I find people’s holidays and celebrations around the world to be fascinating in how unique they can be from one place to another. You’d think though that Halloween in Canada would be a pretty standard affair, albeit on a not so standard night. Ghosts and goblins intermingled with trick or treaters knocking on doors and hoping for handfuls of candy, spookily decorated neighbourhoods, jack-o-lanterns shining with huge grins out of the darkness, adults escaping to more youthful days by playing dress up again, and even the odd prankster and fireworks. While, they do have much of this in the town of Churchill, Manitoba – Halloween is anything but normally there. You see, joining the ghosts and ghouls that intermingle with the trick or treaters are polar bears!
Churchill or as the Inuit call it, Kuugjuaq, is a town in Northern Manitoba on the western shore of Hudson Bay, roughly 110 kilometres from the Manitoba / Nunavut border. If you have heard of Churchill, it is likely due to it’s rather famous seasonal residents, the polar bear, who head through (and occasionally hang out near) Churchill when the ice melts on Hudson Bay every summer and again in the Autumn as Hudson Bay begins to freeze over again. And as it would happen, the height of the polar bear migration through the ‘Polar Bear Capital of the World’ corresponds with Halloween.
You think this would mean that Trick or Treating was a no go in Churchill, Manitoba or at least whatever paltry attempt was made at Trick or Treating was done indoors in a mall, but you’d be wrong. First of all, Churchill doesn’t have a mall, and secondly the locals actually embrace Halloween as their biggest holiday, and outdoor Trick or Treating is the most important part of that. At this point I am sure a few of you are picturing the children as the treats, while the polar bears show them such tricks as to how swallow them whole. Not at all. The 800 townspeople of Churchill actually claim the town back from the 1,000 polar bears for the night, and even place their celebrations ahead of that of the 10,000 tourists that descend upon Churchill, during the migration.
The Polar Bear Patrol, as it is called, is a town effort, organized by the Manitoba Conservation, RCMP, Parks Canada, EMS, Canadian Rangers, Manitoba Hydro and the town of Churchill. Basically, throughout Halloween day and night, patrols scare polar bears away from Churchill or trap or tranquilize any bears that get too close to town. This is done humanely and with great care as to not hurt the bears, but as you can imagine, this becomes a real Halloween horror for the bears, and certainly one of the scariest days of the year for them, if they stray near what locals call Halloween Town for the day. But it does provide the children of Churchill with a night where they can be like other Canadian kids and wander the streets with thrilling excitement, as they Trick or Treat.
This post was first inspired by work that we were doing on the OLN TV Series Polar Bear Town and the episode entitled Trick or Trap on Churchill, Manitoba turned Halloween Town. Unfortunately this episode is no longer available online, but you can view the teaser to it, below:
And for a taste to one Halloween night in Churchill, as filmed by a Churchill local, tune in below: