Polar Bear Blog

Happy 150th Birthday, Manitoba!

Polar bear giving directions at Dymond Lake Ecolodge on the Great Ice Bear Adventure. Teresa McDaniel photo.
Polar bear giving directions at Dymond Lake Ecolodge on the Great Ice Bear Adventure. Teresa McDaniel photo.

by Vanessa Desorcy

Land of 100,000 lakes, home to the Polar Bear Capital of the World and a mecca for nature lovers, Manitoba turns 150 years old on May 12, 2020. Since 1920, May 12 has been declared Manitoba Day.

Our province can arguably be divided into two regions: the south and the north. The southernmost third of the province is where most of the population (roughly 95%) resides, in our capital city of Winnipeg, and in charming towns like Morden, Gimli and Dauphin, and in smaller cities such as Brandon and Steinbach.

The remainder of the province is collectively referred to as northern Manitoba, and this is where things get wild.

Because most of us are so far removed from the north, it’s easy to forget that Manitoba is not a landlocked province and that it borders Hudson Bay, part of the Arctic Ocean. We’ve also got a gorgeous swath of boreal forest that transitions to tundra around the 58th parallel. These rich ecosystems are home to oodles of wildlife including polar bears, wolves, moose, beluga whales and more.

Throughout the province we have nearly 650,000 square kilometres to explore — including 92 provincial parks — and four distinct seasons in which to enjoy our vast and glorious province.

Even though you might not be able to visit this year, we’ve put together some of our favourite ways to spend time outdoors, so that you’re prepared when travel becomes a part of our lifestyle once again.

Spring

Out of hibernation at Nanuk Polar bear Lodge. Ian Johnson photo.
Out of hibernation at Nanuk Polar bear Lodge. Ian Johnson photo.

Like black bears, springtime is when Manitobans emerge from months of hibernation, shed their winter layers, and are antsy to hit the trails and lakes. It’s the season of anticipation and of socials — a uniquely Manitoban gathering.

The weather ranges from sunny to windy to rainy (ugh, and sometimes we get all three at once) but temperatures are above 0 degrees Celsius and for hardy Manitobans, that’s warm enough for shorts and t-shirts.

We take advantage of every warm spring day by visiting garden centres, hiking one of our many trails before the extreme heat of summer sets in, and dusting off our patio furniture.

In early May, fishing season opens and our waterways start buzzing with the sounds of boats and those eager to catch the title of ‘Master Angler’.

It’s also a time to get ready for polar bear season, which for us, starts in July. We’re busy hiring seasonal staff, coordinating flights, and sending crews to Churchill to cut wood. Down south, our Arctic Organics orchard is waking up from its winter slumber and we get busy planning and planting new crops.

Here are a few more favourite activities to celebrate spring:

Summer

Polar bears enjoy the lazy days of summer in Manitoba! Seal River Heritage Lodge. Judith Herrdum photo.
Polar bears enjoy the lazy days of summer in Manitoba! Seal River Heritage Lodge. Judith Herrdum photo.

Manitobans are a friendly bunch, but I doubt you’ll find a group of people happier than us when summer finally breaks through and settles in. If spring is the season of anticipation, summer is the season of doing as much as possible before it gets cold again.

After nine months of cold, snow, rain and wind, we bask in the glory of sunshine and hot summer nights like a polar bear who’s just discovered an untouched patch of wild blueberries.

We attend festivals, we go camping, we swim, we bike, we explore, we have barbecues and generally try to soak up enough warmth and sunshine to last us through the rest of the year.

The southern part of the province is a hub of activity in summer. Each small town has their own unique fair or street party featuring local food, entertainment, activities, and usually a midway.

Up north, things are decidedly quieter, but no less exciting. Lodges and fishing resorts are open to international travellers, including our polar bear ecolodges. We start welcoming guests in July and it’s a glorious time to explore the tundra and coastline, alive with plant life and wildlife. The polar bears are plump and fluffy, and the Hudson Bay bubbles with beluga whales — summer is amazing, but Arctic summer is pure magic.

Check out these other summertime favourites:

Fall

Fall colours at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jeannette Gelbhardt photo.
Fall colours at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jeannette Gelbhardt photo.

No disrespect to all the summer-lovers out there, but my favourite season is fall, when the frenzy of summer gives way to a slower pace in most of the province. As an introvert, I prefer the crunch of fallen leaves to the hubbub of crowds.

Fall starts in the northern part of the province and slowly meanders down into Winnipeg and surrounding areas. The treetops become a sea of sunset hues, as if someone is sweeping a giant paintbrush from Churchill down to the southern part of the province.

Kids start going back to school and life gains a bit more structure and routine. Up north, the polar bears are anxiously awaiting a return to their routine of hunting seals out on the sea ice and play-fighting to prepare for mating season.

While things are quieting down in most areas, polar bear season is in full swing by October and November. We’re busy shuttling guests between Winnipeg and our ecolodges, while in Churchill, the streets are full of visitors who’ve come to take part in other types of polar bear viewing with our friends at Frontiers North and Lazy Bear Expeditions.

Northern lights over Seal River Heritage Lodge. Robert Postma photo.
Northern lights over Seal River Heritage Lodge. Robert Postma photo.

Of course, no mention of fall would be complete without a shoutout to nature’s lightshow, the aurora borealis. The crisp clear autumn nights and our flat prairie landscape make for the perfect backdrop and our fenced-in lodges make it safe to view this otherworldly phenomenon in the great outdoors. If you’re really lucky, you might even hear a wolf howling in the distance.

If you can’t make it up to Churchill, there are lots of great fall activities “down south”:

Winter

A cold but invigorating winter day at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge! Jad Davenport photo.
A cold but invigorating winter day at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge! Jad Davenport photo.

I guess we have to talk about winter now.

The good: a fresh blanket of snow sparkling in the sun; the holiday season; Festival du Voyageur; hockey. The bad: cold. And boy, does it get cold.

There are a lot of Manitobans much hardier than I am, who spend their weekends ice-fishing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. To those people I say, good for you! Personally, there are not enough layers in the world for me to enjoy being outside when it’s minus 30 degrees Celsius.

Thankfully, there are indoor activities to keep me, and those like me, from going stir-crazy during the winter months.

Manitoba Museum of Human Rights against Winnipeg skyline. Lots to do! Photo courtesy of Tourism Winnipeg.
Manitoba Museum of Human Rights against Winnipeg skyline. Lots to do! Photo courtesy of Tourism Winnipeg.

Manitoba has a number of great museums, including the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre and the New Iceland Heritage Museum.

The Forks is another popular hangout during the winter, thanks to its hybrid of indoor-outdoor appeal. It’s got skating trails, crokicurl, and hockey rinks for the brave, while the cold-averse can enjoy shopping, drinking and eating.

Up north, Churchill reverts to its sleepy village status after months of tourism. Our lodges are boarded up until spring (except for Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, open briefly in March) and the polar bears are gone. Blizzards and extreme cold make the northern part of Manitoba difficult to navigate during winter, but down south we spirited prairie dwellers find ways to slay the winter blues.

Check out these other activities when you need a break from Netflix and napping:

We may be smack-dab in the middle of the country, and sometimes overlooked, but that’s a mistake. We’ve got a lot to offer and a lot of heart.

Happy Birthday, Manitoba!


The World’s Next Great Safari

Photo Galleries Enquire Video Gallery

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.