Halloween is a little different in Churchill. In most towns in North America, each October 31st, children dress up in strange costumes and roam the streets, randomly yelling ‘trick or treat’ at neighbourhood doors, and surprisingly receiving various candies for their temporary rudeness.
This happens in Churchill, too, with the one obvious complication being that Halloween occurs pretty much at the peak of ‘polar bear season’. Obviously, little kids out at night and polar bears are not really a great mix.
Bear season kicks off in early October with one or two or a few polar bears trickling into the Gordon Point area about twenty-five kilometres east of Churchill. As the weeks pass, more and more bears move to the coast, primarily the periphery of Churchill’s polar bear population, the young, the old, the hungry.
The bears know that north winds and ocean currents combine to make Churchill one of the first places where sea ice forms on Hudson Bay. This is definitely an incentive to a bear that has had little more than berries, geese or scavenged whale over the last three months.
Now, some years, peak polar bear numbers don’t appear until November, with tourists sometimes seeing thirty or forty different bears in one day. Other years, the bears arrive in significant numbers earlier, sometimes right around the end of October.
As more bears arrive, more bears are pushed closer to town. Usually by peak polar bear season, a bear can be found in or along the edge of town pretty much every night.
For this reason, Town of Churchill employees, the volunteer fire department, Polar Bear Alert officers, Canadian Rangers and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (no, not in red serge and on horseback, more like muskrat hats and F150s) patrol the community, ensuring that no polar bear enters town limits, and that cavities are the only injury resulting from this evening,
The town is essentially divided up into sectors, each under different ‘command’. On one street, you may see the town fire truck driving by, and the next could host a Canadian Ranger’s red and green flag indicating their post.
The Halloween Patrol has been going on for over twenty years now, and admittedly, we haven’t had a lot of bears trying to get into town on exactly Halloween, but still it’s a system that works pretty well. And it’s a system that attracts international attention – in fact, you may have even heard of Churchill’s Halloween spectacle prior to reading it in the Hudson Bay Post.
Churchill probably hosts around 15-20 film crews, documentary and news, throughout the year, many of them clamouring for the cheapest accommodations and scarce rental vehicles for the last week of October slash first week of November.
Quite often, three or four camera crews will be seen jostling amidst the patrols, costumes and decorated yards of Churchill proper. The lucky ones book time on a Polar Bear Alert vehicle that night for an especially dramatic interview with a Conservation Officer (so they hope).
Last year, I toured a Japanese film crew around town on Halloween. We interviewed kids and patrollers and it was pretty fun. The highlight came when the host asked one little girl if she like bears and, after a short bout of shyness, she answered ‘Oh yes!’ The host pressed on, ‘What is it you like most about them?’ She paused and answered, ‘I like them because you can take off their skin and use it for stuff or hang it on the wall.’ I thought that was a good answer even if it never made the final cut!
Its strange little moments like that one that make up Halloween in Churchill.Bears or not, with all the vehicles, searchlights, costumed kids, decorated yards and visiting film crews, Halloween ends up being one of those events that really binds a community together. It’s pretty unique and something that really builds pride for Churchill residents.
Of course, after the kidsare safe and sound, having finished trick or treating, a good chunk of the town ends up at the Seaport Hotel’s Halloween party and then meanders home around one or two in the morning… without the aid of fire trucks or Canadian Rangers! Such is life.
- prepared by Kelsey Eliasson