Churchill is a town on the west shore of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada. It is most famous for the many polar bears that move toward the shore from inland in the autumn, leading to the nickname “Polar Bear Capital of the World” that has helped its growing tourism industry.
Starting in the 1980s, the town developed a sizable tourism industry focused on the migration habits of the polar bear. Tourists can safely view polar bears from specially modified buses known as tundra buggies. Use of the buggies helps sustain local tourism, but can also cause damage to the local ecosystem when driven outside the established trails.
October and early November are the most feasible times to see polar bears, thousands of which wait on the vast peninsula until the water freezes on Hudson Bay so that they can return to hunt their primary food source, ringed seals. There are also opportunities to see polar bears in the non-winter months, with tours via boat visiting the coastal areas where polar bears can be found both on land and swimming in the sea.
Many locals even leave their cars unlocked in case someone needs to make a quick escape from the polar bears in the area. Local authorities maintain a so-called “polar bear jail” where bears (mostly adolescents) who persistently loiter in or close to town, are held after being tranquilised, pending release back into the wild when the bay freezes over.
It is the subject of a poem, Churchill Bear Jail, by Salish Chief Victor A. Charlo. Polar bears were once thought to be solitary animals that would avoid contact with other bears except for mating. In the Churchill region, however, many alliances between bears are made in the fall. These friendships last only until the ice forms, then it is every bear for himself to hunt ringed seals.