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Northern Lights & Arctic Cultures
Day 1: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Arrive in Winnipeg and transfer to the Fort Garry Hotel. Built in 1913 by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, the French-chateau-style hotel remains the grande dame of Winnipeg, offering first-class hospitality. Enjoy a welcome dinner this evening with your Expedition Leader and fellow travelers.
Day 2: Manitoba Museum / Train to Churchill
In preparation for our Northern Lights encounters, this morning we attend a planetarium program at the Manitoba Museum that focuses on the science of the aurora borealis. We'll also tour exhibits reflecting the human and natural heritage of the province, including the history of Canada's northern indigenous cultures. Contingent on the train schedule, we board the Hudson Bay Railway to Churchill around lunchtime.
Day 3: Train to Churchill
Heading northward by rail, we leave the southern prairies behind and enter the landscape of the North. Plains transition to boreal forest, the coniferous zone that circles the globe beneath the Arctic Circle and accounts for one-third of the earth’s forests. Stunted spruce trees and boggy muskeg give way to frozen tundra as we approach Churchill, a frontier outpost town at the edge of Hudson Bay. The “Tundra Train” is relaxing and comfortable, and each cabin has its own private bathroom. At night, we may even have a preview of the Northern Lights outside our large private windows.
Days 4 - 6: Churchill
On arrival in Churchill we transfer to our hotel and take a brief tour of this historic settlement. The Hudson’s Bay Company established a fort here in 1717 as part of its fur-trading network across the Canadian North, but Native cultures had already been flourishing here against the harsh Arctic climate for thousands of years. We explore their heritage on a dog sled ride through the boreal forest, on a visit to the Eskimo Museum, and through cultural programs featuring the arts and traditions of the Inuit and Dene peoples.
Our Expedition Leader introduces us to northern ecology and the stark yet alluring winter landscape. As night falls, we move into heated viewing domes to await an unparalleled experience of nature’s magic: the spectacle of the aurora borealis, the legendary Northern Lights. Often, they begin as a white glow low in the sky that slowly begins to shift and undulate. Wavy patterns evolve, colors appear and change, until the lights look like shimmering curtains of green, blue, yellow or red. For centuries, the phenomenon of the Northern Lights was a mystery, inspiring a host of mythical explanations. While we know now that the aurora is caused by the interaction of the solar wind with the earth’s magnetic field, more poetic stories of their origin linger, including the Hudson Bay Inuit’s belief that the lights are the magical display of their ancestors’ souls dancing in the sky. Of course, the lights are a natural phenomenon, and we are never guaranteed to see them, but Churchill has more auroral activity than any other place on the planet...meaning our odds are good!
Day 7: Churchill / Winnipeg
The morning is free to wander Churchill’s main street, where several locally owned shops offer authentic Native handicrafts from traditional mukluks to caribou-hair sculptures. We then transfer to the airport for our flight back to Winnipeg. This evening we'll gather one last time for our farewell dinner at the Fort Garry Hotel.
Day 8: Winnipeg / Home
After breakfast, our Northern Lights tour comes to a close as we transfer to the airport for flights home.
Please note: All of our activities in Churchill are flexible to accommodate varying weather conditions.
On the February 18, 2014 departure, we do not take the train to Churchill. Instead, we fly to Churchill early in the morning on Day 2. The total trip length for this departure is six days. The Churchill inclusions and activities are identical to our regular itinerary. In Winnipeg, we may have time to take a guided tour of the Manitoba Museum after our return flight on Day 6. We will not have a planetarium program.
On our special photography departures, we do not take the train. Instead we fly to Churchill on the afternoon of Day 2 and spend an additional night in town to allow extra time for northern lights photography.