Full of excitement and lacking sleep we headed to the airport on Remembrance Day 2017. The trip had been booked for over a year and now it was finally here, we were off to find Polar Bears in Canada’s great white north! First stop Winnipeg. I had never been there and honestly I never really had the desire to visit. I knew I had family in Winnipeg, as my grandmother was born there, but I had never met any of them and that didn’t concern me all that much. We arrived about midday to find my dad and step-mum at the hotel restaurant. Perfect, I’m starving! We ordered a drink and some food and spent time catching up. My parents travel a lot, so I don’t get to see them on a regular basis, which is one of the things that made this trip extra special. After lunch my boyfriend and I went to explore! We went to the Forks Market, which was full of cute shops and delicious looking food, then went for a walk along the river. Snow covered the city and the air smelt of winter, I assume the cold was keeping most people in as we only saw a couple of people on our picturesque stroll.
Breakfast at the hotel included meeting two of my grandmother’s cousins and their significant others. As I mentioned, I had never met these people, but they were delightful and could most definitely tell they were related to grandma. Being Ukrainian they offered to drop us off some Ukrainian sausage on our way back through Winnipeg, umm… yes please!
A little more city exploring later that day were we had coffee at Bronuts Donuts + Coffee in the Exchange District, which looked to be the cool place to be, and then explored what I can only explain as the somewhat ghetto version of Toronto’s Path. A quick cider for me and flight for the boys at the Forks Market then back to the hotel for 2pm. Here we boarded a bus and headed for the charter. The plane seated about 40 people and we were at least three quarters full. The people on this flight would be our family for the next three days, so fingers crossed we get along!
Eight hours of hibernation later we crammed a buffet breakfast into our faces and hopped on the Arctic Crawler. We had heard the ice was freezing earlier than usual this year, but did not understand the severity until we got out to the historical Hudson’s Bay. Everyone had their eyes glued to the windows waiting to catch their first glimpse of a Polar Bear. An hour or so passed and still nothing had been seen when our super guide and photographer extraordinaire, Jason, said “I see a bino-bear.” A bino-bear? What the heck is a bino-bear? Well my friends, unfortunately, it’s a bear that can only be seen through binocular and even then it was hard to see. A couple more hours passed and we weren’t having much luck in the bear department, but the other animals were in full force. We saw a couple red foxes, an arctic fox, and a snowy owl, oh ya, and two more bino bears, but they were even harder to see!
Our six-hour journey had come and gone and we had not seen any Polar Bears except for the bino-bears. How is this possible? Jason said he had never had a tour that had not seen a bear… I guess there is a first for everything. Feeling a little defeated we all head back to town where Jason kindly took us to the local liquor store, so we could drown our sorrows, and the Arctic Trading Company, where we could find authentic northern goods. We left the trading post to grab dinner at The Tundra Inn, which actually had a liquor license, unlike our lodge. When we returned back to our lodge to have a drink in the lobby (we of course had to supply our own booze), some exciting news was shared with us. The lodge felt so bad that we did not see any bears that they were going to take us up in helicopters the next day so we could at least see some from the air. This was a pretty big deal, we had looked into these helicopter tours, but after seeing how much they cost there was no way we were going to be able to experience them. We finished our lounge drinks; made some new Aussie friends, and headed to our rooms where I proceeded to accidently delete all my photos I had taken that day… gahh! Finger crossed I can recover them when I get home.
Excited for my first time in a helicopter I wake up early only to find out that there is too much wind and there will be no flying today. Our group is not having the best luck thus far. Oh well, the morning is rearranged and now we are back on for our cultural tour! We drive around town visiting some pretty neat sights like the Polar Bear Jail, Miss Piggy (an abandoned airplane that crashed back in the ‘70’s), and the local interpretive centre. That evening was one of the most magical nights of my life. Bundled up and freezing my but off I hopped into a dog sled with my boyfriend. As soon as we took off a green light starts to form in the sky. The Northern lights danced above us we were pulled through the dark forest… can you say romantic?
When we woke up the next morning I felt confident that today was the day, I was going to see a polar bear. Before even arriving at the Arctic Crawler we saw prints, this is an excellent sign! The day on the crawler got off to a slow start with nothing but sheets of ice, eventually we spotted something on the road ahead of us, exactly what we were looking for… a Nissan Rogue? What the heck was that doing here, there was literally nothing around for miles and he was stuck! Our guide got out and tried to dig, but no luck, we would have to sit and wait for someone to come pull him out. Eventually we were off again and an artic fox crosses our path. He was hunting and it was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. He listens to the ground and once he hears something he leaps into the air and dives face first to break through the snow. After half an hour or so of watching this we carried on to find polar bears again. All of a sudden the crawler breaks down. Another hour or so of waiting before the mechanics arrive to save us. Eventually we were all fixed up and back on the road (if you can call it that). We were on our way back to park the crawler when one of the women on our tour yells “BEAR!” We all rushed to the side of the crawler trying to find a bear… it turns out it was another bino-bear, although the closest bino-bear we have seen. You could even see it with your bear eye (pun intended) if you focused really hard. It was a baby bear and it’s mama and they were on the move, we followed them for a while but eventually it was time to go back, our flight was in 2 hours! The flight back to Winnipeg was the best flight I have even been on, why you ask? More northern lights! I consider myself incredibly lucky to have seen them not once, but twice.
Over all it was too bad we didn’t see any bears up close, but the trip was amazing. If you ever get the chance to go on a trip like this I highly recommend it. The Inn at the Forks was very on trend and an amazing hotel. The Lazy Bear Lodge was rustic and cute and our guide made the trip exciting even when we were stranded in the middle of nowhere. If nothing else I sure know a whole lot more about polar bears then I ever thought I would!