Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Days 6 & 7

Days 6 and 7 (Friday, October 15 and Saturday, October 16, 2011)
Yes, that’s right—I’m combining two days of daily postings...and that’s because most of us received one extra day in Canada! Unfortunately, the circumstances that enabled this to happen weren’t really that fun. We were scheduled to fly from Churchill to Winnipeg on Friday. However, flights were cancelled due to the dense fog in the area. Because we were unable to make it to Winnipeg Friday night, most of us missed our flights home on Saturday. I have to admit, though, that this was a mixed blessing because of what we got to experience instead!

Before we were scheduled to depart for the Churchill airport on Friday, PBI had arranged for us to have some time in the town of Churchill itself. We started at Parks Canada Visitor Centre, which taught us more about the area’s archaeological and natural history. We were also able to view some artifacts from the Hudson Bay Trading Company, as well as from some of the First Nations. Afterward, we were permitted to do a little shopping. It was a great chance to talk to some of the locals and see some of the artwork that was created in the area. I was also fascinated by the Eskimo Museum, which houses one of the world’s largest collections of Inuit carvings. 

While we walked through town, we also made sure we stopped at the large complex that houses an indoor playground, gymnasium, ice rink, pool, school, library, movie theatre and a couple of restaurants. It was amazing to see how much was actually contained inside the complex, which was designed to be a huge community center that provided a place for people to gather. The complex serves its purpose—it offers relief from the cold winters…and helps to keep people safe from polar bears!

We made our way to the airport and then waited for a few hours. There was a glimmer of hope that we would be able to depart to Winnipeg because our plane had already arrived. However, we needed a full flight crew in order to depart. The flight attendant who was scheduled to be on our plane was on a flight that ended up being diverted because they couldn’t land in Churchill. We were going to spend the night!
I have to give PBI all the credit in the world for scrambling to find places for 25 people to stay. Because of PBI’s great reputation in the area, some people were willing to offer up places for us to stay. PBI also recently purchased a home, but work was still being completed on it. Instead, the teens stayed with their chaperones in one home and had a big slumber party! PBI staff members called all over town for hotel rooms for the adults. Most rooms were booked since other groups visiting Churchill weren’t able to catch their flights either. However, the found a few available rooms, and all of us divided up in teams to go stay in the hotels around town. You know what this meant, of course—we got to take showers!!!  I feel asleep pretty quickly after that!

Everything about our trip suddenly began coming around full circle. At 5:30 a.m., my fellow Arctic Ambassadors heard cracker shots and a horn honking. Officer Bob Windsor was on duty, and he was chasing a polar bear out of town. The Polar Alert System was in place…and it worked. (Unfortunately, yours truly was out cold during all of the excitement.) 

We made it to the airport and boarded our flight to Winnipeg where some of us would have to stay overnight since we missed our early morning flights home. Of course, nothing was going to keep us down after the amazing experience we just had in Churchill! We ended up going to the Assiniboine Park Zoo…and once again saw how things we learned during our PBI Leadership Camp were coming together.

It is the Assiniboine Park Zoo that is currently constructing the Journey to Churchill habitat. This exhibit also includes the $6 million International Polar Bear Conservation Centre that will provide opportunities for academic research on the Arctic environment and polar bear conservation. Public education programs will also be offered. Of even more significance to the Arctic Ambassadors…this will serve as the polar bear rescue and relocation network for orphaned or injured animals. Opening in 2013, this is the facility from which accredited U.S. zoos that meet the required Manitoba Standards will receive their bears. When one stops to think about why it has to be constructed in the first place, it was a little sad to see. However, it was also exciting to see that construction of the facility is underway because it is already serving as a symbol of the conservation efforts being made.

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