stuck offshore on an ice flow; broke down in a howling blizzard on Hudson Bay; or sitting in the floatplane on a lonely stretch of river waiting for the fog to lift so you can get much needed groceries to the lodge.

Inside Seal River Heritage Lodge

Interior of Seal River Heritage Lodge today. It wasn't always this nice!

Occasionally you might find yourself whacking an overly curious polar bear on the nose for sticking his head through the shop door, or crawling under the lodge at 3 a.m. to thaw out frozen pipes. There’s a whole host of weird and challenging things at all kinds of crazy hours, in all sorts of weather. Never a dull moment in this business!

There have been many, many adventures and challenges over the years. Maybe someday we’ll find the time to write them all down in a book. At present we continue to add new destinations and safaris. Along with Seal River Heritage Lodge and the Birds, Bears & Belugas summer polar bear experience, we also operate Dymond Lake EcoLodge, home of the Great Ice Bear Adventure, and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, home of Mothers & Cubs, as well as North Knife Lake Fishing Lodge, the Arctic Safari, Polar Bear Photo Safari and Black & White Adventure. Our growth has resulted in the need for more staff. Luckily, we have been blessed with the best. Those little kids we used to stack up on the shelves are now our chefs, managers and admin staff!

Jeanne & Mike

Jeanne & Mike Reimer

Of course, we couldn’t have done any of this without you, our guests. A big polar bear hug goes out to all of you, for spending your hard earned dollars and time with us. We have thoroughly enjoyed your company and made many lifelong friends.

Thank you for making it all possible.

Mike Reimer, Churchill Wild

Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey, filmed at Churchill Wild lodges, wins two Canadian Screen Awards

Polar bear posing for the camera near Seal River Lodge

Polar Bear Perfect Pose

 Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey, much of which was filmed at Churchill Wild’s Seal River Lodge and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, was a big winner at the inaugural Canadian Screen Awards!

The Canadian Screen Awards celebrate TV, film and digital productions in Canada. Considered similar to the Golden Globe Awards in the United States, they are the result of a consolidation of Canada’s Genie and Gemini awards. The untelevised portion of the Canadian Screen Awards took place this past Wednesday and Thursday, and the final gala event in the celebration will be broadcast by CBC on Sunday, March 3 at 8 p.m. and hosted by Canadian comedian Martin Short.

Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey won awards for Best Science or Nature Documentary Program or Series and Best Photography in a Documentary Program or Series. Directed by Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson of Arctic Bear Productions, the film was produced by Arcadia Entertainment in association with CBC’s Science and Natural History Documentary Unit.

“It is a great honour to receive both of these prestigious awards,” said Ravetch, who is also the Cinematographer of the documentary. “I know Arcadia TV, Sarah Robertson, Tim O’Brien and our production and post-production team are all grateful for the collaboration with CBC’s Caroline Underwood, David Suzuki, and The Nature of Things.”

Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey, which was also produced in 2D for National Geographic, 3D for Sky TV,  and released on 3D/2D Blue Ray by Universal Pictures, tells the story of a teenage polar bear’s adventures in and around the icy waters of Hudson Bay, where he spends his first ice-free season during the summer without his mother to guide him as he struggles to survive on his own. Set against a background theme of climate change, The Nature of Things perhaps described the film best when they wrote:

“Watch the desperate acts of a bear pushed to the brink. Witness the wisdom and commitment of a protective mother bear. Observe the seemingly ferocious social rituals of massive male bears. Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey features breath-taking cinematography capturing rarely seen bear behavior including the young bear climbing a 250 meter cliff in search of a meal and a bold male who has learnt the art of hunting walrus.”

Polar Bear Movie Film Crew: L to R Andy MacPherson, Stewart Mayer, Adam Ravetch, Indy Saini

A Happy Polar Bear Film Crew! L to R: Andy MacPherson, Stewart Mayer, Adam Ravetch, Indy Saini

Images for the film were captured using a myriad of cameras including a remote-control truck cam, a heli-cam, a polar bear collar cam and numerous underwater cameras. In our original blog post about the filming, 3D Polar Bear Movie filmed at Seal River Lodge, guide Andrew MacPherson described a day on the set.

“There wasn’t a day during the filming when we didn’t find some kind of interesting bear activity, interaction or social behavior. Adam’s movie unfolded in front of us daily, but we won’t see the final result of his efforts for a while. We were excited to be a part of the creative process and can only imagine what Adam will weave together with all the incredible footage he recorded.”

