August marked our official opening! Like a polar bear running across the frozen tundra, we went from 0 to 40 km/h in what felt like an instant. Unlike a polar bear that rests after such a burst of speed, it was go, go, go for the Churchill Wild team for two-plus weeks, non-stop.
We had little time to prepare for the arrival of our first group of the season in August 2021. We have to hand it to our incredible team for pulling everything together so quickly. It was fast-paced and hectic, but the entire team worked together to make our kick-off a huge success. Seriously, when you cross paths with any of our lodge teams, give them a big pat on the back – they deserve it.
A very long 20 months
After having our lodges closed to guests due to pandemic-related travel restrictions for 20 very long months, the moment we saw the first guests step off the plane, we couldn’t contain our excitement. We FINALLY got to once again share the environment we love with others and watch their faces light up as they experience the magic of Churchill, too. The unknowns of the past 20 months and the emotional rollercoaster that it was had finally subsided.
Our CEO, Adam Pauls, will tell you, “there were so many starts and stops, but mostly guesses at when things would get going again.” We were putting all of our efforts into re-opening, but we didn’t know when it would truly happen. Guests were calling about departures, employees were calling about plans to commence work, and we were trying to figure out the safest way to help everyone out while navigating our government’s regulations. Truthfully, no one knew. Not guests, not staff, not us. It was like not seeing five metres ahead on the trail during a northern Manitoba blizzard. Plus, everyone was dealing with their own personal situation. So work continued, but at a consistent yet moderate pace, as we just didn’t know when we’d be able to open back up once more.
As a family-run company that values our staff and their personal lives, it was all very difficult. We’re a tight-knit crew and want the best for everyone who works here, so when we were able to re-open, we hit the ground running.
A turning point on the Tundra
In what felt like a split second, regulations changed, and we were beyond thrilled. We were set to open in early August, which, at that point, was only two and a half weeks away. The staff were extraordinary in bringing people in from across the country, ordering and shipping supplies, notifying and re-booking guests, and ensuring they had the right flights and gear for a memorable trip. It was crazy and emotional, but everyone in our Churchill Wild family pitched in to help and pulled it together.
The first group back
After the buzz of the last few weeks, we welcomed our new guests with open arms, and the animals joined us. One group made their trek to Seal River Heritage Lodge for Birds, Bears and Belugas, while the other journeyed to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge for the Arctic Discovery safari. After not being able to travel for over a year, the energy and excitement from everyone was electrifying. It was so apt that guests’ first travels could be in a crowd-free setting, surrounded by oceans and sky and Tundra and wildlife. It seemed like each guest let the milieu—so wild and so remote—and its experiences wash over them. They could feel awed and alone, yet at ease.
We had waited so long to swing open our doors to our extended Churchill family (aka guests), and that moment finally arrived after a full year of keeping our travel bug on hold. A lovely Canadian family from Ottawa embodied the spirit of anticipation most. Cameron Watt, his wife Marie Claude Lechance, and their two teenage sons, Tristan and Jeremy, experienced Arctic Discovery, which included time in Churchill and Nanuk Lodge.
“It was a hugely inspiring break and very personal experience,” said Watt, adding it made them forget about COVID for a while.
After chatting with the family and getting to know them, we found out that they make a point of experiencing new things together – so not travelling in almost two years was tough, and they missed their opportunity. They decided if they couldn’t leave Canada for a safari, they would do a safari right here in Canada.
“We saw bears, black and polar. We saw birds, caribou, and as we were leaving, a wolf came to say goodbye,” Watt said. “The boys loved riding ATVs across tundra trails at Nanuk and kayaking among beluga whales in Churchill. We had some absolutely incredible once-in-a-lifetime experiences—big thanks to everyone for a fantastic trip.”
Grateful to be back
If there’s one thing our CEO is grateful for, it’s to be back working and see our team come together again.
From everyone at Churchill Wild, we truly mean it when we say we have the best jobs on the planet. We get to share nature – our magical backyard – with guests; watch the pure joy on guests’ faces when they see their favourite animal up close for the first time or witness the vibrant colours of the northern lights dance in the night sky.
We’re now back to doing what we’re meant to do—showing people this exceptional part of the world–and we wouldn’t have it any other way.