Ravetch admits he became addicted to close-up wildlife photography when he filmed polar bears underwater for the film To the Arctic.

“Water is 800 times denser than air,” he said. “So you had to get really close to the animals to actually see them. Not only was that experience a high-energy adrenaline rush, but when you get that close to a wild animal it becomes a very intimate personal experience. You really get to know the animals. I wanted the audience to have that same experience.”

“I wanted them to really connect with the polar bear’s struggle for life,” continued Ravetch. “And the only way to do that was to get up-close imagery and wrap it into an intimate story. At the same time we had to get the bears to relax and let them go about their business. We were able to stay with a mother and two cubs, for week in the fall. That enabled us to get a lot of natural behavior.

Ravetch went on to say that making a film like this requires a team of very talented creative people, both during and post production.

“Every film is a collaboration,” he said. “This isn’t just you and your camera. It requires a lot of talented people to tell a good story. Mike and Jeanne Reimer, their family and their guides at Churchill Wild are invaluable. They have specialized knowledge of the territory, the wilderness and life-long experience with the polar bears. Their family-run operation at Churchill Wild is very unique in that you can get very close to the polar bears in a safe manner. It’s very remote yet you have all the comforts of home. You’re not camping out. They have beautiful lodges and a one of a kind experience you can’t find anywhere else. Great food, cocktails, cozy and comfortable accommodations, smack right in the middle of the tundra on Hudson Bay in the center of polar bear country.”

“It’s a huge challenge to film in 3D in the arctic,” said Ravetch in an earlier blog post, Churchill Wild polar bears to appear on CBC’s The Nature of Things in Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey.

Churchill Wild’s Mike Reimer and polar bear guides Terry Elliot and Andy MacPherson were essential in getting very specific polar bear shots, especially of a young male polar bear, so that we could have the type of imagery to tell a strong character driven story. The guides have to have experience specifically with polar bears. They concentrate on safety so we can focus on camera angles and getting the shots we need. Being up close with the bears is quite spectacular for a filmmaker, but safety is paramount. The last thing we want is for a person or a bear to get hurt. You’re not in a cage or a vehicle; you’re at ground level with the polar bears. I’ve always worked at ground level, but there are very few places where you can photograph polar bears like this. Seal River and Nanuk are among the best places on the planet for this type of wildlife photography.”

Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey - 3D film crew in action near Seal River Lodge.

Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey - 3D film crew in action near Seal River Lodge

“Filming in 3D was much more work. But we wanted immersive images so the audience could experience what it’s really like to be up close at ground level with polar bears. It required multiple cameras operating at the same time to produce the special 3D effects and three of us including Stereographer Indy Saini and Camera Engineering Specialist Stewart Meyer to get the distances between the objects and between the lenses just right. Stewart also developed a smaller mobile camera system that could produce some very rare images.”

In Sun sets on a polar bear at Nanuk, guide Andrew MacPherson described some of the filming that took place at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

“A beautiful four or 5-year-old female polar bear moved towards us in the glow of late afternoon light. She hopped numerous small streams and slid effortlessly through the grass, providing us with some amazing footage. She stopped to the sound of my voice when she was about 30 meters away, then casually moved around us to the seaward side, giving us the over the shoulder looks as she passed by. We quickly packed and played leap frog with the bear all the way back to the Misatkoken River, where she sniffed out our poor unfortunate friend. That was where we left her at twilight, outlined in golden light, standing on the crest of the beach ridge.”

Ravetch went on to explain how polar bears have their own their own society. How each bear has their own personality and different character attributes. And that when you get to know the bears, you start to understand how and why they interact with each other the way they do; how they teach their offspring to survive in the wilderness; and how much they worry about their young. In other words, polar bears are a lot like us.

“This is a film about one of the biggest stories of our time,” said Tim O’Brien of Arcadia Entertainment. “Climate change and its impact on our natural world. Specifically the polar bear population. Somehow we managed to tell a very dramatic and personal story about the journey of one bear. And, that’s really a credit to Adam Ravetch and all the many people and organizations like Churchill Wild, who made it happen.”

A movie you don’t want to miss, Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey will soon be available in major online retail outlets.

Sun sets on a polar bear near Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Sun sets on a polar bear near Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

 

Oceans North Canada headed back to Seal River Lodge this summer for Beluga Whale research and tagging

Beluga Whales near Seal River Lodge - Photo Credit: Michael Poliza

Beluga Whales near Seal River Lodge - Photo Credit: Michael Poliza

Oceans North Canada, in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, is in the second year of a three-year beluga whale research project to gather data on the Western Hudson Bay population. Last year brought great success, with six whales tagged with satellite transmitters, so they’re headed back to Seal River Lodge to tag more beluga whales this summer!

Click Image for Interactive Beluga Whale Tracking Map

Click Image for Interactive Beluga Whale Tracking Map

Every summer, one of the largest concentrations of beluga whales in the world, converges on southwest Hudson Bay as the sea ice recedes. This population was studied in the 1980s and early 2000s using aerial surveys and satellite tracking. That research revealed the close relationship between belugas and the Manitoba estuaries where they spend their summers, but many questions remain about this species and its habitat.

More scientific studies are needed to understand why belugas are drawn to the estuaries in this region and how they interact with this environment so that key habitat can be protected.

Watch the Beluga Tagging Videos at Discovery Channel Canada!

This summer the project aims to tag 10 beluga whales in the Seal River area. To date, three belugas tagged in the Seal River this past July are still transmitting and providing good quality geographic locations and dive information. More information, including maps showing the weekly movements of the whales can be found at www.ArcticWhaleStudy.ca

2013 should be a great year at Churchill Wild for Aurora Borealis!

Aurora Borealis / Northern Lights at Seal River Lodge, Manitoba, Canada

2013 should be a great year at the Lodge for the Northern Lights!

2013 is being forecast as an unbelievable opportunity for star gazers to witness an Aurora Borealis year like few others. Churchill Wild is hoping for just that!

Just as the earth has cycles which we call seasons, the sun’s energy output also has changes. These changes occur roughly every 11 years. We call these changes the solar cycle. During the last cycle, there were few magnetic storms on the sun, sunspots were rare, and geomagnetic disturbances on earth were nearly nonexistent. We are now however, five years into a solar maximum cycle which is approaching its projected peak in 2013.

As far back as 2006, solar scientists began predicting that our next solar maximum would be one of the strongest yet. The next sunspot cycle will be 30% to 50% stronger than the previous one. If correct, the year ahead could produce a burst of solar activity second only to the historic Solar Max of 1958. So what can happens during this predicted solar season?Northern-Lights

Sunspots increase and harbor more energy. At times, this energy is released in the form of coronal mass ejections (CMEs). A CME consists of plasma from the sun itself — electrons and protons — with an accompanying magnetic field.

When the charged particles strike the earth’s magnetosphere, they travel down the magnetic field lines to the poles, colliding with atoms in our atmosphere along the way. These collisions can create an Aurora Borealis display that can incredibly be seen as far south as Mexico during strong solar events.

Everyone here at Churchill Wild is keeping their fingers crossed for clear and cloudless nights in 2013, so we can all enjoy the show.

One of the best places in the north to see the Aurora Borealis is at Dymond Lake Eco-Lodge in our custom made Aurora Viewing Platform during our Great Ice Bear Adventure. Spots are filling up for this one-of-a-kind wilderness safari as Aurora and polar bear enthusiasts worldwide are anticipating an incredible viewing season.

We hope you’ll join us!

Top African Safari Guide Ian Johnson visits Seal River Heritage Lodge

It was almost a year ago that we met with Ian Johnson of Epic Private Journeys in the Johannesburg Airport and chatted about “stepping out” of the warm safari scene in Africa and organizing a slightly more chilling expedition in the form of an Arctic Safari.

One of Africa’s top professional guides and photographers, Ian was true to his word, and ventured over to visit us with friends Soren and Egler from Shanghai, to experience an arctic adventure with our great ice bears.

Below normal temperatures, down to -38 C with the wind chill, delighted the polar bears during Ian’s visit, and resulted in very quick ice formations reminiscent of the ’80s. As a result, the bears began their steady trek out onto the frozen surface of Hudson Bay.

Everyone agreed that the early accumulation of ice and snow cover created some incredible sea and landscapes as a fantastic backdrop for our bears and foxes. As the bears ventured back out onto the ice we were able to get some over the top shots that included the new ice formations.

Thanks for visiting Ian, Soren and Egler!

Ian Johnson Photos